We are about to engage an architect for a master bedroom suite
renovation -- no change to footprint of the house, just gutting of two
rooms and adjacent bathroom.
We are planning on paying the architect based on an hourly rate for
design and as-needed supervision during construction. We are
considering an hourly rate vs. fixed sum or percent of the project
since the scope of the project and our needs during construction our
We were wondering what type of contract should we be looking for with
The vanilla contracts he showed us seems to be better at binding us
and absolving the architect of any liability rather than protecting
our interests. (btw, his references are impeccable and he seems to be
a really decent guy -- in fact, he says he usually works without a
- Would we be better off not having a contract and just paying him
after each stage of the design is completed and relying on standard
tort law if he fails to perform according to "standards" of his
profession? (I know that this would go against the grain of the
standard advice to always have a contract...)
- Do you know of any sample architect contracts that are fair and
could be adopted for our use?
I'm surpised that you didn't seek the collective wisdom of this group to
do the design and construction supervision work on your house.
But that wouldn't make much sense would it?
And for the same reasons that you wouldn't seek the collective wisdom of
this group to do the design and construction supervision work on your
house, you should't be looking for the text of contract terms here.
Hire a professional in your area who actually knows the applicable law.
I imagine that hiring a lawyer to write and negotiate a contract for a small
architect project would probably exceed the cost of the design. Many
industries use relatively standard forms and I was just asking whether
such things exist for architecture that are reasonable balanced
between client and the architect.
Oh great one, since I am obviously "obtuse", are you suggesting that a
$3000-5000 architectual project requires a custom contract that in
this part of the country could cost upwards of $500?
No wonder our country is so legally f'd up... You probably are the
type who has the kid who brings in your newspapers when you are on
vacation sign a contract.
Also, interesting though that half the other posters say no contract is
necessary. Buy what do I know, I am just "obtuse and cheap."
But they won't be tailored to your circumstances and unless you do
that what protection do you think you're going to get that a standard
form will provide? Read Hobbes' response -- it has some valid points
and points you to the AIA standard form you could look at for
Alternatively, have you simply raised your concerns w/ the architect
you're dealing with about what other protections you would like?
Perhaps you can work something out. OTOH, you could take his standard
and the AIA standard to your attorney and ask them to provide some
legalese that addresses your concern(s) and then see if the architect
will accept them. Probably wouldn't be but a couple hundred bucks if
you don't want to get too carried away.
Of course, by then you'll probably have convinced the architect he
doesn't want you as a client anyway as you're going to be far more
hassle than a very small job could possibly be worth so you'll then
get to start all over searching for an architect and repeat...
Depends on your comfort level. I'd guess that you'd find out very soon if he
is working in your best interests and can terminate before much money is
spent. Personally, I'd work without a contract if I felt comfortable with
the guy, but that is a decision only you can make. If you have a problem
and he violated the contract, how much would it cost you to sue as compared
to the total cost he is billing you? Contracts are usually written in the
best interests of the lawyers that will be billing you to settle a minor
Agreed. That was my inclination but I have seen a lot of advocacy on
this group for contracts. His references are impeccable, he seems like
the most decent of guys, and I have no desire to every sue anybody
unless absolutely necessary.
Plus my maybe naive intuition is that you are never going to sue on
small mistakes (with or without a contract) and big mistakes (as in grossly
negligent) should allow you to recover with or without a
contract. Plus unless you started aggressively pursuing the
legal case, at best you would probably get some of your fees back
rather than the full damages.
I would speak to two or three of the architect's recent clients.
You may find it less trouble to work without a contract and pay him
For years, I worked without a contract and both I and my clients were
It is quite possible for either party to make life difficult for the
other - with or without a contract.
I build a house recently in New York State and hired an Architect to
design from the ground up. As I see it there are two basic ways to go:
1) Use the Architects agreement that he or she has
2) Use an AIA standard agreement
3) Draft your own agreement. Difficult and very costly lawyer time
AIA = The American Institue of Architects, on their web site http://www.aia.org /
you can choose one of the documents. The AIA documents are good,
however the AIA is funded by Architects so those documents are I feel
biased somewhat to protecting the Architect.
Any building project has a huge number of unknowns. Therefore pricing
anything is difficult including the architect design time. Much
therefore depends on how you like the Architect and how much you trust
him / her. Trust I feel is essential, and here good references and
good insurance coverage and a good track record is most important.
What you really need in the end is a good working relationship.
In the end I went for a fix price contract for the design, which was
fairly straight forward because he had the design already on his CAD
system and he modified it for us, and then a Pay as you go for other
work. Note you will "need" other work. This may include help in
getting building permission from you local duristiction. If you are
adding a bedroom, you will need perhaps permission from the local
health authority (do you have a large enough septic field? etc.) The
contractor may have a question ... the contractor may hit a structural
issue (not that likely but it happened to us ... twice ... and we had
to work with the contractor and architect to get around it ... once
was a change in code for stairs, another was a bean in the bedroom at
a weird angle ...) ....
Some contract is therefore I feel good to have. The more details in it
the better. BUT putting in details is difficult. i.e. do you really
know what you want? An extra skyligh perhaps, some cantilevered
overhangs, large patio doors that require structural engineering. All
these requests may add significantly to architect design and
engineering time. Hence the difficulty in putting in all the details.
Note an architect if he wants to get you can always bill you extra
hours ... how can you check? Hence back to the trust aspect ...
remember you are depending on him/her to make sure that the design is
structurally sound. How much stress is in that Glue-Lam beam for a 40
foot span? Likewise your addition can balloon into some Falling Water
with cantilevered balconys which is much more work for the architect.
You could hire a lawyer to look over the contract. I personally think
that this is usually not worth it because there are so many unkowns
anyway no matter how you word the contract it is not going to help
that much. If you do hire a laywer, I would say pay for perhaps an
hour or two of lawyer time and try and catch any glaring errors.
It is essential to talk to past clients, and if possible to ask to see
their houses. Note it is usually possible to visit a house under
construction, most people do not mind. I did this for my architect
because I trusted him, and felt that I could help him. Note make sure
that when you visit you are supervised. Building sites are dangerous
Finally my last word of advice is to epect it to take 2x as long as
you thought and about 20% to 30% over budget. This is what I think is
the average ....
Good luck and all the best, Mike.
Thanks very helpful post.
I think we are in a bit of an easier position in that we are working
on a maybe 400 foot remodel within the footprint of an existing 4000
square foot house.
We also are fully comfortable paying by the hour since neither we nor
the architect can properly gauge how many drafts it will take nor how
much of his oversight time we will need during
construction. Again, his references are wonderful (we checked about 8
of them) and he seems like one of the most down-to-earth and decent
So, for us a contract would be more for protection against negligent
design. But the more I think of it, the references are probably the
Again thanks for the advice!
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