Architect and Construction in Boca Raton, FL

Boca Raton Real Estate

Architect Gray Smith tells the story of a client who got away: a man who came in to discuss building a roof deck atop his Philadelphia townhouse.

The man had first gone to a builder, who advised him to see an architect.

But when Smith presented a proposal with about $10,000 in architectural fees on top of $45,000 in construction costs, the potential client balked.

Smith doesn't know for sure, but he assumes the man found a contractor willing to do the work without an architect. He tells the story to illustrate an age-old point about the risks of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Sure, this smart, successful man may have found another, less-expensive way to get the job done. But he might have saved less than he thought and even exposed himself to tragedy -- not to mention huge liability. What if something goes wrong with a deck railing during one of the large parties he likes to throw?

"You want it to be designed so that if 50 people are leaning against the rail, they don't all fall into the street," Smith says.

Shouldn't any competent builder be able to ensure that? Perhaps. But Smith told the story in response to a recent column about the pitfalls of home-improvement projects, especially in states that don't license contractors.

Using a state-licensed architect can go a long way toward avoiding those pitfalls, Smith says.

There are many reasons that home-improvement projects always rank among the top consumer complaints, starting with cost. But if something goes wrong with one of these projects, you won't just be looking at the loss of thousands of dollars. You'll be living with the result -- whether it's poorly done or unfinished work, or just plain lousy design -- every day.

Beyond basic schematic designs, an architect's role depends on the scope of a project and the size of your budget.

On a major home renovation or addition, an architect could:

  • Prepare drawings and documents necessary to get building permits.

  • Review or prepare contracts for construction.

  • Supervise work along the way, or at least review it at critical points, such as just before insulation and drywall are installed.

    To Smith, an architect's greatest contribution may simply be knowing how to avoid problems before they happen.

    "You can muddle through. If you want to go to Home Depot and get them to design your kitchen for you, you can do that," he says. But don't count on a salesperson to warn you about the location of pipes or wiring, or any of the other details you'll contend with if you cut into walls or start moving appliances or cabinets.

    That's why Smith argues that avoiding an architect may save you less than you think. Instead of needing to set aside an extra 25 percent for cost overruns and contingencies, he says, an architect-designed project should come in close to budget. Usually he's within 2 percent or 3 percent, he says.

    How much will an architect cost? There's no way to tell except to ask, though Smith says it's reasonable to expect fees to total 15 percent to 20 percent of a home project's total cost. For a smaller job -- say, less than $30,000 -- expect to pay more on a percentage basis.

    "If the scope of the work is well-defined, most architects will do it for a lump-sum fee," Smith says.

    There are undoubtedly some jobs too simple and small to require an architect, and there are undoubtedly some contractors qualified and experienced enough to do straightforward projects without an architect.

    But you're going to have to live with your mistakes, so you should consider Gray Smith's point.

    If you hire an architect, you need to be as diligent as you would be in hiring a contractor or any other professional: At a minimum, check references carefully.

    For a list of architects, contact the American Institute of Architects at

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