Questions to Ask Your Architects About Your Particular Project

This blog post is one of a series of three. The other two are “Questions to ask your Architect about their Experience” and “Questions to ask your Architect about their Fees”.

Ask Your Architect “Will our project be a priority for you?”

If your architect is good they may also be popular. Ask about their other projects and timing, the size of the team and ask directly whether your project will be a priority for them. They are bound to say “yes” so look for any qualifications to this and get a committment from them.

How Much will it Cost?

The only honest answer to this is “I don’t know” or “How much does what cost?” because until you have done a detailed specification, bill of quantities, and been out to tender no-one knows.

A common problem is that architects give the impression they know how much things will cost when in fact they dont. The cost estimates they give you are very broad estimates and, quite honestly, for something as important as this, this isnt good enough. If you were to go through the entire design process, which costs time and money, only to find out it is all too expensive, then you would have to spend more time and money getting the project within Budget. You will also be dissapointed because your expectations have been badly managed. Whatever explanation your architect gives you as to why will cost more than they let you believe remember they dont mind quite as much as you do because after all they got paid and its not their home!

We, uniquely have two solutions to this problem. One is we show you examples of projects we have done with detailed figures. Of course your project will be different but at least you can see a range of examples see the quality of the finishes understand the particular issues and costs and so orientate your self within the correct range at the beginning. If we dont know we say we dont know and find out for you.

Secondly we involve our building team in the project from the begining. So instead of an architect making a guess we can say “that will take 10 man days to do and will cost X euros whereas that solution which is nearly as good can be done for only 1 man day: you decide”. An architect on his own just cannot do that and builders are understandably reluctant to spend time on a project without being paid when there is no guarantee they will get the work. So when I say unique I really do mean it.

How do You Stay on Budget?

The architect’s answer to this will be that the contractor will give you a fixed price contract for a detailed specification and bill of quantities…………………. what could possibly go wrong?

Change orders. That is what can go wrong. Change orders are alterations to the original specification for which, a tender price was provided and, a contract was signed. Now some change orders are almost inevitable because building a home requires thousands of interwoven decisions. However the better planned the project before your start the fewer the change orders and the lower the cost.

So is the specification specific?

Has the make and model of critical items (floor tiles, windows, the kitchen) been decided or will you require a more expensive model or make once you discover what is proposed? Ask your architect when these decisions are made. If they say “we show you samples on site during the construction” an alarm bell should go off. These decisions should be made before the contract is signed so you are happy with the design and cost.

Will your architect really think through the mechanical installations understand them, size them correctly, and specify the make and model if necessary?
Has your architect really understood your lifestyle and so tailored the feel of the home in sympathy?

Will your architect welcome images and sketches from you and photos from magazines. You should be encouraged to provide all this so your architect understands what you want to achieve. If the architect doesnt tranparently encourage this then the danger is the architect sees it as their project not yours.

Will your architect really take the trouble to make sure the contractor candidates really understand the issues

and will your architect take the time and the trouble to explain to each contractor in the tender process exactly how they wants things done. The architect will need to spend several hours on site with each contractor before they tender.

Are the contractors strong enough financially to fulfll their obligations under the terms of the contract? You dont want your contractor going bust half way through. That could be expensive. For this reason you also dont want them to mistakenly quote too low because that might make them go bust, unless of course they are strong enough financially to withstand it.

Are there any Particular Challenges to address?

There could be a steep slope, or a particular view to make the most of, or a rock in the middle of the site to incorporate or remove or buried underground, or an unfavoruable orientation, or challenges going off grid or difficult access and so on.

How Long Will It Take and What are the Key Milestones with Dates?

Personally I think people like certainty and they like honesty. Your architect should be able to quote for their charges throughout the project from the begining to the end so there are no nasty surprises as you move forwards. Be cautious of architects that say “I can only quote for the final project when we have been through the initial stages”. If you are building a villa that is not true.

What do I Approve and When?

You should have clarity about when your input is required, and how you approve things going forwards. If there have been misunderstandings and then decisions made on the back of them it can be time consuming and irritating for all parties to unravel it all. Does your architect systematically make sure this doesnt happen?

Author: John Wolfendale
Bio: John is a founder of Eco Vida Homes and is passionate about bringing modern design and construction practices to Spain. He believes a home which is warm in winter and cool in summer is largely a matter of design and selective use of materials. He is British and a Chartered Surveyor with over 22 years experience living and working in Spain.