$10K Really?

17 Replies

Hey All,

Just wanted to get some thoughts on what my architect is charging for the design and management of a major remodel.  The house is down to the studs and I have been working with an architect that came highly referred.  I have seen his work and he does a great job.  The house details:

1800 sq 3 bd 2.5 bath when finished

We are converting the garbage into 2 bedrooms and 1.5 baths.  The upstairs is becoming a complete master suite.  

Outside we are adding a 750 sq ft 2 car garage along with a 2 bd 1 ba apartment above.

The architect just sent me his proposal and it is for 5% of the total construction budget.  He has estimated this budget to come in around 200k, seems high to me.  This puts his cost at $10k for the design.

Any experienced thoughts comments would be appreciated.


That fee is normal if he is managing the project  getting the permit  and doing the dawning you may be able to look over the bid and get a few items lower  when you look at it .Make sure you have it in your contract you have a right to remove a trade before they start and to use your person if you need to after looking at the bid and signing anything. Get a detail  item of the bid and I think you have  drawing and maybe one are two trades you may get someone else to do them and save you some money are if you are handy you may be able to do one are to to get the budget down . The name of the game is to keep cost down and sale high =profit

@Steve Osowicz I guess I didn't mention.  The house includes a complete layout change and I was born missing the design gene.  This costs includes having him available to the contractor throughout the project.  It just seems high to me and I wanted to get others thoughts that have used architects on a project like this before. He is also basing his cost on a complete construction cost of 200k before we even have drawings to bid off of.

I don't think that fee is that out of line. My parents are getting ready for a serious remodel and addition to their house and the fee is 11k. If the architect is well experienced he will have a rough idea of what the project will cost before creating any drawings. You should really be telling him what you budget is and make sure that he doesn't go wild with features that you can't afford. I disagree with hiring a draft person for work like this. Architects are licensed and insured to protect you and they know how to navigate building departments, codes and contractors. This is coming from me, a landscape architect. 


I am an Architect in the San Diego area and I do not know all of the details regarding the project but a 5% fee is a decent fee for this amount of work.  Given the description of work noted above it sounds like quite a bit of work to perform.

What many in these forums do not understand is that the building codes have become very complex and do so in every new code cycle.  These codes need to be adhered to and have a very heavy focus on energy and sustainability.  Especially in the Seattle area.  A lot of what you are paying for is this professional knowledge and ability to piece the puzzle together.

If you or a draftsman can do this, then more power to you.  Remember you get what you pay for.


I come from a commercial construction background and 5% is the normal fee for architects for commercial work so I imagine residential is similar in fees.

As @Chad Conrad pointed out, you need to have a designer that is aware of codes.  It would cost a great deal more to proceed without meeting codes and then fail inspections.

In my humble opinion, you are better off paying a decent fee to the architect rather than cutting corners and having a bunch of missing details and code issues.

@Josh Norris I did a strikingly similar project 2 years ago in San Diego - added a new living unit, 850 sqft new construction, big layout changes to the existing structure.  I hired a draftsman to do my plans for $1300.  I did all work with the city to get plans approved, found my own structural engineer, represented myself at the various reviews, spent numerous hours not knowing what I was doing, and eventually got it built.

It took almost 16 months for me to get the approved plans, and only 5 months of construction.

I learned a TON in the process, but even with everything I now know, I will NEVER do that again.  I could have gotten it built probably a year earlier and saved much frustration.  I now work with a building designer who walks into the city department, glad hands the people, talks sports, and walks out with stamped plans in a couple days.  There's value in that for me.

That said, for my current project (2400sqft new construction), the building designer fees (including getting permits) are about $5500.  I pay separately for structural and do my own landscape design.  He's available during construction for questions, but I oversee contractor.

Long story short, $10k on a $200k build isn't outrageous.  Could be done cheaper.  But, as @Chad Conrad said, someone needs to shoulder the risk as well as the coordination effort during construction.  No reason you can't take both those if you're interested, but the architect is almost certainly more suited to handle both more efficiently.

If the project comes out to 5% for the architect and 15% for the contractor, you're doing fine.

@Chad Conrad @Hugh Ayles @Carl C.

Thank you very much for your professional insight.  That is the honest answer I was looking for.  This architect has tremendous experience and was referred by a structural engineer that was highly regarded who also works for the city and has a lot of experience on the permit process here in Seattle.  Quality is much better than being thrifty in this area as you guys pointed out.  I just need clarification since I haven't jumped into a project like this before.

I appreciate your time and honest thoughts.

Josh (and all),

I (too) am an architect here in Seattle, with my own practice, and do all sorts of project types...   ...remodels, additions (both outward & upward), and new construction.  I am also a consistently prepared applicant with the city of Seattle (DPD), as well as other jurisdictions - meaning that I consistently submit "code-compliant" drawings that isn't a waste of their time, therefore gets through the process quicker.

No, this wasn't meant to be a marketing post.

My point, is that architects (like me) bring a lot to the table, and are a valuable asset to have on your team.  Do you "need" an architect (for Single Family Residential here in Seattle)?  No.  "Stamped drawings" are not required.  BUT, you will need a contractor who has the drafting abilities (on staff) and the code knowledge, or like someone else said, YOU figure that all out, then hire a drafter to draw things up.  

It ALL comes down to how "involved" you're looking to be - as with everything.  Pay an architect and have them coordinate everything, to eliminate code & construction issues down the line (i.e. pay the money up front), or hire a contractor & drafter to figure everything out "on the fly", with change orders, delays, re-inspections, etc. (i.e. paying MORE money later).

It's always better to "have a plan" before you start.  Unless you're the type that thrives on "diving right in, and seeing how it goes" - then more power to you.

Regarding the main question of your post...   ...fee...   ...yes, that amount is COMPLETELY in line with the scope you describe.  Architects can charge a variety of ways - fixed fee, percentage of construction cost, or hourly.  Personally, I HATE the "percentage of construction cost" approach, because it's a moving target.  I charge "fixed fee", so that you know EXACTLY how much to budget for, and won't hesitate to pick up the phone (if there are problems)...   ...which is the issue with "hourly" architects, where you hesitate to reach out with design problems, because that clock starts ticking (like an attorney).  The ONLY time I use hourly, is during the construction process, because I have no idea how picky/needy the homewoner or contractor is going to be.  And regarding my fixed fee structure, I've done enough projects now that I know how much of my time will be needed.  I structure it accordingly, back-check the fee a few different ways (yes, also using the 5-15% of construction cost as an analysis), and provide the proposal.

As with everything, "economy of scale" should factor in.  Design fees on a bathroom are going to be near the 15% range, whereas a complete house design is going to be in the 5-10% range...   ...unless you're having a high-end custom home built, then figure 15% (or more) for an architect.

Anyways, I hope this helped.


These are all great responses. I especially second what @Brandon Kelly  and @Justin R.  posted. I too am an architect, and I think that many times what we do is not fully understood by homeowners and investors. The codes are really complex, and they change from city to city too, so we really have to understand many different moving pieces to get projects designed, approved and built quickly. 

I actually think 5% is on the low range of normal for these services, so you are getting a good deal. However, I also agree that you need to set the budget thinking about both your construction budget and your overall project budget. The project budget includes the soft costs of things like surveys, plan check and permit fees, and professional fees for the architect and engineers, and is usually in the 12-18% range. Construction budget is what you actually spend on construction. Any decent architect should be aware of this and can help explain this and give a potential schedule for you too.

I think it's also important to say that when a person hires me, I really feel that I am their advocate in all ways in getting their project built correctly and within budget. I think many architects feel this way too, and when one is going through a construction project, (a process that they are not familiar with and that can cost a lot of money and has the potential for many things to go wrong), an advocate and ally in your corner can be a powerful thing to have.

How much does speed matter to you?

As @Justin R mentioned (for some reason his name won't show up for me to tag), it took him 16 months for something that might have taken 6 months.  That's 10 extra months.  My current tear-down project that requires an architect costs me about $5,000/month in holding costs, so a better architect would have been worth $50,000 to me.  And it's not just time savings, but just the headache/stress/hassle factor.

For reference, 5% for an architect in the Seattle area is very cheap.  Seems more like 10% around here.

I added a second story to a house on a lake. I didn't hire an architect, and I got a sub-par design. I ended up spending an additional $20,000 to re-work the back of the house - the part that faced the lake and was the selling point of the whole house. I used an architect the second time around, and was happy to spend that money. He did what I could not, and it looked amazing!

I think your $10,000 fee is quite reasonable for the amount of work involved. And this is a highly recommended architect. It is so hard to find good people.

To me you are lucky to pay only 5% for so much work and service and having an experienced professional on board to protect you and make sure your project comes in on budget and constructed in a timely manner. This in one area where allot of people lose their shirts because they simply do not know what they are doing and deal with contractors that present delays, cost overrun, poor workmanship etc. This is the area most inexperienced people create long term remorse for themselves. 

I have done many construction projects from small and simple to large and very complicated and believe me you will be glad you hired an architect to design and handle your project oversight. Allot of architects will not offer to oversee your project and when you can get one that will such as in this case count yourself fortunate. 

You will feel allot more confident about using architects and paying them once you see how your project is moving along and see for yourself all the issues that can present themselves when paying to have so much work done. Your project involved allot of work and numerous areas and places where things can go wrong. You want an experienced person overseeing and managing that for you. 

All very good points that I didn't necessarily think about.  I have since spoken to multiple people in the middle of remodels on their own homes and have heard both the good and the bad stories they have gone through.  It sounds like a good architect and structural engineer are key to larger remodel projects, both from a time and cost stand point.

It still amazes me the amount of time and effort people put into helping each other on this site.  Thank you