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Do I Need an Architect?
by Matt Leppard 

There can be few things in life that are theoretically more satisfying than designing, or even remodeling, your own home. Just think: get out some pencils, paper, maybe an eraser or two, and some slide rules, and let your imagination run wild... Until you realize that you can't draw anything more complex than a square - and even then it takes all you've got just to make sure the corners join up properly. 

So when planning a new addition to the home, or even a new home, you should perhaps get in an architect. The trouble is (and no offence meant here to architects), you don't really know what they do other than really good drawings on nice paper, where everything works properly and to the correct proportions. In short, you don't know where to start. Rest easy, architect luddites - here's a simple explanation of what an architect does, why they do it, and why you might need one.

The role of the architect
Okay, so architects draw plans. But they are also responsible for the general appearance of the built landscape - or they should be. In actual fact, architects are often left out of the building process for reasons of laziness or expediency. Many builders view them as a needless obstacle to quick work, and as such, in many urban areas, poor planning and zoning combined with no architectural input at all has led to some monstrosities. 

While you may have some very real ideas about what you want to do to your house that really aren't that crazy despite what your spouse says, you need to turn them into reality. What looks fine on paper may not work in concrete, may not be affordable, or may be downright dangerous. Here, an architect can advise you on what will work, what won't, and how you can turn those dreams into reality. He or she can then turn these rough ideas into workable blueprints and models for construction with total regard for your budget.

The architect is very often a problem-solver as well. When you've worn your pencils down to blunt nubs, chewed your fingernails to the quick, and drained your sixth cup of Columbian-strength coffee just trying to work out where you can put a door, get the architect in. They will be able to look at your problem both from 'outside the box' and from an expert point of view.

Of course, the architect's role doesn't end there. With specialized - and probably local - knowledge of planning, construction, and building regulations, an architect can ensure that what gets put up stays up and not torn down due to some petty local regulation that forbids turreted carbuncles on the sides of two-story houses. Of course, good and legal design also ensures that the resale value of your home gets upped.

So now you know that architects do a bit more than draw and design. But did you know that they will be able to help you source and evaluate contractors and subcontractors? He or she will also be able to continually monitor the project to maintain standards and continuity of work. In many cases, the architect will involve a builder - and you - in the preliminary processes you all understand the nature and scope of the work proposed. This is important as it helps you to retain control of budgets.

Whether you need an architect will largely depend on the scale and complexity of your project, but from the above, you should be in a position to determine whether your budget justifies the expertise of a professional.  Bear in mind, however, that paying for the privilege of experience and qualification often wins out in the long run after costly botch-jobs have been repaired...

Finding the right architect
As with absolutely everything in the world ever, word of mouth is the most reliable source of information on architects. However, it is a fool who accepts only one opinion, and if you don't move within a friend/family circle that uses architects, then you will need to do some research and evaluation. So log onto Global Estate's Web directory, search for an architect and off you go.

This is an obvious oversimplification because as with any industry, the quality of workmanship varies from architect to architect, and some specialize in certain types of construction - such as residential or commercial - so you need to shop around. Thus, as you look through a directory - whether online or in print - you should bear in mind professional architecture standards. In the US, most professionals are accredited to the American Institute of Architects, and it is likely that a similar body exists in whichever country you live.

Once you have a list of potentials drawn up, call them up, and have a chat.  Ask them about recent work and testimonials; describe your project and ask them for their opinion, then arrange to meet them in person if they sound up to the job. However, make sure you ask them about consultation fees for this initial meeting, and ask them about everything from the drawing phase to the construction phase. Please don't get the impression that architects are out to make a quick buck from you - in most cases, it is in their best interests to ensure that clients get good value for money. Again, word of mouth and testimonials will help you to judge whether the architect you choose is the right one for you.

For the full range of services described above, be prepared to part with 10-15 per cent of construction costs for a new home and 15 to 20 per cent for remodeling. Wow. That's a lot of money. But look at it this way: if the job is done properly, then by the time you come to sell and hopefully make a profit, the amount will be much less in proportion to other costs and your potential profit.

Matt Leppard is Editor and a content producer for Global Estate  the first portal site designed to cater exclusively to real estate. The site includes property listings, news, and advice articles on everything from buying a home to eliminating household pests to using the Internet to find a home.


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