Sustainable/ green architects in Concord, CA
Sustainable architects

Gerard Lee Architects-Residential Design Guide: Custom Homes & Residences

Please read the other FAQs/ guides in this series:

In our previous pages for residential FAQs, we addressed the subject of residential/ home remodels, additions, the selection of architects and fee structure. These pages hopes to clarify further the role of the architect and to discuss issues about custom home design.

Custom homes:
kitchen pavilion

A custom home is a new residence designed and built according to your needs and desires. It isn't the same as a tract or builder home that is already designed, and which you get to "customize" it by picking your upgrades, tile finishes or that special epoxy floor in the garage. While great marketing for a developer or spec house, there's really nothing custom about a home that except for a few finishes or cosmetic touches is exactly the same as the one next to it.
Your architect works with you and your family to understand your needs, program and budget to design a home that works for you. If you don't have a program that outlines the type of spaces you would like to have in the home, your architect will work with you to develop one. Designing a home is a personal journey because the architect needs to understand how you and your family lives. Your day to day schedules and activities. Your habits and how you would like to live your daily lives and the site it will sit on. All of this is brought together to develop a program and a conceptual design.

Design Fees & Construction Costs
As we have noted in our previous pages, many people at the start of their project, do not have a firm grasp of all the issues and costs associated with their residential project. Be it a new custom home or remodel.

So we present a hypothetical project and it's associated costs. These tend to be skewed towards market trends in the Bay Area and are subject to change. We all know how fluid interest rates have been in recent years, and the costs of loans and property taxes. We advise you to use these only for what they are, a hypothetical situation and we strongly urge you to use the services of a professional to assess current market trends and costs.
Architects fees for full professional design services can range from 10 to 15 percent of construction costs for a new custom house and 15 to 20% for an addition/remodel (remodels are riskier and more complex). To some clients, this seems excessive and are unable to comprehend the added value they actually get with good design services. What we need is a proper context of the true costs of design fees. So let's consider a typical 25-30 year life cycle costs of a home (30 yr mortgage/ loan). The actual cost of the building maybe 2-3 times the initial outlay. Do note that these are representational numbers. You should use current values that reflect the area you intend to build in.
We will use the table below as an *example for a 2,000sf custom home:

As a percentage of a total cost, it is easily seen that architect's fee only represents less than 3.6% of the total cost. Note that these figures do vary. Lower interest rates, lower costs of construction and lower home values should be considered in the above example. This does not take into account that homes designed by good architects tend to have added value. The appraised value of the home tends to be much higher than it's construction costs, bringing in a decent profit to the home owner should they ever sell. If the building is well documented, competitive bids can significantly lower the costs spread of the design fees. The term "You get what you pay for", has more meaning when you consider these factors. Construction costs are where most of your up front expenditure resides. A good architect can help design an efficient home, that functions well, is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, environmentally friendly, saves on energy costs and site responsive. They can help control construction costs and obtain good competitive bids. These are values not easily perceived when just looking at fee structures. However not all clients require the comprehensive services provided by architects. Read further on and we will get to this.

Other factors we did not list above that can add to the cost of owning the home are maintenance like landscaping/ gardening, operational costs, upgrades over time, etc. All these significantly lower the first time costs of an architects fees. Yet if designed and built right, their services can result in significant savings over the life of the building. In some cases, profit from the sale of a well designed home, especially if it was published in a design magazine or if it had won an award can be comparatively generous. Yet the architect does not have a clause for royalties on the design.
An energy efficient sustainably designed home can reduce the overall life time maintenance and operational costs of a home. Factor innovative design solutions, alternative construction materials & methods,personalized service and so many other benefits, the return on investment for the use of an architect's design services is more than made up for during the life of the building.

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Efficient Homes
It always comes down to money and the costs of a new home. The bigger the home and the more lavish the fittings, the higher the costs. Many architects and designers specialize in designing large edifices. This gives the impression that many architects just want to design large lavish homes. Remember that the architect doesn't design these buildings without the input of the client. A large home comes about because a client desires to have a large home. It still takes skill and talent to make these spaces work well together and to design a home whose proportions work well and is attractive.

While we can design large homes, sometimes the greater challenge is to work on smaller lots with tight space constraints. To develop exciting and sustainable designs that are functional, innovative and good looking. Sometimes with limited construction budgets. A builder can design and build you a home fairly inexpensively. You choose an architect when you have an unusual situation and are hoping to make the most of it. There is a big difference between a tract or builder home and one designed by an architect. There are good residential designers, builders and architects out there. As a client, it's your responsibility to find one who will best convey your dreams and aspirations into a home you enjoy over your lifetime. To reach that point, takes skill, talent and hard earned knowledge. So choose your designer well and understand the costs implications.

Remember that a good, efficient design by an architect can save the clients money, provide a better home and yet the architects fee will only be a drop in the bucket in the overall scheme of things. We strive to design homes that are better, not just bigger. Practical homes that are personal, functional, and attractive.
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Things to consider and Questions to ask?

* The comparative fee analysis above was based on an article entitled,"Advice from Architects: Architects, Architecture, and You", By Eugene W. Brown, AIA.

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Published 05/24/06-last updated June 24,2009