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7 essential questions to ask before hiring your design professional

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

If you talk with people who have ever tried to undertake a construction project without a design professional you will likely hear them say they regret it. A design professional brings a wealth of knowledge and skills to the project to ensure it all runs well—the person you select will be the brains behind your project, an invaluable problem solver, a good listener, and the one keeping your budget on track.

These are our top 7 questions to ask a potential design professional to ensure you get the right person for your project…

1. Do you have a signature style and where do you draw inspiration from?

Most designers pride themselves on their adaptability, which allows them to tailor their style to fit each house and client. But some have an overriding design aesthetic that they bring to every project. For example, an architect might specialize in sleek modernism, a Scandinavian cottage feel, or reinterpretations of historic houses.

By talking about the architect’s signature style and seeing where they draw their inspiration from you will get a clearer picture of whether they are the right fit for you.

2. Who will design my project?

Unless you’re hiring a sole proprietor or working with a small firm, there’s a good chance the person you meet initially isn’t the one who’ll handle the actual design work. That’s OK, as long as you understand it up front. Because good communication is crucial to a successful job, you need to meet the lead designer for your job before you hire the firm.

3. What project management services do you provide?

Design professionals can do more than come up with the design and consent documentation. They can also:

- Help you manage your budget - Manage the project - Help you hire a contractor - Provide or review your construction contract - Check the contractor’s work as the job proceeds - Manage variations to the building work - Make design adjustments as the work progresses - Review invoices to ensure that payments never get ahead of the work

Ask your design professional which of these services they provide, and what they cost.

4. How do you charge?

Some Architect’s usually charge a percentage of the total project cost, anywhere from 5%-20%, depending on the services provided, the complexity of the job, and the renown of the architect. Ask what percentage the architect will charge for your project, and when and how payments will be due.

These firms typically bill monthly, starting as soon as they begin work. But most up-front design work happens before you bring in a contractor and know the total project cost.

In the interim, the architect may bill by the hour or charge a retainer — a fixed monthly fee — with any necessary adjustments occurring once the real numbers are known.

Other firms will work to a fixed fee—it is important to know what is included in this fee and when you will be billed.

(At VRA we work on a fixed fee approach rather than percentages as we believe this gives greater certainty and transparency)

Each billing approach can work well. What’s important is utter clarity about the fee structure so you can manage your budget.

5. Can you provide 3D drawings or a 3D walk through?

Reading a standard two-dimensional plan isn’t easy. Even if you can tell where the walls, windows, and doors are, you may not get an accurate feel for how the design will look in the real world.

Ask how the ideas and drawings will be presented. Most firms now use software to render 3-D images that can be rotated and viewed from multiple angles. A lack of 3-D rendering capabilities may mean the candidate isn’t up to speed on the latest building techniques and methods.

6. How will you ensure we keep to the budget?

Architects/Designers may have a beautiful portfolio and great references, but that doesn’t indicate how they’ll approach your project. During the initial meeting, ask about how they will go about the work and how they will make sure the design is keep within the budget.

The answer is important and the designer should have a clear process for cost estimating and control.

7. Will you recommend two or three building contractors?

Good designers/architects can recommend reliable general contractors in your area and help you evaluate portfolios and bids. They may even recommend someone they’ve worked with before and set up some meet and greets.

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