Architect: Another choice for a design professional is a licensed architect. I have a good friend who is an architect and he describes himself as a generalist. He generally knows a little bit about everything in construction. Architects go through four or five years of college, a few years of internship, then have to pass a rigorous test to become licensed in their home state. Some architects are licensed in more than one state and some states require any home designs to be supervised and signed by a licensed architect. Most architects work in the commercial end of construction, but a select few have chosen to work mainly in residential construction. These are the architects you should focus on, the ones who have a love and understanding of residential design.
Most architects bring a "full package" to the design process, meaning they will supervise the design, modifications to the design, material selection, interior design, placement on the site, selection of the builder, contracts with the builder and/or sub contractors, payment schedules, site observation and follow through at each step of the building process from first sketches to final walk through and follow up one year after you have moved in. Architects can be a valuable third party when homeowners and builders disagree, they are willing to try new things with new products and they usually think"outside the box" which will make your home one of a kind. These are all valuable things to bring to the design process, but they do come with a cost. Most architects will charge 5% to 10% of the anticipated cost of the project, depending on what services you need or want. Any new home project above $500,000.00 would benefit from from the services that an architect can bring to the project. The benefits of an architects services are decreased in home projects falling below the half million dollar level and only in states requiring a licensed professional would they be needed in the $100,000.00 to $300,000.00 range.
Some architects will tailor their services to each individual project, providing only essential services; such as design, material selection and site observation. That would leave contracts, payment schedules and builder selection up to the home owner. This also opens the gap for things to fall through, such as who has the final say on construction questions, the builder or the designer? What if the builder decides to substitute products or materials that require design changes, who pays for that? It is almost always best to have one person as the head decision maker and in a less than full service package, the architect loses some of their authority and oversight. The line between project leader and designer is fuzzy and the chain of command can become a battle between architect and builder. Like it or not, ego can mess up the best jobs. Builders who go into a project knowing the final say will be up to the architect, understand their limitations. When builders and architects go into the project as equals, things will flair up from time to time. This can put the home owner in the middle, which is never a good place to be. Less than full service architectural packages work best when the architect and builder have worked together on other jobs. They know how each other works, sometimes how they think and understand their limits with each other. That doesn't mean there won't be flair ups, just that there most likely won't be a total melt down of cooperation.
If you are looking at a new home that is totally unique, will require unusual construction, is priced over a half million dollars or your state requires a licensed designer, choose an architect to get it done right. Figure the cost into the project just as you figure in the Wolf range, the granite counter tops and the in ground pool. An architecturally designed home adds as much value as all the bells and whistles do.