architectural fees for homes and buildings explained

Reimbursable Costs/Fees

Architects will almost always charge their clients for what are called “REIMBURSABLES“.  These are costs and charges incurred by the architect for a variety of items for which the architect must pay, directly attributable to a project.

Reimbursables do NOT typically include anything in the architect’s normal overhead, like his umbrella insurance costs, rent, electricity, staff and general costs of running a business.

Reimbursables DO typically include the following (when attributable to a specific project):
Mileage, Food during Travel, Air Travel, Hotel, Rental Car, Parking, Computer Plotting/printing, Photocopies, Courier Services (UPS/FedEx, etc.), US Mail, and other expenses due to their performance of duties on a particular project.

Why the architect charges their clients for these expenses:
because the architect would otherwise have to eat these costs.  That does not make good business sense.  If an architect has been asked by a client to fly to their project site from another state, for instance, the client owes the architect all costs associated with that architect serving their needs and requests.  The other typical reimbursables are historically accepted project costs in the business of architecture.

What are realistic charges for these reimbursable items?

First: a brief discussion of a reimbursable multiple fee charge.  It is common for architects, lawyers, doctors, accountants and other professionals to not only charge for some particular items, but to assign a multiple of perhaps 25% on top of the actual costs, to cover administrative record-keeping and billing for these items, or more, depending on the items.  Why: because the architect is going to have to pay someone (or themselves) to keep track of these costs and receipts and they don’t work for free and they won’t have to do these things, unless these charges are incurred on specific projects, serving those clients.   Also, not every minute of every day is logged when an architect or staff member drives to a post office or UPS outlet or other locations to send things to their clients.  Therefore, on some items, architects simply charge a higher flat charge (over and above the actual cost of the item) to cover the related cost of transmitting and forwarding such items. In business this practice is understood: you charge more for something you provide than it costs you, in order to earn money and stay in business.  No reasonable businessperson of any type will charge their clients what it actually costs them to do something or provide something.  There must be a markup in order to stay alive and run a business.

What is normal?  Let’s take a look at a typical list of architectural reimbursable costs/charges:

Mileage:                                                    $1/mile
Food during travel:                                  cost + 25%
Air Travel:                                                  cost + 25%
Hotel:                                                         cost + 25%
Rental car:                                                 cost + 25%
Parking:                                                      cost + 25%
Computerized plots: in color, 24″x36″: $6.75 each
Photocopies: 8-1/2″x11″ b&w (including copies of emails for file)
.                                                                     $0.25 each
Photocopies: 11″x17” b&w:                      $1.00
Courier service: 9×12:                                $62.00
Courier service: (FedExPak):                     $81.00
Courier service: (drawing tube):                $120
US Postal Service Mail: $10 envelope:     $4.50
US Postal Service Mail: 9×12 envelope:   $11.00

There can be a host of other reimbursable items for varying costs and charges.  The above is classic list of architectural reimbursable items that clients should expect to see and pay in return for the architect providing them.

You may notice there is nothing noted for blueprints.  This is because architectural businesses are mainly going the way of electronic services and issuing electronic PDFs to their clients of their project documents.  Then, if the client wishes to have hard copy, the client can email the list of PDF links (usually on the Cloud on DropBox) to their local print shop and obtain sets of the documents usually for far less than the architect would charge to provide them for that convenience.  So: the architect providing electronic deliverables actually saves the expense and reimbursable charges the architect would otherwise have to charge the client.  This empowers the client to make their own choices as to hard copy or electronics and is often better, as electronic sets allow the client to zoom in, where you can’t do that with printed media.  The client saves money, because the architect can create a PDF file much faster than running a physical hard copy.  Another benefit: the PDF drawings can be sent places electronically that paper sets of blueprints can’t go, or would cost more or take more time to arrive.

Most experienced (i.e: older) architects have all breathed enough ammonia vapors over the decades to last a lifetime and don’t miss that at all.  Ammonia is the liquid that is vaporized, used to expose “blueprint” paper as it runs over a drum in a blueprint machine.  While this can be exhausted to the outside, the residual vapors on the sheets in a small workspace can give headaches to architectural personnel running sets of hard copy documents.   Long-term health effects are unknown, although some architectural personnel report having migraine headaches later in life.  The point being: your architect no longer serves as a local print shop, nor do they want to function in that capacity.

The list of reimbursable costs for architects above is a reasonable ballpark.  Some architects may be higher, others lower. Each firm should calculate what is reasonable for their practice, not use the list above.

Those who don’t detail these in their contracts with their clients are looking for trouble.  It is the prudent architect that lists these costs in their client agreement.  In this manner, all parties have agreed to what is going to be charged and there should be no further discussion in the course of the project.  The architect should have their company invoices detail their reimbursable charges and have this as a sub-item list on each and every invoice to their client.  That way, everyone will be used to seeing these charges.

Discussion of reimbursable charges:

If you are a client and you are thinking: “Why should I pay more to the architect than it costs him or her to make a photocopy?  Surely the cost of that single piece of paper is only pennies.”

Let’s examine what you are really pay for here.  It’s not just the cost of the paper.  Firm’s like HP use their printer business to underwrite their real business: selling ink (although printers aren’t free, costing from perhaps $100 into the tens of thousands for certain types and sizes).  Ink cartridges can easily be $34 each for certain colors and the number of pages run is usually far less than claimed on the sales information for that cartridge. Then someone has to take that photocopy and file it in the project file in the right folder.  Did that person actually indicate that time on their time sheet to do that?  And the fact that the architect had to replace all the printers in his/her office last week, because of a lightning storm; was that cost added to the cost of only the paper?  Now you begin to realize that the architect, just as all businesses, must have a reasonable multiple built into their reimbursable charges, just to remain in business and provide clients with a level of service that is expected from a professional company.