architectural fees for homes and buildings explained

Residential Architectural Fees

Residential Architectural Fees is about architects’ fees to design houses and render other services for homeowners.

First, residential architectural fees includes a CONSOLIDATED RESIDENTIAL ARCHITECTURAL FEE PACKAGE LIST
This indicates what the typical fee rate might be for various packages of professional services, depending on the services included in each package, for SFR (Single Family Residential) projects.  The numbers in this list below are further documented below this list (which can be seen lower down on this page).

residential architectural fees

TIER 1                                                New Projects            Renovations
BASIC SERVICES:                            8% to 10%                    10% to 12%
(although this could be significantly higher when considering this fee chart depending on project construction cost valuation by the architect).

TIER 2
Basic + Cabinetry:                            up to 12%+/-               up to 14%

TIER 3
Basic + Cabinetry + Electrical:       up to 13%+/-              up to 15%

TIER 4
Basic + Cabinetry + Electrical +
Bidding (and related):                      up to 13.75%+/-         up to 15.75%

TIER 5
Basic + Cabinetry + Electrical +
Bidding +
Construction Administration:         up to 16.25%+/-       up to 18.25%

TIER 6
Basic + Cabinetry + Electrical +
Bidding +
Construction Administration +
Project Management:                        up to 18.25%+/-       up to 20.25%

Various architects and organizations may call these residential architectural fee packages different names.  For instance, Tier 1 obviously is for Basic Services.  However, some firms may choose to call their residential architectural fees for Tier 2 a “Silver Plan” and Tier 3 a “Gold Plan” and so forth.  Still others may opt for different language and call Tier 2 an “Enhanced Service Plan” and Tier 3 a “Performance Plan” and so on.  The titles of these plans are not important; what services they include are.

residential architectural fees

Most architectural clients should consider engaging their architect to provide at least Tier 5 services.  Why: because very few lay people have the knowledge to deal with Contractors bidding what is likely to be the most expensive effort of their lives, nor to understand the implications of what they are seeing during construction.  The extra fees paid to their architect to perform these additional services are well worth it.  It can make the difference between a well-built project for the most reasonable cost and disaster.  The architect is the person who stands between most owners and their builders, providing value-added services to insure that the homeowner receives what they are paying for.

And, if homeowners are not going to have the time to manage their project and to make all the choices necessary during a project, the architect can do that for them, in Tier 6 services.

Below is a letter from Architect Marcel Breuer to a potential client, indicating his firm’s 15% Basic fee to design a house for a client:

residential architect fees

residential architect fees from Architect Marcel Breuer

This indicates that Architect’s Basic fees in the 15% range were the norm for some Architects, dating all the way back into the mid-20th century.  Therefore: there is the weight of history behind this fee range.

Another factor is that most clients imagine that their cost of construction will be much less than real world costs.  Often half.  So: it is important for wishful homeowners to view this page: (custom residential construction costs) to obtain a better understanding of today’s construction costs for houses.  The architect is thinking of reality; the homeowner needs to do the same thing, to avoid a disconnect in the perception of what the architect charges.

Let’s reiterate some of the numbers from this fee chart:
for Basic Services for the design of a custom house:
Project Const. Cost                           Architect fee range (basic)
up to $100k                                                    12%
$101k to $500k                                              11% to 9.8%
$501k to $1M                                                 9.7% to 9.3%
$1M to $1.5M                                                 9.2% to 9.1%
$1.5M to $2M                                                 9.0% to 8.9%
$2M to $3M                                                    8.8% to 8.7%
$3M to $4M                                                    8.6% to 8.5%
$4M to $6M                                                    8.4% to 8.3%
$6M to $10M                                                  8.2% to 8.1%
$10M to $20M                                                8.0% to 7.6%
$20M to $50M                                                7.5% to  6.5%

with the vast majority of client projects being in the $101k to $500k range or $500k to $1.5M range, which means most custom house architectural fees for Basic services would likely be in the 12% to 9.1% range.  However, many architectural firms may find themselves in the above-posted 8% to 10% range for basic services and higher for renovations.

Let’s do some math examples:

Example 1
Spacious custom house with nice upgrades of quality wood floors and wood ceilings, stone fireplaces, large porches, 2 or 3 car garage, upgrade appliances, high efficiency insulation, quality roofing and siding and doors.  Perhaps $300/HSF x 4,000 HSF = $1.2M construction cost.  Probably 9.2% architect basic fee = $110,400. But you also wanted cabinetry and electrical drawings, bidding and construction administration (which can vary widely depending on amount of services during construction), but not project management.  Looking at the Architectural Fee Package list chart above, that’s likely to be in the 16.25% range or $1.2M x .1625% = $195,000.

Example 2
Custom home of a more modest size, with wood floors and ceiling of budget variety, painted drywall, only 1 fireplace (with stone), more compact porches, 2 car garage, more budget oriented appliances, insulation, doors, roofing and siding.  Perhaps $220/HSF x 2,500 HSF= $550,000.  Probably 9.6% architect Basic Services fee = $550,000 x .096= $52,800.  If you want electrical and cabinet drawings, that would be more. And Bidding services and Construction Administration would be more.

So there are two examples of probable architect fee ranges for custom single family houses.  Perhaps it is now more understandable why there is a relationship between the cost, size and complexity of a house, the range of services and the Architect’s fee.

If you are the sort of person who says things like: “I’m only going to pay my architect thus and so amount and that’s it”, then you will probably obtain the services tailored for a house smaller and less substantial than you are hoping to have built for you and your family.  You need to value what the Architect does, just as you would your Doctors, CPAs, Attorneys, Engineers, Surveyors, and other professionals you need from time to time in your life.  The Architect has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain a major university education to learn the basics, and the rest of their life until now, gaining valuable real-world experience to learn all the wisdom that allows them to design a home for you that will satisfy your dreams.  While that may not be bricks and mortar, without that creative and technical expertise, you have nothing.  Pay your architect in appreciation of the value they bring to your project and you will have a happy relationship and obtain a quality job.

 

Residential Architectural Fees

for Renovations

RENOVATIONS: There is a wild card Additional Service for residential architectural fees that can and will increase the percentages indicated above: RECORD DRAWINGS.  See Architect Services for an explanation of Record Drawings.  These are needed for most renovation projects.  These are almost always provided at an hourly rate, above and beyond other services being provided.  This is one of the reasons that Renovation projects are often more demanding and therefore, more expensive, in terms of residential architectural fees than new projects.  Also: residential renovation projects always involve some form of investigation and discovery, which requires more time on the part of the architect to understand what is existing in order to add to it or move it or remove it.

residential architectural fees

It is always easier to build new, from the architect’s perspective, than to have to understand what exists, then how to carefully change certain portions of that to have new features installed and added.  Regarding Record Drawings: even if the owner has existing Paper drawings, the architect will still have to redraw those, typically from scratch, on the architect’s computers, in order to have usable electronic drawings.  Very few architects these days draw anything on paper, certainly few documents that end up being used for actual Construction Drawings.  Most architects create their designs, drawings and specifications on computers.  Therefore, if there are not electronic construction documents accurately depicting the existing projects arrangements of features, the architect will have to perform work to measure and understand existing conditions, usually through field measuring, then convert those field notes into computerized drawings that become usable to the architect during his or her creation of the renovated design.  This is one of the reasons why residential architectural fees are higher for renovation projects than new projects: there is a lot of documentation of existing conditions required.

It is the rare owner who actually possesses electronic drawings, particularly for an existing residential project, and in the software compatible (usable) with the architect’s latest software, and that they actually indicate what was built (“As-Builts)”.  There are usually numerous changes during construction and the new architect will typically need to revise any documents provided by the owner for the new project in order to have a reasonably reliable depiction of existing conditions from which to proceed with the new residential design work.  Therefore, Renovation projects will nearly always add to the complexity and therefore the hours an architect will need to spend on a project, and for that reason, the percentages for residential architectural fees for renovations are usually higher than for new projects.  There is no hard and fast rule about this increase in percentages, but for discussion’s sake this might typically be somewhere on the order of perhaps 2% to 5% more than for New Projects.  This can and will vary, depending on the project.  For instance: hospital renovation projects can be significantly more than for a warehouse renovation.

 


 

The average range of architectural fees for residential projects is above in a consolidated list.  Below, there are various line item data sources influencing the residential architectural fee rates and links to definitions of service types:

SERVICE                         Historic average % of the cost of construction
.                                         (Residential Architectural Fees ballpark = these % x construction cost valuation by Architect)

BASIC SERVICES:         8% to 10% (of the architect’s valuation of the cost of construction).  (note: this will be more in the range of 10% to 12% for renovations).

(click here: Basic Services
to see what is normally part of Basic Services)

However, according to the comprehensive Fee Chart used by many State Governments on this webpage: Architectural Fees, Group 5 complexity project types include SFR (Single Family Residential) and therefore Basic Services Fees to design houses range from 6.5% for a colossal castle costing more than $50 million to build, to  12% Basic Services fee to design a home costing up to $100,000 (using conventional means).  So: the rule of thumb Basic Services percentage fee range of 8% to 10% above can be viewed as a bargain, when compared with the comprehensive chart.  So, the smaller the home, the greater the percentage fee, because there are certain things that always need to be accomplished in a project, no matter what the size, and therefore, the smaller the house, the greater the percentage.

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The architectural services above this line are generally those that will help the owner obtain the architectural portion of their building permit (but not structural or for any engineering and not pulling of the actual permit).

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The architectural services below are generally referred to as Additional Services.  Many owners do not fully understand the value they bring to a project.  You can find definitions of this list of services here:

Additional Services

if you scroll down that page below Basic Services.

Some owners believe the Additional Services should all be included in Basic Services, however, that would only increase the cost of Basic Services.  And the following Additional Services are typically not required to obtain a building permit, or required by law.  However, each of them brings added value to projects.  See other menu items on this website (ArchitecturalFees.com) for definitions of these services and what they include and what benefits they provide to an owner of a house (or other project type).

ADDITIONAL SERVICES:
(and related percentage of Architect’s valuation of construction cost as an architectural fee ballpark).  This removes any confusion, by separating Basic Services from Additional Services, and by enumerating each type.

Cabinetry Elevations and associated interior design in the vicinity of cabinets:
.                                   1% to 2%   (or higher for renovations)

Electrical Schematics:
.                                   0.5% to 1%   (or higher for renovations)

Bidding/Negotiating/Cost Reduction (including Contractor discussions):
.                                   0.5% to 0.75%  (or higher for renovations)

Construction Administration (this can vary widely, depending on services provided):
.                                   0.5% to 2.5%  (or higher for renovations)

Project Management (these services can vary widely depending on what owners want the architect to do for them):
.                                  0.5% to 2%  (or higher for renovations)

3D Imagery:
Still shot computerized renderings based on 3D modeling, per view:
.                                   $500 to $1500 based on complexity and number of views.
3D Exterior Animation lasting 30 seconds:
.                                   $2,000 to $4,500 (depending on amount of detail)
3D Interior Animation lasting 30 seconds:
.                                    $3,000 to $7,500 (depending on amount of detail)

Additional Interior Decorator Design:
.                                     Hourly.  No real way to assign a percentage or range.
It is common practice for Interior Designers to charge up to 38% of
the cost of the furnishings that they provide/purchase for a project.

Additional Interior Architecture:
.                                     Hourly.

 


 

INFORMATION SOURCES FOR THE ABOVE RATE LIST AVERAGES/RANGES:

The architectural fees of all types that you will see on the other reputable websites globally and in North America indicate the following:
8% to 15%
5.15% to 17%
4.7% to 10.7%
6%
8% to 12%
15% to 20%
4.4% to 11.2%
8% to 18%
6.5% to 12%
8% to 15%
9% to 10%
4% to 12%
12% to 20%
15% to 20%
7.6% to 11.1%
5% to 15%
8% to 15%
6% to 14.5%
6.5% for a house of over $50 million, to 12% for a house up to $100,000.
5% to 10% Basic Services, 8% to 13% full services (for orthodontist offices).

Without fail, these numbers report that the lower % are for very simple, open commercial & industrial kind of projects, with residential design at the upper end of complexity.  Furthermore, Renovation projects are always at a higher percentage, with some global sources reporting 15% to 20% for those.  These means that the higher % reported by others on the Other Fee Sources page of this website are generally where residential architectural design fees are to be found.  The point is: the fees indicated above, near the top of this page, may be about in the middle of the figures and percentages indicated by others, for various project types.  Also: for renovation projects, the percentages are always higher.

The idea to understand is this: a SFR (Single Family Residence) is ranked in the MOST COMPLEX of architectural types of projects, or at the very least, among the most complex types of facilities an architect can design.
Why: there is more going on in just about any size space in a home than in any other project type.  Particularly in residential kitchens, bathrooms, laundries, around fireplaces, window areas and other locations.  A home is a detailed type of project.  Much more detailed, than say, an office building, factory, bus station and other project types.  Even medical laboratories or other hospital detailed facilities are viewed by most governmental agencies as being in Group 3 Facilities, in the Mid-Range of project complexity, with homes in the most complex grouping.

The above list of North American & global fee percentages reflects the fees across a range of project complexities.  Here’s a good question: where in the levels of complexity do SFR (Single Family Residences) reside in the global list of architectural project complexities?  The State of Alabama, Various Architectural Firms, other State and National Governmental organizations, and other fee scales define the design of a residence as among the MOST COMPLICATED.  Group 5 out of 5, typically.  Click here to see: homes are in the most complex project type category.

This means that the percentages for homes should be near the top of the fee % scale, because they are the most complex.

Discussion and background about the Historic Averages below:
Historic average % = % of the architect’s valuation of the cost of construction.
This is an average and the actual total could be more or less, depending on how the architect and owner agree on service compensation.

HOURLY ARCHITECT COMPENSATION

It is quite common for architects to be paid hourly, which many have deemed to be the most fair and equitable method of payment to an architect.

Why: because an hourly rate compensates the architect for what they do, only; no more, no less.  And that is likely the fairest method for the owner, because they only pay for the services accomplished, no more; no less.

 

The historic averages above give at least a sort of milestone track record by which to judge a range of fees.  However, if an owner made many changes and induced the architect to make numerous and large changes to the design, this of course could result in more hours spent and higher total fees.  No: architectural design changes are not free, nor should they be.  If an owner directed their builder to move a wall, would you believe that the builder would do that for free?  Conversely, if an owner made swift decisions and liked the first solutions arrived at by their architect, then the amount of hours could potentially be less, and therefore total a lower amount.  The fair way for owners to view their architects: “We’re in this together.”

 

However, the complexity of the project could skew the historic average to be higher than normal as well.  For instance, Bill Gates’ mansion has many features that more than likely required a considerable amount of architect’s time spent researching, designing and coordinating with engineers and others.  These sorts of things will of course impact the overall time spent and therefore the overall fee amount and percentage of the cost of construction.  Therefore while the historic % averages above help give a ballpark range, they can and will vary.

 

Cost of Construction note:  the figures below are not based on what you and your Uncle Bob can build the project for with free labor on weekends.  The percentages are based on what the architect knows the normal cost of construction might be for this type of project using normal means (i.e.: a real General Contractor with licensed subcontractors and proper suppliers with reasonable quality materials).

 

Note on “architect’s valuation”: the architect is under no requirement to estimate the construction cost of the project.  This is typically a fool’s errand, as anyone estimating any construction cost other than the contractors who intend to build it will be wrong.  And the architect does not deserve the ridicule and liability associated with such a service.  The architect may simply be aware that certain homes in a particular area with particular features may be being built for $150/HSF (Heated Square Feet), or $200/HSF, or $300/HSF, or whatever.  And the architect is under no requirement to provide such an estimate to the owner (as such an act is fraught with liability if the actual price varies from this, which it will).  However, anyone can do the math, if they know the general cost of this type of construction in a given area, multiplied by the HSF.

 

Cost of HSF versus GSF:
HSF= Heated Square Feet.
GSF= Gross Square Feet.
The cost of construction for homes is general based on the cost/HSF.  This means that if the house does not have a garage, then the cost/HSF will typically be less than the home if it had a 3 car garage, because that is a lot of GSF and cost being added to the net HSF of the house.  Following this logic, if a home without a garage might cost $175/HSF, then the chances are, if that same house has a 3-car garage added to it, it may cost $200 to $250/HSF, depending on the features, materials and other factors.

The architectural fee percentages above fall within the fee ranges seen in the referenced “other sources” indicated above.  Meaning: the fee ranges seen on this page for architectural home design are valid.  As documented by a host of verifiable reputable sources.

With all of the above understandings, the list of fees that you see near the top of this page for Residential Projects are often the ranges of architectural fees that are most often seen.

 

The above numbers are largely in line with several sources of architectural fees, such as here: LifeofanArchitect-1
What is interesting is that the rule of thumb stated by this knowledgeable architect (Bob Borson: through his Life of An Architect individual website), indicates an average of 8% to 15%.  That’s fairly close to what you see in the more detailed analysis above.

However, owners have to also keep in mind that architects’ most fair means of compensation is likely hourly, so if the owners like to make lots of changes, the percentages above can be higher.  The concept of “We’re in this together” needs to cross the owner’s mind.  No one should be trying to take advantage of anyone.  If the architect and owner treat each other fairly (which an hourly based compensation does), then the above percentages will probably work, if everyone is reasonable.

Hourly rates for Architects often vary between $100 to $250/hour.  The lower rates are typically for staff, with the higher rates for owners/principals of the firm.

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Note: see menu item: ARCHITECT SERVICES for explanation of Basic Services and other services.


 

BREAKING DOWN ARCHITECTURAL FEES INTO BASIC SERVICES AND ADDITIONAL SERVICES

What many of the Other Fee Sources referenced on this website do not necessarily do is break apart the architectural fee ranges cited by service or phase of work category.  Therefore, one has to use historic time records of hours to document how long certain services has taken for various project types, complexities and sizes.  Then you can check the fee ranges reported globally from various responsible 3rd-party sources to see if the total tend to aggregate within those parameters.  The examples listed on this webpage for residential Basic Services and Additional Services (above) do that, and were calculated from decades of time logs on a host of projects to statistically result in the ranges indicated above, which also stand the test of the 3rd party architectural fee rate examples from national and global sources.

 

 

 

 

 

tags: residential architect fees