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How to hire an architect who shares your vision

Building a dream house is typically a once-in-a-lifetime endeavor. Whether that house is an oceanside manse or a log cabin in the woods, if done right, the dream house will only need to be done once.

Part of getting a dream house right is choosing the right architect to work with. Architects can help make a dream house a reality, guiding homeowners through the planning and designing of a project and, ultimately, the home's construction as well. Many people have little or no experience with architects, so it behooves men and women to learn about the process of hiring an architect and just what goes into building a dream home.

Develop Your Vision

One of the first things to do, even before shopping around for an architect, is to truly develop the vision of what you want your dream home to be. The goals of the project should be apparent before approaching any architects. Goals include the desired location of the home, the ideal amount of space, the function of the home, and the budget of the project. A vision for a home goes beyond an indoor poor and a balcony that overlooks the ocean. The vision encompasses everything, including budget and what the home will eventually be used for (primary residence or vacation home?). Once that vision has been flushed out and developed, the process of finding an architect can begin.

Finding an Architect

No two architecture firms are the same. Architecture is an art form, and the men and women who work as architects each bring their own unique skill sets and ideas to every project they do. What men and women looking for an architect must do is find the architect whose ideas and skill sets best match their own needs.

The process of finding an architect should not be easy. This is a dream home, after all, and men and women should exercise due diligence when vetting prospective architects. Topics to cover while meeting with architects include design philosophy and experience building "dream" homes. If the architects cite a history of building dream homes, ask to see a portfolio of their previous work and or references from past clients.

Your particular project should also be discussed when meeting with architects. Ask how much of a priority your project will be and if the architects foresee any challenges ahead. Responses to such questions can be telling. For instance, architects who foresee no problems might just be desperate for business or too inexperienced to plan for potential problems down the road, both of which should be a red flag. Discuss the timetable for the project, and how it is likely to progress. Will the firm share their ideas through models or drawings? Will they utilize computer animation to keep you in the loop?

The home's design should also be discussed before hiring an architect. The entire process should be explained beforehand. This includes the projected schedule of the project, which gives the architect's clients a framework or timeline for the project. Nowadays, many homeowners prefer sustainable homes. Ask each architect about his or her experience with sustainable design and what impact, if any, the go- green route will have on the overall budget of the project.

When discussing design, it's also important to discuss the architect's role during construction. Men and women should know if, once construction begins, they will be dealing with the architect or the contractor.

The Final Step

Perhaps the last step before hiring an architect is discussing the fees of the project. Before an architect provides a formal proposal, ask how fees are determined. Discuss what, if anything, would incur additional fees and how any additional fees will be communicated. Ask each architect about their history finishing projects both on time and within the original budget.

More information is available at the American Institute of Architects Web site at www.aia.org.