How to pay an architect for a home renovation

Question: I am planning a renovation in Manhattan and want to hire an architect. How will they charge and how much should I pay?

Answer: This is a common question... so Architects in New York City working on high-end home renovation projects typically charge one of three ways:

  1. As a percentage on top the construction costs and materials or,
  2. As a fixed fee, or
  3. Hourly.

Some people who have done very high end renovations may elect hourly when their finishes or particular elements are off the charts (to avoid paying a percentage atop high-end materials). In these cases, though the care or complexity of the design is usually very high and so hourly may still be more cost effective.

By far the most popular fee structure though - and one your most likely to encounter - is a percentage of construction.

How much do I pay?

The percentage of construction costs you can expect to pay depends upon the skill and experience of the architect. For a new architect just starting out you should expect to pay anywhere between 10% and 15% for the full range of services (see breakdown below).

For an experienced architect (say 20+ years) with a large portfolio of work who has been featured in top industry publications and perhaps even received some awards, expect to pay anywhere between 15% and 25% on top of your project's construction costs. 

How does the fee breakdown?

Architects offer a range of services (typically following the nomenclature of the American Institute of Architects) and often break their fee down as follows:

A Schematic design (20%) - understanding the current building, issues of the space and structure and your goals for the project. 

B Design development (10%) - making the concepts more concrete; investigating the materials, textures, lighting, objects and furnishings. Renderings and computer models are often used at this stage to communicate ideas.

C Permit drawings & construction documents (40%) - producing the construction documents (which describe the specific dimension, material or product specification required to build/ install the design) and prepare everything required for approval by your coop building and D.O.B. (usually with the assistance of an expediter). 

D Procurement (5%) - submitting the construction documents to several contractors for pricing and analyze these to help you make the best decision.

E Construction Administration (25%) - If your architect is helping manage the construction then they'll review the work done on site to help ensure its conformance with the design and construction documents. 

Are there any additional fees?

Architects will typically charge extra for expediting ($1,000 to $3,000), government agency fees and any additional revisions to drawings and site visits above and beyond the agreed amount.

Is hiring an architect worth it?

In short, yes. Besides needing a licensed architect to ensure your renovation gains the necessary permits to be legally compliant, doing a high-end home renovation project in New York City is subject to a number of unique (and potentially costly) issues that an experienced architect can help protect you against. 

These practical and legal reasons are enough on their own, but are not necessarily the most important.  A good Architect has the experience, skill and very often, talent, to develop a process and design you simply could not produce on your own.  He or she can represent and help you understand the myriad of options out there; listen and shape your goals into a structure that is both productive and relevant; and having gone through the process many times before, guide you in what is for most, a unique expenditure of a great deal of money.

Also, if you are spending $400,000 on a home renovation, spending an additional 60,000 to ensure you have an optimally designed space that meets all the legal requirements for years to come is money well spent.