Should you hire an architect or contractor first?

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I’m planning a major renovation of my NYC apartment. Should I hire an architect or contractor first?


The answer depends on whether you plan to bid your project out to multiple contractors, or whether you decide to work with a design-build firm, where an architect and a contractor are paired together from the start.

“If you’re going to ask contractors to bid on your project, the first person you need to engage is the architect,” says Fraser Patterson, a former general contractor and the founder of Bolster, a 4-year-old NYC-based company that matches homeowners to reliable contractors and architects, simplifies the bidding process, and financially guarantees the success of each project.  “An experienced and reliable architect will almost always add tremendous value to your project, as they are literally trained how to think about your space and optimize it in ways a contractor is not.”

That said, hiring both the architect and contractor at the same time—typically accomplished in one fell swoop by hiring a design-build firm--can save significant renovation time and money:  Statistically, says Patterson, homeowners save 6 percent on their renovations by having architects and contractors work together, and their projects are delivered start-to-finish 33 percent faster and actually built 12 percent faster.

 “The reason it’s faster and less costly is that if an architect works together with a good contractor--and their subcontractors--they will together be able to propose best-value solutions to make the project cheaper, faster and easier to build before the design is complete,” says Patterson.

"Also, by the time a contractor receives a final set of drawings for the first time, there can be a lot of pressure to produce a bid. This steep learning curve under time pressure often means less diligence by the contractor and their subcontractors, and less analysis of the bids by the architect, the effects of which often materialize during construction in the form of cost increases and time delays. So the earlier you have a competent contractor, the better quality your project will be.”

Below, some more tips from Bolster on the value of a good architect – and how to pick one.

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