Syllabus / Professionals 101

Who to hire first: architect or contractor


Depending on the type of project you are doing and the factors driving it, you will want to hire an architect first, a contractor first, or hire both of them at the same time.

Here is a quick rule of thumb to follow:

  • If your project is complex or design-driven - Hire an architect first.
  • If your project is simple in nature and you are budget-driven - Hire an architect and general contractor together.
  • If your project involves very little design work - Hire a contractor first (you may simply need to hire an architect later to help obtain planning and building permissions).


Complex or design-driven projects

If your project is unique, complex or driven by an artistic vision, it may be best to use the Design-Bid-Build process and hire an architect first. This process will see you hire an architect to deliver your design, then engage several general contractors to compete with one another to win your project.

The benefits of this approach include having a more impartial design team, greater choice of general contractors and the use of competition to attempt to improve the quality of the results you receive.


Simple or budget-driven projects

If you are doing a fairly standard renovation and time & money are of top priority, then it may be best to use the Design & Build process and hire both an architect and general contractor together right from the start. This process will see your architect and contractor work together as one team from the get go and follow a recursive process to deliver your design and renovation.

The benefits of this approach are saving time and money, earlier cost certainty and a smoother renovation.

Statistically, 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.

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.


Design work complete already or not required

If your project is very simple, requires no change of layout or you have a very clearly defined scope of work, it may be best to use the Build Only process and hire a general contractor. 

This approach works well if you already have an architect or architectural drawings or have a very clear scope of work or simply do not need any design input whatsoever.

You may of course still need the help of an architect to obtain planning and building permissions (your contractor should be able to introduce an architect they have worked with in the past).



This post is intended for informational purposes only and is general in nature as it does not take into account your personal renovation situation. You should really consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from a licensed architect, general contractor or financial / legal adviser.