Architect Fee


This is maybe just a post venting some frustrations, but I'd like to hear what my fellow peers think.

I went to go meet with a potential client (concrete contractor by trade) about a residential project; ground up, 2,100 SF.  I proposed a fee for Architectural services and the client mentioned that my fee was too high - comparing it to an "older" fellow he has been working with on past projects who charges him $2.75 / SF for drawings....

Yes, $2.75 / SF! This is in Northern California.  How do you eat?  I honestly don't know why peers in our profession are doing jobs for this low of a price.  Thoughts? 

Dec 3, 19 5:11 pm

Not to mention any names, but I still have a copy of a fee schedule that a regular on this forum once posted, with rates that start at 40 CENTS per square foot!  

A lot of people who play architect are subsidized in various ways.  It's their retirement hobby (sounds like the explanation here), or they're really making their money as contractors and the architectural work is offered in service of that, or they have a trust fund, or a spouse in a more lucrative career, or are freeloading off parents or other relatives.

Dec 3, 19 5:24 pm  · 

What you encountered is very common for residential.  There are lots of people providing minimal drawing sets of junky designs for cheap fees.   The clients don't know better or don't care.  The designers usually work out of their houses and have no staff.

Dec 3, 19 6:16 pm  · 

RIck, while I see your point in trying to reverse engineer the fee, you're simply joining the race to the bottom.  Justifying a fee of what would be 1/3-1/4 of most architects is simply playing into their hands.  

To the OP, having this conversation early is the best you can hope for.  Either people see the value in an architect or they don't.  Most folks are looking for a simple means to an end.  It's why Walmart took off--they filled our need to buy worthless shit with no value.  Consumers will spend thousands of dollars worth of garbage and justify it over saving to buy one well-designed handbag/coat/pen/car.  The same is true in construction.  A permit set is a permit set.  The value is what's not easily seen on the paper--thought, care, creativity, honesty, and beauty.  You don't get those things for $2.75 a square! 

Dec 3, 19 6:41 pm  · 

But you see then, how licensed architects become dismayed at the process. If the general population--for better or worse--assumes that anyone with access to autocad can develop home plans for them, it automatically cheapens everything the architect has ever accomplished. It costs money to get a degree and license. An architect should be able to charge accordingly. In the OP, the potential client instantly equated 'some guy with cad' to a licensed architect--perhaps without even knowing how offensive that is.


$2.75 SF? That’s outrageous.

There’s a guy on Craigslist advertising $0.07 SF.

Dec 3, 19 9:02 pm  · 

I love this dialogue and am glad I posted. All the insight and dialogue is beneficial and enlightening.  For instance, who knew there was even such a thing as "certified professional building designer" this some way around taking the multiple exams required to be a licensed Architect? Appreciate all the commentary Rick.

Also, as the supply of contractors are low and the demand is high at the moment - contractors are accustomed to bump up their prices because they are in high demand.  Wouldn't it benefit us as Architects to also follow suit;  lifting each other up rather than "joining the race to the bottom" as gibbost mentioned?

I mean, why in the heck did I go through all the education, hours in the field, mentorship and testing to compete with a draftsman with CAD plus experience? But I think the Walmart analogy works well to explain this.

Dec 3, 19 10:39 pm  · 
Wood Guy

I don't price by the square foot but for a house that size $5K to $6K is about what it takes me for pre-design, schematic design and maybe getting a little into design development. Going through the full process takes me 3-4 times that fee for basic drawings, but I include energy modeling, electrical, mechanical and structural plans in my basic package. Go up from there for fully custom everything, interior design, landscape design etc..   

Dec 4, 19 12:29 pm  · 

$0.07 SF -- THAT's outrageous...!

I find most people will offer to let you do things for free, you don't even have to charge them.  It's a great deal because it let's you get "experience" and is a great way to get good projects to have in your portfolio to help get other clients.  

Dec 4, 19 12:48 pm  · 

the first day of my first year in grad school, we had an imposter try to join studio. all sorts of people thought he was part of the class, but it came out that he was making all sorts of preposterous claims (designed olympic bldgs etc) in various conversations with people. admin found him and tossed him out...good times

Dec 4, 19 3:30 pm  · 

Just reverse engineer what you would provide at that cost. For example, exclude selection of finishes, provide a generic detail vs project specific and put city submittal and corrections as hourly, make him provide the SD set and charge hourly for code corrections. Spell it all out. Usually these players are doing the same and the client is just seeing the total and comparing apples to oranges. Someone like a concrete sub should be able to understand exclusions and compare what he's getting. Just sell it as yeah I can do it for that much! This is what you are losing let me know if you'd find value in any of these adds.

Dec 4, 19 11:57 pm  · 

This is all a good reminder of the importance of educating those seeking services about what it is you do and the value add you bring to the table as an Architect. The average person has a romanticized view of what we do unless they’ve had experience in building and construction. Hell, I wonder how many of us knew what we really were getting ourselves into. To me personally, everyday in the profession is an eye opening experience faced with new challenges.

Makes me of a time when a mentor of mine once questioned what the AIA does for us professionals in educating the public of our profession and value add. The time I’ve spent in it has been insular and a bit self serving in some respects.

Dec 5, 19 6:04 pm  · 

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