how much to charge a friend??


Hey all,

   Just like the title much would be a fair rate for both parties. My quandary is that they are friends and I would like to do a good thing for almost next to nothing. Yet they want to help me out in a time of some financial hardships and reimburse me for my time and efforts. That being a 4.5 month design and construction document process with them. So what do I charge them?

  Well here is a brief synopsis of my credentials as well as the scope of the project. I am a intern architect who is 2 years out of college yet have been with my current firm for 5 years. My friends offered to just have the house designed through the firm that I work at. My boss decided not to take it due to a distance of 1100 miles between us and them which to him would present some hardships. Ha, not for me!

  The house is an absolute monster with a building footprint of 5,692sf and a total square footage of 9,184sf. 4,584sf is heated as the rest of it is divided up between a 5 car garage and 2,654sf of bonus space on the second floor. The home is slab on grade and they were fearful of the house not having enough storage. Haha, I recommended they lower that number many times but they already had their mind set. It also has 4 beds, 4 baths, 2 offices, a VERY large screened in porch and 8 foot hallways throughout the whole space. Just an obnoxious wasteful energy hog but hey everyone has their own taste.

Here is a snapshot of total editing time on CAD:

Created:                Saturday, March 17, 2012  10:31:50:169 PM
  Last updated:           Tuesday, July 10, 2012  4:41:24:520 PM
  Total editing time:     23 days 11:32:23:692

  Now alot of this time is just sitting there chatting with them coming up with design ideas, sitting there open while I take a dinner break but these atleast gives you an idea of the time put forth in the design process of this thing. I have gone through roughly 6 extensive revisions with them changing floor plans and elevations.

  Construction documents that I have produced to this point for bank approval: cover sheet, first floor plan, second floor plan, roof plan, exterior elevations, and a few structural calcs here and there. 

  So how much do you all think? I'm in the ballpark of $500-750? Is that too steep or should I ask for more with all the time invested?

 Thank you all,


Aug 4, 12 7:43 pm

some friends. you design them a mega church, and you are groveling for 500? too steep? yeah, just make sure you ask for a reach around.

when you go to bed tonight, and you are tossing and turning, it wont be because you over charged them, it will be because long after they're done being your friend, you will be kicking yourself in the ass for not treating them, and you, with some respect and charging them what they deserve to be charged.

god, i knew i should have learned to give bjs.

Aug 4, 12 10:18 pm

Unm yea thanks, a SIMPLE your asking too much would have been sufficient enough!!

Aug 5, 12 4:38 am

bpng, I hope your last comment was a joke.

How much are they going to spend building this monstrosity and you're worried about charging them $500?

Aug 5, 12 9:14 am

OK, so if we *only* take the heated sf of 4,500sf and *only* allow $100/sf construction cost (which is low) and then *only* expect 5% of construction cost for fee (which is low) you end up at $22,500 for fee.

So yeah, you're not asking enough, and you're simultaneously devaluing the worth of all the rest of us too.  So thanks.

And you've done how many revisions?  We offer three initial options then one round of revisions.  If they want more extensive revisions we start charging hourly.  And we get a big retainer upfront before doing any work at all.  And we charge 8%, and most of our construction costs are in the $250/sf range.  

I don't mean to be harsh, but seriously: you've got a degree and 5 years experience in an office and you have *no idea* how fees are calculated?  Is this a huge hole in your education and internship, or are you just trolling?

Aug 5, 12 10:05 am

I'll also add that it may not be that your boss was concerned with distance, but that he knew this client presented a difficult working relationship.  Six revisions in I'm guessing he was right.

Also I'm seriously interested in knowing whether you've been exposed, in school or your internship, to calculating a fee.  I used to teach ProPractice.  

Aug 5, 12 10:42 am

i assumed was a joke. 

you prolly shoulda sorted all this out before starting, not after.

for relatively small project like a house we charge 10% to 15% of construction cost.  if this is just schematic plans then it makes sense to charge hourly rate or some percentage of the normal fee.  but 500 bucks is amazing low.  thats a cheap tip for a trained monkey sorta thing.  amazing. 

here i always thought the joke about architects being bad at business was apocryphal.

Aug 5, 12 11:22 am

Hey all,

@sjniles - good point

@Donna - no I didn't experience Pro Practice in school. I didn't mention that my degree so far is just a Bach and not the required Masters, which I do have plans to complete. At my university Pro Practice was offered as only a Masters course. So my only exposure to this aspect of our field is minimal. The small amount of info I have learned is what I have taught myself. My office environment doesn't really allow me to experience and learn in regards to estimating and arch services fees.

Aug 5, 12 11:42 am

Hey all, 

 Yes I do agree and know that this should all be handled up front. For some reason it just feel to the side as we were going through the drawing phases.

@b3tadine & sjniles - I don't what the H I was thinking when I read b3tadine reply last night but now that I re read it again just now WOW was I out of my mind. I see what your saying now b3tadine, my bad.

  This is probably a ridiculous idea to post this. Sorry all! I will go to my employer and use this as a tool to learn something from him on Monday. Hopefully he will go through with me what I need to charge for such work and hopefully this may be an avenue with him to continue further learning money related aspects to a project.

Aug 5, 12 11:59 am
wurdan freo

bpgd - how much does you boss pay you for an hourly wage, $15? $15 x 28 days x 8 hours a day = $3360. That's simple math that you learn in elementary school. That doesn't include taxes, insurance, other overhead, profit or the added liability you are going to be responsible for. How much is your time worth? I wouldn't bother with the Masters Degree. They don't teach common sense in grad school. 

Not to mention that when you work for an employer, they are buying your time at wholesale and reselling it at retail. What's the rate that your boss bills you out at? $45/hour? So your potential fee is $10,080. Give your friends a solid discount and they still owe you $5K. I'll be happy to send them the bill and pay you $500 for it. Let me know.

Aug 5, 12 1:08 pm

hi brandon - this is definitely a lesson in why you should write a proposal before you do any work - even for friends and family.  I think you're going to have to try to get as much as you can and move on.  if they want you to do more, write up a proposal (make sure you run it by your boss - they'll probably want you to include language that they're not liable), but they really just got a bunch of work done for them for free.  


live and learn.

Aug 5, 12 2:17 pm

forget the billing issue - let's see the design!

Aug 5, 12 3:02 pm
Roark’s Revenge


Is your post a thinly disguised troll designed to launch the longest ever collective rant on Archinect ?

500 $ for design of a 9000 Sq ft house? Are you out of your mind ? Taking on that potential liability for a fortnights pay flipping burgers? Have you heard of the concept of liability in Construction?

 im not too familiar with US costs but id expect anyone contemplating building a house of that scale to be using a ballpark of 200$ a sq ft for a good quality finish- ( 150 euros sq/ft approx gets a construction quality midway between basic builders finish and bespoke Construction ). i mean who builds a huge house if the quality is at the lowest end of the scale ?

so some elementary school mathematics gives a construction cost of 200$ x 9000 = $ 1,800,000. lets knock off 20% for the excessive garage portion and round it to $ 1,500,000.

heck - a 5 car garage and you are agonising over the cost of few weeks groceries ?.

Wheres your self esteem ?

An experienced and efficient General Contractor with his eye on the bottom line ( is there any other kind of GC ?) would look to make >10% profit on this job or 150,000$ . Thats 300 times what you are asking - AFTER he factors in his material and labour costs. 

Assuming you are competent then after the first 10 or 15 hours spent on this job surveying the site , you are already losing money and subsidizing your clients lifestyle before you pick up a pencil.

Not only does it make you look pathetic in the eyes of everyone else who will be working on the project but the risk of a very costly mistake would appear to be very high

You would be doing the prospective owners and the Profession a huge disservice by attempting to undertake such a task for such a paltry sum. Not only are you risking your friendship with these people but actual serious litigation and future financial ruin by attempting to provide professional services outside work hours on a project of this scale ‘for free’. This is a very significant sum of money you appear to be talking about here...or have you perhaps added a zero to the Sq ft figures by accident ?

Unless the Clients sole priority is $ converted to floor space, an experienced and talented Architect with a solid track record of completed work , will , given a budget of 1 to 1.5 million or whatever - add significantly to the resale value of  that initial investment - possibly by as much as another 50 to 100%. Do the prospective owners not realise this ? in that they are willing to put their huge investment and potential uplift in value at risk in order to save on acceptable design fees ? Even factoring the economic climate , friend discount and loss leader potential for this project , it would appear you should still be charging at the very minimum a 5 figure sum. And some form of royalty on uplift in value in the event of a resale. i wish all Architects would unite and incorporate this into their fee proposals - why should such a large percentage the uplift in resale value go to the party with no input into the quality of the end product ? Architects need to work together to break the power of the realtors who cream the end profit from everyone elses work and skill ( the Arch / Engineer / Contractor ) But the Contractor is smart - he simply doesnt take on work that doesn’t have profit factored in

And you mention structural calcs ? in Europe the Structural engineers fee would not be lower than 2% or approx 15 -20,000 $ in this case

If you dont know how fees are calculated you are not ready to take on this project . forget the 500$ and save yourself 10yrs of sleepless nights

your figures are utterly laughable. Everyone on this project will laugh at you.

The owners  - your so called ‘friends’ - Why the *!@^  do people ....about to build a million dollar 9000 sq ft house ....need a favour anyway ???!

The GC , the Subcontractors , the general labour guys filling the skip. The guy delivering pizza to the job site. And most of all the Realtor who will make 6% of the newly valued 9000 sq ft house when its flipped in the future ( Whats 6% of 1.5million ? - do you know how to use a calculator ? ).

Heres what it is  - 6% of 1.5 million is 90,000 $ - thats maybe 150 times your proposed ‘fee' for maybe 2% of the input. im using the figure of 1.5 million because a 9000 sq ft x say low end 150$ per sq ft construction cost = $1,350,000 and im assuming a minimum resale value of $ 1,500,000 . And Realtors fees in the US are 6% right ?

And what the hell is your Boss doing not taking you aside to tell you all of this in the first place and to steer you clear of such a potentially disastrous undertaking? Does he not care how this could potentially blow up and reflect on his firm also - both the quality of your daytime work and the reputation of his firm should something go wrong?

Aug 5, 12 4:23 pm

Hey all,

   I understand that this is a complete lapse of judgment. My assessment of work has been FARRR undervalued. I was just trying to assist very good friends of mine, I was just so excited and enjoyed designing this thing. Setting an hourly rate or percentage of cost for my services was an after thought. Whats done is done, all I can do is learn from the mistakes.

  By NOOOOOO means is this trolling, honestly i would just like this thread pulled and deleted. I never intended this to start an emotional brow beating, didn't want to stir a 20 page debate. I apologize. I'm just an intern trying to learn the industry.

Aug 5, 12 5:23 pm

bpgd I'm not mad at you.  I'm mad that your many years of experience both your school and employer have failed you miserably, and I'm mad that our profession - ours! I'm complicit, I guess - puts up with this state of affairs.

I had ProPractice in undergrad (25 years ago), and when I went to grad school I had to take a similar course, again.  I can't believe all of our institutions of education can't figure out how to graduate students with some tiny inkling of how the business world operates.

Aug 5, 12 5:52 pm

I honestly don't get how you would find yourself in this situation. Especially since everyone knows firms "hiring" free interns hurts the industry and competition, while exploiting interns. This situation really isn't that different. I honestly thought you left a zero or something off of your estimated asking price.

Aug 5, 12 7:00 pm

I can't even fathom how you can think $500 is anywhere near acceptable.

You said you've worked about 24 days on this, for the CAD alone.

24days = 288 hours

$500 / 288 hours = $1.74/hour

Are you serious?

I bet your friends wouldn't even accept paying you that much even if you asked them for that amount.

Aug 5, 12 7:54 pm

lucky friends.  hopefully they don't sue your boss when/if problem arise.

we had pro practice in grad school only as well.

it didn't teach me anything useful except to always dress just a bit better than your clients, as part of the psychological warfare that is business practice.  also, be sure to join a church and a political party and befriend the politicians who will pull strings for you later on.  oh, and design doesn't matter in business. its just management and money.  the class taught us to be cynics, but not much more ;-)  fees?  never came up. 

i think architecture education takes the assumption we will none of us really run a practice.

Aug 5, 12 9:03 pm

i think architecture education takes the assumption ... none of us really run a practice.


yeah - it's really fantastic at training us to be good little design/production monkeys who aren't very protective of our time.

Aug 5, 12 9:19 pm
i r giv up

i give up. again.

Aug 5, 12 9:45 pm

regardless of whether or not architecture education teaches us to run a practice, it doesn't take a degree to realize a fee like that is ludicrous. Where's the common sense????

Aug 5, 12 9:48 pm

it was done out of friendship.  common sense is not part of that package.  good lesson learned.  for me too.  its important to teach staff about fees and so on too.  not sure when or how to do that though.  really i didn't start learning that stuff til i needed to.  which was of course too late.

Aug 5, 12 10:30 pm
Living in Gin

$500? Pardon me while I go shoot myself in the face.

Just to put things in perspective, my last two freelance jobs:

$600 for permit drawings for a 12' x 10' residential deck.

$800 for a three-sheet permit set for a small-scale residential rehab project.

Both of these were design-build projects where a contractor was already on board, so the required documentation was only that of Design Development level, not full construction docs. Each of the projects required roughly one Saturday of my time. And both of these were "friend" projects.

Aug 6, 12 3:24 am

500? unless you live in the Congo you are fucking nuts!

Aug 6, 12 3:50 am

unfortunately I think that current IDP requirements make intern architects accustomed to exploitation. 

Aug 6, 12 11:33 am

500 you say?  I'll do it for 400!!! Oh, wait, you've already got the gig.

F-in' pavlov's responses, yo!

Aug 6, 12 12:00 pm

perhaps you present your current drawings as a "basis of design" for a relatively small fee and let the client shop the completion of the construction set among various architects.  After they've learned the retail value of your services they'll be grateful for a friend discount.

also, when they come back, represent your drawings as a 60% complete design build set . Based on this thread it doesn't seem like you have the experience to truly design and create a full cd set.

Aug 6, 12 3:45 pm

I dunno why everyone's freaking out here. Thin nerves I suppose (which is justifiable). We are talking about sub SD (schematic design) level of documentation for the sole purpose of securing financing. 

My buddy and I are about to put a similar package for a friend of ours. And we are doing it for free. In our case we anticipate not needing more than a weekend afternoon to do it. I suppose someone less experienced could take 23 days to do the same. This is not much different than entering a competition, but with more realistic expectations. Once the financing is in place, we will charge a professional fee (with a friendship discount thrown in)  to complete the project. 

Banks have become very conservative with the whole loany-buildy thing, and need to see a game plan beforehand. Easy to fake. 

Aug 7, 12 1:08 am

There is a vast difference no matter how you try to justify it from an evening of services vs almost a whole month. Working for free only weakens the industry further.

Aug 7, 12 8:15 am

So summarizing the above for you, you should charge somewhere between nothing and $22,500. Got it?

Aug 7, 12 9:36 am

i didn't realize this is a schematic set for bank approval...  

i'd be more careful about how you set up a contract as 6 extensive revisions is a lot of work. 

Aug 7, 12 10:49 am

screw doing favours for friends... Unless you know they're the type who'd do the same if they were in your shoes, don't do anything for free.  Atleast get paid the minimum.  Its surprising how many would start groaning and no where to be found when you ask them for a simple favour (like an hour of their time etc)

Aug 7, 12 9:22 pm

ditto, accesskb. I got burned pretty bad by exactly the kind of 'friends' you're talking about.
Put in a solid 4 months effort in docs and labor on a reno project, for very little pay, working up the confidence to get an actual contract signed to set fees and time frames for the remaining  work, only to find myself suddenly dropped from the build and cut off from all communications. I figured there was another 4 months of work left, but that if I were to include project management services in the contract, and be efficient at coordinating the trades, we'd be done in 3. The 'clients/friends' took 6 months to finish, no doubt because they knew sweet fuck all about whats involved with a typical construction project. My 'friend's' reaction to a  personal disagreement was to sever all ties, including working ones, and since the work was never carried out under a formal agreement, I was the only one who lost anything. They now ride around in a new BMW, and have possibly paid off their mortgage with the money made on flipping the house. Needless to say we aren't so friendly when we do meet in mixed company.


the whole thing taught me two important lessons:
1. No matter the pre-existing relationship with a client, a contract that clearly defines roles, responsibilities, timeliness, and compensation is the only way to secure a solid working relationship in which you are providing some service to the other party. Start that relationship by signing a document to protect the interests of everyone involved.

2. Anyone who questions the necessity of a contract is either lacking professional savvy / business common sense of their own, or is out to take advantage of you. In either case, you can not lose by negotiating a contract for your services.

Aug 8, 12 6:23 pm
w. architect

Get a contract, and charge your friend twice what you would have otherwise charged!


Remember, people only value money, and the more you charge, the more value people think they are receiving.

Aug 8, 12 9:43 pm

Actually, the original title question is still interesting, and seemingly not addressed in the focus on fees for this specific project type.

The more general philosophical question of how much do you charge friends (or family) compared to regular clients is worth a thread (if there aren't a dozen already). 

  • Should you charge less?  How much less?  Why?  (Maybe the added value of friend-as-architect is not in a lower fee, but in much more attention, detail and diligence for the same fee.)
  • Hourly?  Lump sum?
  • Direct costs only, but no mark-up? 
  • Pass on the job altogether in the interest of the friendship?
Aug 9, 12 2:25 pm
On the fence


When I retire at 60 I plan on charging low fees for my architectural hobby like this to help remove other architects from architecture.

Aug 9, 12 3:32 pm

On the fence! should be ashame of yourself, letting out your plan to beat other competition in the game.

You should be more Off the Wall.....

Aug 12, 12 5:33 pm

I have charged less for friends, but I'm a sole prop with no employees so I can afford to.  You should *not* charge less for friends, but perhaps the friends' job gets some special attention.

Aug 12, 12 9:52 pm

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