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Oh Joy! Builds A House: Choosing an Architect and Contractor

How to Choose an Architect and Contractor / Oh Joy!

How to Choose an Architect and Contractor / Oh Joy!

After finding land, our next step in building our forever home was to find an architect and contractor to make this dream come to life. The process in which this happens can vary depending on what type of home you're building. There are some developers and builders you can hire to design and build a custom home with both parts built into their process. In these cases, they may have specific types of land to build on or have a set style they build and design to. But you know by now, our land is on a hill and not the easiest to build on, so we chose each partner (Architect and Contractor) separately based on who was the best fit for our project.

Here's a video that shows at a glance of the process and how we went about it! We found an architect first and fully designed our house before finding a contractor that could execute it. Because the reality is…you can't get an estimate for the cost of construction until you have a design to show. And, both are crucial to my next post about getting construction loans for a home build. And, you can't get a construction loan until you know how much it's going to cost to build your home and you don't know how much it will cost until you have a design in place. There are so many interconnected parts to this process that heavily rely on one another.  

How to Choose an Architect and Contractor / Oh Joy!

The Architects. Cleo and McShane of Project M+ had recently finished building their own house around the time we were contemplating this crazy project. We had mutual friends in common so we chatted with them about their process. The next thing you know, we got to see their own home first hand which is a prime example from their own portfolio. Their style and aesthetic matched what we were looking for, and after a few phone calls to various past clients, we decided to hire them to design our home. They were really the first partners of ours for this project when we first found the land four years ago as we spent a good chunk of the first year with them designing and prepping for permits. We have had many in-person meetings as you do in the early stages of any design process. But once major designs are in place, we now communicate a lot by phone and email. In upcoming posts, we'll dive deeper into our actual home design and that whole process!

 
If you are looking for an architect and don't have any personal referrals, ask around as much as possible on Facebook, Instagram, and any social media channel you use. Chances are that friends, acquaintances, or even strangers who follow you or you may follow have similar tastes so those suggestions are a great start! You can also check out sites, like Houzz, where many architects feature their work!
 
How to Choose an Architect and Contractor / Oh Joy!

The Contractors. When it came to finding a contractor, I asked every architect I knew for a referral. Architects are a great place to start because they have to work with contractors on every job to make their designs come to life. Because both my husband and I work very busy full-time jobs, we needed a contractor who was very organized and had great communication skills. This is where Boswell Construction came in. While they were higher in price than another contractor we almost went with, their communication and organization skills are incredible so we felt they were worth the value they would bring to our project. We have weekly meetings on site (which is crucial for us on staying informed with our entire team), they respond to emails and texts quickly, and really make the process as seamless as possible for us. Most of your interaction with a contractor will happen after construction begins. Some people are very involved with their sub-contractors and want to be able to choose each sub-contractor for the job. We chose to let our contractor handle most of that. We do get to chose between some subs if there are varying price options, but for the most part, we do not interact with the sub-contractors.

 
In this process of choosing both an Architect and Contractor, you'll likely meet and interview several of each. After you decide who you're going with, I always like to close the conversation with those you have not chosen. While you don't necessarily owe them a "We've chosen someone else" email, I think it's good feedback for everyone to know why they didn't get chosen for a job. Whether it's due to their fees, you wanted a smaller or bigger company to work with, their style wasn't quite right, etc. That helps to inform them for their own knowledge and everyone can move on being in clear communication with one another of where you stand.
 
Check out my post over at Architectural Digest's Clever, for the specific criteria I suggest looking for in both an Architect and Contractor!
If you have any other questions about this process or anything else you want to see in my upcoming posts on this project, please leave a comment here so I can make sure to reply and cover it!
 
{Photos by Lily Glass, video by Jenner Brown}

21 comments

  1. I liked your tips on how we should “close the conversation with those you have not chosen” which can be applied to anything. It’s an entrepreneurial point of view, and if we put ourselves on the other side, surely, we would love to get that feedback so I will try to keep that in mind, too. I’m so excited be seeing how your house will turn out… do share with us the tiniest details you might think trivial, as they should be worth a read for all of us!

  2. Thank you Kanako for noticing that! I do the same thing when I am interviewing. I always make sure to let all applicants know the outcome so they are not left waiting not knowing.
    Joy

  3. I’m loving this blog! Thanks for sharing this experience! I can’t wait to see the progress. I am a huge fan of Oh Joy! Your blog and Instagram account always puts a smile on my face with the bold patterns and colours you use. And your kiddos are adorable. We just welcomed our second child 2 weeks ago!
    I don’t normally do this but I wanted to reach out to you. While you are researching and designing your interior you should check out our company Gaylord Hardwood Flooring. A small family company based in rural Ontario Canada. We pride ourselves on our long lengths, quality finish and exceptional service. Have a look at the website gaylordhardwoodflooring.com. I wish you all the best with your project.

  4. I have a question you may or may not be able to answer. I love Mid Century Modern Ranch style homes. My grandparents built one in the 50s or 60s and my Mom has their plans plus others from Better Homes and Gardens. Would they still be usable today or would you still need an architect to tweak them?

  5. Hi Meridith!
    I can’t say 100% but I think they would need a review by an architect to make sure it’s up to code for today. A contractor may also be able to check, but if it needs design revisions, an architect would have to do that for you.
    Thank you!
    Joy

  6. how are you paying your contractor? Cost +, straight fee or what? If cost + % 1. What is the %; 2. what is included and what isn’t (i.e. do they get a % of design materials, fixtures and materials like tile that you select and pay for directly?, and 3. how do you monitor % cost?

  7. Hi Irene,
    Great question!
    1. Every situation is different so I can’t speak to all but ours is cost + a percentage that covers the contractors’ fees. I have heard of other arrangements where some people do flat fees and work more closely with negotiating with subs. In prior smaller projects I have done, the fee upfront was flat and all-inclusive but those were smaller renovations rather than a new home build. 2. What the percentage is based of varies, too. If it’s anything the contractor sources or manages, then usually it is part of their fee. But there are areas where we are sourcing materials in which a percentage would not be included if we have ordered and sourced it. 3. I have a very detailed spreadsheet and budget that is kept track of through the bank for our construction loan. I also have a separate one for any costs that come out of pocket from us that is outside of what is covered on our loan. I’ll go into construction loans next!
    Hope that helps!
    Joy

  8. Hi Joy,
    You did the right thing, always have a design so that you can get an accurate estimate. And dont just interview one person, go with others see what they offer you. Anyway great blog!!

  9. Hi Joy,
    I’m in the process of hiring an architect and as this is my first remodel of a house, I have to idea if their quote is inline with standard rates. How did you navigate knowing how much things should run?

  10. Hi Andrea!
    Sometimes architects will charge a percentage of the total cost of the job. For example, their fee might be 15-20% of the full renovation or construction budget.
    Another way to compare is simply to get multiple estimates. We do that for all our vendors and sub-contractors esp if it’s an area where you have no idea what to expect!
    Hope that helps!
    Joy

  11. Well first and foremost thing that I want to mention here is thank you so much for this post. The post that you have shared contains so much knowledge. I have no idea regarding some of information before.

  12. I like how you mentioned using social media to find the best architects who had positive experiences. My wife and I are wanting to build our new home outside of the downtown area and have no idea which architecture firm to work with. We’ll have to start looking online and posting about it on social media.

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