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Topic: Questions from Perspective Clients 

1.  Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-29-2017 19:58
It often seems that the first question asked is; "How much does it cost for a set plans for a small house?"  After I say that I don't have a set fee, that each design is unique and that I would like to set a time to meet them to go over their needs and wants, I never hear back?

Kathy Prochnow, AIA

2.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-30-2017 18:13

A person who wants to purchase a set of plans, wants to purchase a set of plans and does not want to go through the custom design process. You offer a service and they are looking for a product, so it isn't a match.



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3.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-31-2017 17:32

We get those calls once in a while.  I usually ask them if they call a realtor and ask "How much is a three bedroom house?"  what is the response from the realtor?  They immediately understand that it varies depending on the situation and then they can understand that architectural fees also vary depending on the situation. 



Jonathan S. Matson, AIA

Matson Architects Inc.




4.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-30-2017 18:21
You might find that if you can give them a likely range, even +/- 100%, then at least they'll have some idea.   I expect they're asking several architects the same question, and following up with those that give them at least a ballpark idea.  

Bruce Ward, Architect
(315) 824-1094
7122 Springhill Rd.
Hamilton, NY 13346

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5.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-31-2017 18:05

Hi Kathy


If you have designed a few houses you should be able to give them a range of cost- and a description of what they get. Remember, it is not their fault that they do not understand how architects work. I think it is my job to educate potential clients.


On the plus side- you are getting calls! Now find out why they are calling you.  And ask them who else are they calling. Many people can be nervous or defensive when considering the amount of money it costs to build a house.


I will try to engage the caller in conversation to understand what they are really looking for- even the ones that I do not think will be a good fit.


Good luck!


Ali Awad, AIA

Awad + Koontz Architects Builders Inc


Ali Awad AIA
Awad & Koontz Architects Builders, Inc.
Minneapolis MN

6.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-30-2017 18:25

Kathy –


I have done this long enough to know that that client is not one I really want to work with; now we have the pleasure to (mostly) work with people who know us by reputation, and expect to pay for our services.


But I started out working for 'cost first' clients.  Many can be persuaded to meet you, if only to pump you for free advice.  Your job is to convince them that architecture is not a commodity, that the lowest price is not worth it, and that you have their best interests at heart, but must be paid.  Tall order, I know, and you will still be underpaid.  But some of those will pan out to be acceptable projects & clients, and it builds from there.


Christopher Pickell, AIA

Pickell Architecture

115 Main Street

Flemington, New Jersey 08822




7.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-30-2017 18:27

Yes, our firm has struggled with this question for the past 30 years or so, and still have no answer.  We have used numbers like "5 to 15% of construction costs, depending upon the level of detail you need". Problem is, no one knows how much detail will be required (bid sets? Interiors? Approvals? Building Department requirements?, etc., etc.).  Also, no potential client knows what construction costs will be until drawings are completed and pricing is attempted.  I have always thought that a "Chinese menu" of services could be put together, with either dollars/SF or percentage bumps, but it would take time and data to safely produce (even after 30 years, I have neither).  What a lot of potential home owners don't realize is that architects have liability exposure for documents with their name on them despite any disclaimers thereto on the drawing sheets, and whether or not  they are stamped & signed.


A couple of things you can do during that initial telephone query might be to ask about their required square footage and whether or not they have a survey of the property.  The first piece of information, multiplied by an "average", low-budget, local, residential construction cost, then multiplied by the percentage range stated above will give them a cost range.  The second will determine if they can come up with, at least, the fee for the surveyor, and whether they have taken the first logical step to get serious about their project.  Some residential architects make a good living from publishing plans and adapting selected plans to specific sites for specific clients, usually at hourly rates on top of the initial plan purchase. 


Hope this was helpful.

Peter C. Hart, AIA, NCARB

8.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-30-2017 19:07
Hi, Folks ---
About when Prospective Clients call, or e-mail, my office:
1.     How much...?
That's the kiss-of-death.  When that's the first question, they're almost-always looking for "stock plans", as our colleague Kathy Prochnow noted yesterday, and I generally try to get-it-over-with ASAP. 
Each year in March, I'm in the local Home Show, which yields several serious Clients each year, from a crowd of stock-plan-hunters (and is a fun, 4-day, change-of-pace). 
One time at the Show, I started my usual response to a guy, and he said I was crazy; "I can get a set of plans for $300.00!"  My response; "There's a guy in the other building that has 'em for $200.00!"  Boom!  Bye-bye....
2.    Initial Consultation Fee (ICF):
After having some "Prospects" waste hours of my time, usually including a copy of my somewhat-expensive "Pre-posal" Brochure (20+ pages, GBC bound), plus the time I put-into my Proposal (12 pages, GBC, mailed), I started the ICF.  That culled a lot of dead wood! 
Roughly 20 years ago, it started at $100.00, reaching $300.00 in '07/'08.  In my initial conversations (voice or e-mail), I mention it up-front, stating that it's "credited to the fees if we go ahead".  After the crash, I dropped it for awhile, restarting at $100.00 several years ago.  It's up to $200.00 now, although I've always felt free to charge less, or zero, based on how the person and/or project sounds (non-profit, struggling, etc.).  On referrals, I rarely charge the ICF.
3.    When-&-how, to discuss ICF?:
As soon as the Prospect asks, I address it.  Normally, I like to start with the brief outline of how I proceed through Architectural Services.  After the conversation, I send (usually by e-mail) my 1-or-2-page "Meeting Prep-List" (requesting plot plan, plans of existing structures as applicable, Program, special needs, examples of admired work, budget, timing, etc., etc., as available), customized to the Prospect's stated situation.  If the ICF is missed in the conversation, that's OK; it's prominently noted at the top of the Prep-List.
This is working well for me.
Thanks ---
william j. devlin aia, inc.,
Springfield, MA

9.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-30-2017 23:42
The next question for me is "well how much work will it take to meet to met your expectations?" If they don't want to spend the time to answer this most basic of questions, well, then you have your answer.

Rudolph Beuc AIA, NCARB, CBO
R. Beuc Architects
Saint Louis MO

10.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 05-31-2017 18:04
Don't be too quick to dismiss them outright.  They may truly want an architect and not a plan service, but the first thing anybody needs to do is establish an overall project budget and design fees are part of that overall cost.  Your potential clients wouldn't be doing their due diligence to start a project without knowing how much it is going to cost them.

Karen Campbell
Assistant Director & Architect
LSU Agricultural Center Facilities Planning
Baton Rouge LA

11.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 06-01-2017 17:43
Hi Kathy,

This was one of my first blogs!
Top 10 questions potential clients ask this Architect - aricgitomerarchitect
aricgitomerarchitect remove preview
Top 10 questions potential clients ask this Architect - aricgitomerarchitect
image courtesy freeimages.com 1. How much will it cost to design an addition? I would say 75% of potential clients call and ask this. Every job is unique so it is impossible to quote a fee without seeing the property and meeting the client.
View this on aricgitomerarchitect >

Aric Gitomer AIA
Aric Gitomer Architect LLC
Morris Plains NJ

12.  RE: Questions from Perspective Clients

Posted 06-01-2017 22:17
I am finding most of these answers to a fairly simple question -- "How much does a set of plans cost?" -- to be quite depressing, because they fail to distinguish between cost and value, and don't help a prospect to understand that there is a fundamental difference.

Let's say you are shopping for tax preparation services, and you ask a bunch of budget tax services how much a "tax return costs." You get answers ranging from $500 to $1,500. (I'm going to assume that they will all come up with roughly the same calculation in the end.) Then, deciding to ask a top-notch CPA firm, you get quoted $5,000. For some reason, you go with the expensive CPA, who, after analyzing your tax situation, says, "You know, if you were to incorporate, and move these direct expenses over to the corporation along with a different type of retirement account, you could save $6,000 a year in your overall taxes." Which is the "cheapest" tax service now? How much does that expensive CPA "cost"? I think the correct answer is that the CPA is, essentially, even less than "free." You are being PAID to use them.

Similarly, good architects have the opportunity to create substantial value, both monetary and psychological: better (i.e. more comprehensive) sets of plans allow for apples-to-apples bids, reducing contractors' built-in contingencies. Fewer problems during construction. (Reduced headaches!) Increased resale value. Better quality control. Someone to help with problems during construction. Easier planning entitlement process. Etc., etc. Frankly, if I couldn't produce at least 10% more overall value over an unlicensed drafting service, I would probably take down my shingle.

It seems that the public--- and architects, too, for that matter -- have the mindset that every dollar spent for an architect is a dollar that isn't available for construction. Nothing could be further from the truth. The answer to the question "How much does a set of plans cost?" OUGHT to be "With me, often free or even less." At least, that response should start the discussion of price vs. value.

Richard Morrison
Architect-Interior Designer
Redwood City CA