Building Chicago New Construction: Choosing an Architect

I recently wrote about the different types of Chicago new construction properties and the nuances of each. As discussed in that post, the most involved type of new construction purchase is starting and building a home from scratch—this is the biggest undertaking in terms of time, money and decision-making. But building your own home, literally from the ground up, is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can’t be matched.

But of course, you can’t build a new construction home on your own. Designing a custom home requires close collaboration between the new construction buyer, the architect/builder, interior designer, realtor and more.

With the help of Chicago architect Allan J. Grant, A.I.A., I wanted to take a more in-depth look at the relationship between the client and the architect in particular. The joint efforts between these two ultimately creates a unique home that fully addresses the wants and needs of the client.

Finding a Client-Oriented Architect for a New Construction Project
The role of the architect working on a new construction home is pivotal, as he or she will assist the clients with the many decisions and product selections that come with building a custom home. The architect can (and does) also coordinate with other design professionals, engineers and specialty consultants.

A client will want to be very selective when looking for an architect, the same way you might go about hiring someone for any sort of job. There are a number of questions you’ll want to go over with a potential architect:

Will you need a designer?
Find out if the architect expects you to hire your own interior designer—many request that you do. Although some architects will accompany the client to vendors for selections of tile, stone, plumbing, lighting, etc., an interior designer can also assist the client with making selections based on the overall budget. However, not all interior designers have experience in the nuances of new home selections, so this should be determined up front with the architect.

Does the architect act as the general contractor?
Usually, no. It is generally believed that the architect and contractor should be two separate entities with two separate contracts with the client to avoid conflicts of interest. The architect acts as a checkpoint for the general contractor’s construction and progress.

There are, of course, other possibilities for this, but this is the preferred arrangement between the architect and the general contractor.

What is the responsibility of the general contractor?
It is the general contractor’s responsibility to supervise his tradesmen on a day-to-day or minute-to-minute basis. The contract that the client has with the general contractor should refer to the architect’s plans and specifications as the product he will produce for the client and that the architect has the authority on the client’s behalf to reject any of the work that does not conform to the contract documents.

How do proposals work?
The very high-end builder, who may offer design expertise, will typically draw up a proposal and/or preliminary drawings, which could cost as much as $15,000. The proposal fee is given back or incorporated into the fee structure for the client once building has begun, but the specifics of drawing one up should be discussed in the builder interview. If an architect independent of the builder is being retained, preliminary design work is part of his service to the client and may be compensated in a number of ways.

What’s the fee structure?
Finding out the architect’s procedure for fees is an important element in building a home from scratch. Is it a flat fee, hourly charge or percentage of construction costs? What about overruns? The buyer should nail down these details before choosing an architect to avoid any surprises.

How will payments be made?
The new construction buyer should also learn the procedure for setting up an escrow account and how the money will be released for payments to the builder and possibly the architect.

Once an architect has been chosen, he or she should sit down with the client and learn more about the client’s lifestyle, wants, needs, preferences, wish lists, etc. and be sure they each have the same expectations for the Chicago new construction project.

The Role of the Realtor
As I’ve said before, the realtor can play a very important role in this process as well, and he or she should have experience in Chicago new construction. A realtor with a background in helping clients build homes from scratch should also be able to recommend different architects and designers and should know about the different professionals they work with.

Next, we’ll take a look at the actual processes or working with an architect to build Chicago new construction. To get an idea of all of the questions you should be asking a prospective architect, contact myself or architect Allan J. Grant:

Sheldon Salnick, realtor | 312-264-5853 | ssalnick@dreamtown.com
Allan J. Grant
, architect | 312-943-5522 | grantarchitects@gmail.com

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