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By Laura in Central, WA on 3/28/2007


Hi, I'm not sure what to do about my house design. I found an online plan that I like, but will need to do some modifications (move laundry room from main floor to upstairs, extend kitchen back two feet, which would add two feet to back of house and make two-car garage to a three car. It's a 3,200 sf two-story plus 1,500 sf daylight basement (total of three levels.)

The county planner told me to be careful of online plans, as they're usually built for the area the plans are located, which is Arizona for this company. I live in Central Washington and it has to be IRC compliant and built to code for our winds and snow loads. Sometimes the plans need an engineer's stamp before permit approval. Permit approval usually takes three months and we want to start by Sept., so we have a time crunch as well. 

One designer told me he could do it for $15,000 which seems very high. Another designer who works out of his home told me $1,500. A few architects told me about $6,000. The house plans online which can be modified and copied are $1,500 but the county planner said that they may have to be modified quite a bit to code and sometimes you have to start from scratch. I don't want to spend $1,500 just to be told I have to start over. I thought you could just buy plans, get your permit and start building; guess I'm naive. 

We have a builder, however he is not licensed, so I'm basically the GC and he's more of a consultant. Our builder did state that he could build in the modifications from the blueprints I got online. However the plans need to be approved before I can ever start building, so someone has to modify them. Can builders modify plans well enough for approval? I'm on a budget and want to make the right decisions but I don't want to throw money away either. We haven't obtained our construction loan yet as I didn't think we needed it for another couple months. Any ideas or advice?  Anyone else run into this?
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By Phil in Tulsa, OK on 4/10/2007


Laura,

We are looking at plans from the Web and magazines as well. I just got a great reply from Jeff the webmaster here. I will copy it in here. BTW we are still not settled on our architect/designer. So please keep us in the loop on your experiences and we will do the same.

Phil


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By Barbara in Gladstone, OR on 4/10/2007


Hi Laura,

I live in NW Oregon and have gone to a couple of VERY well-known architectural firms (Mascord being one of them) and the price your designer is quoting seems very high. That is even higher than I was quoted as a ballpark price for designing a home absolutely from scratch. I was quoted $10K as a ballpark for that and $3K-5K to modify a stock plan and have it 'permit ready', which in our area includes engineering for seismic. I hope that helps.

Another idea - if there are any home shows in your area, there is usually a credit given to the home designer in the brochures. If there are homes that you like you might start by calling those designers. Also, if you visit developments of large home builders you might ask there who they use to create or modify their plans locally. At the very least, getting multiple estimates will assure you that you aren't overpaying and perhaps you will find a capable designer you like who is willing to provide the service you need for less. 

On the design side... in our county a builder can only make minor changes to a plan and 'redline' them. Because codes do vary quite a bit by location, you might try checking out the websites of NW designers- Mascord.com, and  architectsnw.com, those are two I know of - perhaps they will have designs that work for you or something similar that will require less modification.

Good luck!

Barbara


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By Suzanne in Oro Valley, AZ on 4/10/2007


Laura,

Can you tell me where you found the stock plans from Arizona? I'm in AZ, and they might work for us.

Thanks!

Suzanne


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By Michael in Cave Creek, AZ on 4/10/2007


I am aware of two Arizona-based websites that provide stock house plans. azhouseplans.com and michaeldaily.com

There are probably other firms in Arizona that offer a similar service, but I am not aware of them. I have had positive experiences with Dean at azhouseplans.com. I believe he is based in Chandler.

Good luck finding something that suits your needs.

You will need the support of your designer during the permitting process in most any place in AZ as the building departments are likely to require changes on at least the first review and perhaps the second (or subsequent) reviews to comply with the local plan reviewer's interpretation of the code. Although this will seem like a major hassle during the permitting process, most plan reviewers are hardworking people and you will end up with a higher a quality and safer home. 

A good question for your designer, architect or engineer prior to hiring him/her is how many projects have you permitted through Oro Valley or wherever the project is. If a designer does a lot of projects in a particular jurisdiction, he quickly learns what the plan checkers look for and can get a permit in fewer plan review iterations than a designer from out of town.


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 4/10/2007


Plans that meet the IRC here in the west should run from a dollar to two dollars per square foot from a draftsperson/designer. An architect which most jurisdictions don't require, although some require a structural engineer, will charge two to three times as much.

You will find that on-line plans are not such a great deal once modified to meet local requirements. It is better in the long run to find a floor plan you like and have a local person familiar with local permit requirements draft the construction documents. This also allows you to make modifications without spending a fortune with the on-line plan company.

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By Mary Beth in Dublin, OH on 4/24/2007


Barbara,

You mentioned some pricing about architects. I am just starting the interview process with some local architects. One told me that on a 5,000+ sq ft home I would expect to pay upward of $30K for an architect's service. While I have no doubt this architect is very good is that what I am looking at for a good set of scratch plans? I can see where having a good set of drawings would be a real asset-esp one that works almost exclusively in our area. I could be in for a long haul if I am already choking on these prices!!!

Mary Beth


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 4/24/2007


If you do the majority of the design work a draftsman should be able to finish the plans for you. Check the phone book for residential or home designers also. Fees should run about $2 per square foot. If the plan is real complicated you may also need structural engineering, but that will only add about another dollar per s.f.

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By Barbara in Gladstone, OR on 4/24/2007


Mary Beth,

That would choke me too! However, you might want to get a definition of "architects' services" - would that be plans only, or will the architect include other services such as materials list, specifications, and some degree of involvement in the build? That could make a big difference. You also are looking at a large home, which usually means high-end, and that usually involves a lot more detail drawings and built-ins. I have heard about $3 psf to custom design a home, but there were caveats to that, as in only so many hours of client meetings included, site visits extra, only certain detail drawings included, etc. 

If you are set on a custom "from scratch" home as you put it, I would still start with looking at stock plans. The architect I spoke with did tell me that it would save me money if I did all or most of the design/planning before I brought my ideas to him. I had asked if I laid out the house to 1/4" scale with dimensions and brought pictures of details would that help him to draw up the plans more quickly and he said 'yes'. I have heard that not all architects like that degree of 'direction' from their clients, so it could be a matter of the right fit. 

If you are going to stick with a custom design, I would spend time on researching local designers and architects. To me it would be important to find someone who had designed a home in the style that appealed to me, that was willing to take input, that understood and respected my need to be size and budget conscious and that was willing to separate the design/plan fee from all other fees. I have heard over and over how someone goes in for a certain sf home and ends up with a lot higher and that the home was 'overbuilt' on plan and cost a lot more than other homes to build.

You might contact the builders or owners of homes you admire and ask who their designer or architect was. I would definitely ask the builders if the plans supplied by the architect were complete and clear and straightforward to build. One of the reasons we considered going with a custom plan was to tailor our plan to our family, site and budget. We have found that most plans that give us everything we are looking for and that works for our site also gives us a little more than we need as well and is stretching our budget and later on may be more than we want to heat, maintain and pay property taxes on.

In addition having a really good set of plans that is complete and well-done can save you money on your build, offsetting the cost of having them drawn. Having said that... the fee for those plans must make sense for our budget; otherwise we will have to choose a custom design over square footage or amenities.

If I have a building budget of $500K or more, that $30K would be 6% or less and might make sense as part of my overall budget. It is difficult to look at any one cost and say 'Is this reasonable?' You need to look at that $30K in context of your priorities and overall budget.

I know this does not specifically address whether $30K is the right amount to plan on spending, but I hope it helps. The only way to know if that is an okay figure is to get several estimates and compare that fee as a percentage of your total budget and based on that and how important the architect's role is in your particular case determine if it makes sense and is a good value.  

Good luck!

Barbara


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By Terry in Phoenix / Oracle, AZ on 4/24/2007


I bought my original plan (I liked the general look of the house) from Home Planners Inc. 3275 W. Ina Rd, Suite 110. They are a subsidiary of Hanley Wood, a nationwide corporation.

After getting them (they were nowhere close to ready to pass the permit process) I had them redrawn and modified by a design firm in Phoenix. No need for an architect unless you need a lot of interior design specifics. A designer firm can easily redraw the prints to make them pass code and make the changes you want for a fraction of the price of an architect.


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By Bryan in Springfield, OH on 4/24/2007


Mary Beth,

I agree that it depends on what services you are looking for from the architect. A designer can do most of the design planning/drafting for you and the lumberyards will work with joist/truss companies to get the engineering verified. For instance, I used Punch software to design our "dream home." I took those drawings to Pat McBride at CADScape in New Carlisle. She drew them up in AutoCAD and made a few good suggestions for improvements. 

I took those plans to some local lumberyards to have them put together a materials list/take-off. They took the plans to a local joist/truss company whose engineer designed a floor joist plan. I gave that back to Pat and she is updating her drawings. I guess I can't speak yet to how well the whole process worked, since I don't have them back yet (hoping for tomorrow) and they haven't been through the county plans office yet, but so far the process has been great. Her fees are based upon her hourly rate and normally end up costing $600-$1,200.

The architects can do the engineering work and have more experience (she has two years of architectural training), but if you have an idea of what you want, this route is much cheaper. 

You can see examples of the work in my journal named "Taking the Plunge."

Bryan


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By Dave in Coarsegold, CA on 5/2/2007


Here is how it has gone down for us. We're currently in the county corrections phase on our plans, so we're getting fairly close to getting the permit. We started out designing our overall style of the house and basic floorplans based on how we live and on our review of countless books and architecture/design magazines. We then looked for a designer/draftsman to improve on the design and draw up plans. Most quoted somewhere between $1.50 and $3.25 per square foot for design and drafting. We chose one that charges $2/sf plus design time after interviewing several. The design work ended up being about $.50/sf, and was well worth the money for the great ideas our designer came up with to improve our design.

Background: We are planning a 2,655 sf two-story ICF house with SIP roof.

At this stage I'm comfortable sharing some lessons learned so far in this process:

  • Keep in mind that the price isn't the only important aspect. Make sure you choose a designer you "click" with because you will need to be able to communicate well with this person and rely on him/her to tune in to your vision.
  • Make sure you have a written contract with the designer/draftsman.
  • Make sure the contract states what is included in the drafting price (i.e. Title 24 [California energy calcs required], required county corrections, etc.) and how much it will cost for those items that are not included.
  • Make sure your chosen professional is experienced in your county if you want things to go smoothly.
  • Take into account how your chosen professional may work with your engineer if you need engineering.  Some designers have their own engineers, but make sure to get a separate contract with the engineer unless all costs are specified in the contract with the designer.
  • If the designer you hire uses outside firms to do his/her drafting and engineering, make sure that relationship is clear. For instance, if you contracted with only the designer and the drafting and engineering costs are included in the contract, be sure all of that work and billing goes through the designer so you aren't working directly with those subs. This may help you avoid misunderstandings and extra costs.
  • If you can, hire someone with experience in working with the materials you want to use if you aren't using standard stick construction.

Our structural engineering is running in the $2/sf range for the engineering and engineering drafting together. We also had geotechnical engineering done that unexpectedly added quite a bit more to our costs.


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By Phil in Tulsa, OK on 5/17/2007


Mary Beth and Barbara,

We just signed with an architect after interviewing nine. Four were well-known house designers that you see in magazines. They were all very nice, and with modifications we wanted, the price for the plans would run around $15K. We talked with four architects in Tulsa, where we are building. They were not very impressive and wanted $35K and up for plans. Then we found an architect here in Chicago who came recommended by a friend. He does incredibly detailed plans. Cost is $15K. We decided to go with a local architect since the price was reasonable and we can meet with him regularly.

I did check with the Tulsa building inspectors and am forwarding him the building codes.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Phil


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By Mary Beth in Dublin, OH on 5/19/2007


Phil,

I'm with you on the interviewing thing! I interviewed five different ones in our area. I'm so glad that I did. I'm also glad that I didn't just go with the lowest bid. That guy may or may not have done a great job, but I found another that is reasonably priced that I really felt I clicked with. Many of the architects took out portfolios of the magnificent mansion-type homes that I just didn't relate to. In some way you begin to feel like this architect won't want your project because it isn't so grand. The one I chose came in at $2 a square foot and $1/sqft for basement space. In that firm price is the engineering and sealing prices, on-site time, help with initial budgeting and specs and he will work it in chunks. For instance, if we get into the design phase and start bidding and find out we can't afford it!!!

He will only charge us for work done up to that point. For us, we need about a 5,000 sqft home; a $12K price was much more palatable than $18K or even higher. I had bids that went up to $25K with none of the extras thrown in. Plus, this guy comes to my house to do the consults. I really like having someone local that can look at the site and really get a feel for how it will work on the land and the placement of everything from the driveway to the sun exposures.

Good luck with your project.

Mary Beth


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By Bryan in Springfield, OH on 5/23/2007


Mary Beth,

Just thought I'd let you know that the designer I used worked out great. My permit package yielded a permit the day after submittal. Her drawings have received many compliments and did I mention I only paid ~$1,200. It sounds like you're looking for more design guidance than I was (we spent over a year working on our design with computer design software), but I just wanted you to know that you don't have to spend five figures to get a house designed in OH. Don't go by the outrageous prices you're probably used to seeing in Dublin. The subs I'm using are from all around our common area.

Bryan


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By Mary Beth in Dublin, OH on 5/23/2007


Bryan,

Way to go on the design fee! I did find someone that I am paying $2 a sq ft, but I think I am going to love working with him and I don't have a year, unfortunately. I am a bit pinched for time. If we are going to do this we need to break ground this fall. I would love to chat further about the subs you chose and more about that process. You can feel free to PM me instead of boring any non-OH folk with this info.

Thanks!

Mary Beth


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