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Finding and Selecting an Architect

Before enlisting the services of an architect, consider these important issues.


When you’re seeking an architect for a project, start by obtaining several names from more than one source. Some architects specialize in designing certain types of structures such as single-family dwellings, multiple residential, commercial, institutional or industrial structures, while others design a variety of building types. You can ask for recommendations from people you know or look in a directory for individuals, firms and professional associations. You can also receive more information about the practice of architecture and referrals from professional associations such as The American Institute of Architects (AIA).

You may find it to your advantage to contact several architects or firms. The California Architects Board (CAB) doesn’t maintain a referral service and cannot recommend architects; however, CAB can advise you if an architect is currently licensed and whether the board has taken any disciplinary action against that architect.

After receiving referrals and recommendations from various sources, you’ll need to determine which architect will be able to provide the services you need at a cost you’re willing to pay.

Basic criteria

Prior to selecting an architect, you need to develop basic criteria for your project and provide this to the architects you’re considering. The basic criteria for your project should include, but not necessarily be limited to:

•    The size, appearance and functional requirements of your project;

•    The services you expect the architect to perform;

•     What you intend to spend for design fees, if known;

•     What you intend to spend for construction;

•     How the project will be financed and, if known, by whom;

•     Anticipated starting and completion dates of your project; and

•     How you intend to construct the project.

Request for information

To make sure you get the best person for your project, you should request information on qualifications and experience from several architects. After reviewing their qualifications, you may want to interview a number of architects to determine your compatibility and their understanding of your project. During the selection process, you may want to ask some or all of the following questions.

General information

•     How long have you been in business?

•     How many people are employed by your firm?

•     Do you have a valid California architect’s license? If so, what’s the number?

•     How have you kept current in your practice?

•     Do you intend to use consultants for this project? If so, who do you propose to use? What are their qualifications? What has been your experience with them?

•     What percentage of your practice involves the type of structure I intend to build?

•     Do you carry insurance? If so, what type(s)? How long have you carried each type and what are the policy limits?


•     Have you recently designed the type of structure I intend to build? How many times?

•     When and what was your most recent project?

•     May I see examples of your previous projects that are similar to my project (sketches, photos, plans)?

•     May I have the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the clients for these previous similar projects?

•    What was the actual construction cost versus budgeted cost for these projects?


•     What will the fee schedule be?

•     How will your fees for my project be determined and what services do they cover?

•     Will you provide probable construction cost estimates for my project?

•     If consultants (civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, geotechnical, testing and inspection) are necessary, are their fees included in your basic fee or are they separate services?

•     What additional costs (such as permit and other governmental fees) or services (such as time spent obtaining necessary permits and other approvals) do you anticipate for my project?

•     How do you establish your fees for additional services and reimbursable expenses?

•     Will there be a charge for redesign if it’s necessary to meet the construction budget?

•     Will there be additional charges for changes required by the building department or other government agency?

•     How are additional charges computed for design changes requested by me or requested by a contractor?


•     Can you meet my proposed schedule?

Making the final decision

It’s wise to check the references that each architect gives you and ask the following questions.

•     Did the architect adhere to required schedules and budgets?

•     Were you pleased with the architect’s services and your working relationship with the architect?

•     Did the architect listen to your concerns and attempt to resolve them?

•     Would you use the architect again?

•     What problems surfaced during the project?

If possible, visit the projects the architects have used as examples of their services.

You can also call the CAB or visit its website to verify the license status of any architect(s) you’re considering. Upon written or telephone inquiry, the board will also inform you of any public complaints, or enforcement or disciplinary action against an architect.

Source: California Architects Board; Consumer’s Guide to Hiring an Architect


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