When it comes to building a truly custom luxury home in Charleston, Kiawah Island, or Hilton Head, the costs can seem to add up rather quickly. One area in which many new homebuyers think about cutting corners is architectural design. The reasoning is it makes more sense to reduce the amount invested in designs drawn on paper than it does on the actual structure they will be living in. However, what this argument doesn’t take into account is the value an architect brings to the entire project.

That being said, let’s consider the cost of hiring an architect and the ultimate cost of trying to save a little by reducing the amount allocated in the budget for this part of the project.

How Much Does a Charleston SC Architect Cost?

There is obviously no simple answer to this question. The costs associated with designing a home are affected by numerous factors, including location, scope of work, size of firm, and the education and experience of the architect creating the design.

While coastal South Carolina is not the most expensive place to build your dream home, it’s not the least expensive either, so you can plan on both your design and building costs to be higher than average. 

The fees for working with a large, well-regarded South Carolina architecture firm will likely be more than those of an individual who works from home. In addition to the benefit of having multiple professionals available to work on your project, you are also helping to pay for the overhead costs of an office space and multiple employees.

As with most professions, the number of years an architect has been working in the field generally affects their hourly rate. Where they received their education and what degree they earned may also have an effect.

What Is Included in an Architect’s Fees?

An architect’s fees can include one item or a dozen, which is why it is important to know exactly what services you need, what services the architect can provide, and which services are included in the cost estimate you are given.

For example, if you ask only for design and the cost is on the low side, it may only include enough drawings needed to obtain a building permit. Higher design fees may include more detailed drawings or additional drawings that will serve as the blueprint for the entire project, from breaking ground to the final interior touches.

Some architects in Charleston also offer project management, which can be extremely useful during the actual construction of your home. Rather than you having to oversee the building process and take up issues with the building contractor, your architect can ensure the design and budget are being adhered to and address any issues that arise. This will increase the cost, but most clients find having this project oversight and intermediary if necessary is worth the investment.

How Architecture Fees Are Calculated

Architect fees can be fixed, based on the number of hours worked, a percentage of the total cost of the project, or a dollar amount per the square footage of the home. Sometimes, a combination of these pricing strategies are used during one project. Fixed or hourly fees are easier to use at the beginning of the project, when pre-design services and the total cost and square footage are still unknown. Once the scope of the project is determined, the fee structure may change.

While a fixed fee may seem like the most reasonable option, this is not always the case. This fee may be inflated by the architect to ensure the design costs are completely covered by the time the project is complete. Or the services provided may become subpar as the fee limit is reached. An hourly rate can seem risky, but some architects allow a ceiling to be set so their clients don’t have to worry about too many hours being charged.

The percentage-of-construction-cost amount that a project may be charged is generally between 6% and 15%, with some nationally known firms getting 20% or higher. If the fees are being charged this way, make sure you know exactly what is being included in the calculation. If the percentage being charged is on the lower end, it may not include everything you would receive if a higher percentage were being charged, such as additional drawings, a higher level of design and detailing, computer animations, or project management. 

Also be sure to find out exactly what is included in the project cost being used to determine the fees. Is the percentage based on the cost of the actual construction, or does it include the elaborate finishing touches as well, like extravagant lighting fixtures, appliances, etc.? These extra costs can increase the design fees more than you think.

It is important to keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for. Remember to ask for client references as well.

Blueprint for Success

In the end, the cost of an architect is only a small portion of what you will invest in your dream home, and it is well worth it. A quality design can increase the value of your home and provide added daily pleasure as you live there. Having an experienced architect working on your behalf can save you money by ensuring construction information flows in an organized way and that the project stays on a reasonable schedule and budget.