According to the Oxford Dictionary, an architect is “a person who designs buildings and in many cases also acts as your agent during the construction process. In reality, an architect is someone who can make building your home a dream come true—or a living nightmare. So do your due diligence and find the best architect for you.

Decide What You Want from an Architect

If you are looking for an architect to design your dream home, you will want someone who can listen to your wants and desires and convert those ideas into a tangible product that can be built for your budget. However, many architects offer more than just design—they can analyze different properties to help you determine the best “fit” for your requirements, study the impact of zoning requirements on the site, work with Architectural Review Boards, find contractors for every part of the project, and oversee and monitor the construction process including any changes as well as approving monthly construction invoicing. They can also assist with landscaping and interior design. and complete the interior including cabinet design, wall, floor and ceiling finishes, as well as interior trim and door and window selection.

Before you begin your search, you need to decide how much of a role you want to play in the construction of your home. If you want to describe your vision and be able to walk into your forever home without being involved in any of the steps in between, you’ll want to hire someone who will handle the entire process. If you have already purchased a lot, have a certain interior decorator already selected, or want to play a role in each step of the project, you can use an architect or firm whose services aren’t quite as comprehensive. Or, many firms offer a range of services allowing you to choose the extent of involvement you need. It really comes down to selecting the most compatible firm to meet your needs.

Where to Start Your Search

Referrals are a significant source of new clients for architects, and can be a good place to start. If you have a builder you trust, you can ask them for recommendations but don’t be surprised if they offer you a list of 10 names and won’t say which one they think is the best. They may rely on a number of Architects for future work so be careful.

An online search for Charleston Architects can provide dozens of options. So use it as a guide only and take the time to visit different firm’s websites. Check with Houzz.com. They offer links to many Architects websites along with specific client reviews.

The American Institute of Architects is a national organization with chapters in South Carolina and Charleston. The AIA holds its members to high ethical standards, so verify if the firm you are researching is affiliated with the AIA.

Take some time to look at these referrals online before setting up meetings with them. Look for a professional website with images of completed projects, useful information that solidifies them as experts in their field, and testimonials that speak to their integrity and ability to take their clients’ ideas and turn them into a reality.

Interviewing and Selecting an Architect for Your Dream Home

Once you have a list of potential architects, it’s time to decide which one will ultimately build your luxury home. A good first step is to make a phone call and ask to speak to the Principal regarding your upcoming project. That first conversation can tell you a lot about their willingness to interview and whether they have room in their schedule to meet your needs. While it isn’t wise to interview just one firm, it’s also best not to interview more than five or six. Interviewing too many is like having a restaurant menu with ten pages of entrees—too many options can make it impossible to decide.

Here are several things you should ask about in the interviews, assuming you were not able to find the information online:

  • Credentials: Find out where they went to school, what special certifications they have, what professional associations they belong to, how long they have been in business, etc.
  • Previous experience: Hiring someone who has designed and managed projects before is obviously a plus, especially if they have several years of experience. Some architects have additional experience that is also valuable. For example, an architect who has real construction experience will have a more thorough understanding of the entire process than one who has only worked in a firm.
  • Portfolio: Not only does a portfolio give you an idea of the number of projects they have successfully completed, it will also give you an idea of the variety of styles they have created. If everything has the same look, and doesn’t fit your taste, you might address that issue in the initial call to the firm.
  • Liability coverage: This should go without saying, but if an architect cannot show you proof of insurance, you need to keep looking. According to Insureon, “Architects, interior designers, engineers, drafters, and other building design professionals” should have a business owner’s policy, workers’ compensation insurance, general liability insurance, and professional liability insurance.
  • Who will be working on your project: If the firm has several architects, confirm who will be designing your home. You don’t want to sign a contract assuming the owner or partner with 25 years of experience will be handling your project, only to find it has been handed to a junior employee you have not met.
  • Timeline: When will they be able to start on your project? What would the estimated date of completion be? Are there other projects they are working on that may cause a delay in yours? Having even a rough timeline will allow you to plan your finances, the sale of your current home, and your move.
  • Cost: This may be your dream home, but weigh carefully the value of the extent of the services the Architect offers. Be sure to keep in mind that you often “get what you pay for”. True custom design to meet a client’s specific needs, provide budget control, and thorough construction documents takes significant time. Options in provided services may be another way to control the value to you.
  • References: Ask for references who have used the architect for projects similar to yours. Better yet, ask for references who will allow you to come to their homes so you can see the quality in person.

After initial phone contact, visit your top three architects in person to get a true feeling of what they are like. You will be working with this individual or firm closely and extensively, so it is imperative that your personalities work well together.

Blueprint for Success

Choosing an architect for your luxury home should not be taken lightly. Decide how involved you want to be in the process, assemble a list of candidates through referrals and research, and conduct interviews to collect information not available online and ensure you will work well together.