What is your typical process for working with a new customer?
The first thing I often do, if the customer hasn't already accessed samples of home designs in plan books or online websites, is to point them in that direction. Pictures save and say a thousand words, so I guide people to find examples of architectural styles and design features they like. Next I guide them to use free downloadable floor planning tools to illustrate the area and relationship of spaces that will fit on their property. If they haven't yet found a building site, then I help them find property so the design process can begin. House design starts with a personal analysis of their individual needs, the site, the budget, and their tastes in materials and architectural style. I ask a lot of questions and drive decisions in a methodical and logical procedure which varies according to the decision-making capability of the owners, but nevertheless arrives at the custom home design. Sometimes the builder gets involved in the design process to keep the project in budget since he usually knows the current pricing of the labor and material markets. Once the design development is completed and the preliminary plans and elevations are defined and accepted, I then move onto the working drawings phase and coordinate the technical and structural aspects of the project.
What education and/or training do you have that relates to your work?
I graduated from the School of Architecture at Oklahoma University in 1975 and worked for an architect in Kalispell, MT. My career path has focused more on construction and design along the way, so I have a lot of practical experience as a journeyman carpenter, builder, and a project manager and estimator on commercial projects. To stay current, I attend all available seminars on current building code programs and subscribe to industry magazines that feature articles on new trends in housing development. I also subscribe to RSS feeds to certain industry suppliers and designers to keep up with the latest trends in design. I spend a lot of time on pinterest, houzz, instagram, youtube, and similar Internet idea resources to study the latest and greatest emerging designs, materials, and construction techniques. I bring over 42 years of construction knowledge, education, and design experience to my practice.
Do you have a standard pricing system for your service? If so, please share the details here.
Design is an open-ended process because I never know how long it will take people to make decisions. I charge $55 per hour for design. Once the perimeter and interior of the building has been defined, then I charge a drafting fee based on the area of each floor level. I currently charge 55c per sq. ft. for living space and 45c per sq. ft. for garages and decks. These are my base rates. There also may be production costs, travel costs, and various expenses for coordinating with third parties such as engineers, building departments, material suppliers, and the building trades. My overhead cost and profit margin are also included, so since every project is unique, I provide a personal quotation for services relevant to each specific job. This is usually an estimate, not a hard bid number. I generally increase my rates annually by at least 3% for cost-of-living and market fluctuations, so be sure to request my current rate sheet for the correct fee schedule. My rates, in this market, generally fall between those of a construction superintendant and a plumber or electrician. Compared to a licensed architect's fees, my rates are significantly lower because my operating costs are often a lot less. I am a single proprietor business with low overhead, no brick-and mortar storefront, no staff, no loans, no expensive equipment, and this simple operation allows me to pass a savings through to my customers in the form of lower rates for design and working drawings. Most of my customers feel my service is a real bargain by comparison.
How did you get started doing this type of work?
I started out in college in pre-med, and during one summer I worked construction building houses. That next fall, I switched my major to architecture and never looked back. I have enjoyed working in design and construction my entire career. I worked for an architect initially as an apprentice, but later my career path changed course into construction work, and later into commercial project management. At some point I opened my own residential design business and liked it so much that I have stayed with it for over four decades now.
What types of customers have you worked with?
The majority of my work is preparing designs and working drawings for custom homes. I also do project management, permit acquisition, energy audits, building inspections, handyman services, remodels, additions, property management, and agricultural and storage buildings. I generally work with owners to develop their dream home, but I have a large builder following as well and have done production housing and land development.
Describe a recent project you are fond of. How long did it take?
Shown in the job photos, I designed a custom home for a retired airline pilot with a golf course in the back yard and with a matching airplane hanger on an airport just off the front yard located northwest of Chewelah, WA. It was a fun project and it had large open glu-lam beam trusses at the ceilings, lots of glass in front, and a custom staircase with glu-lam beam treads with wire railings. It turned out very nice.
What advice would you give a customer looking to hire a provider in your area of work?
Clients should define the area of their dream home and provide as much detail as possible regarding the materials, the site, and the sizes of the spaces. This information should be given to a custom home designer so he/she can provide an accurate quotation for services. Owners should also evaluate how well the designer communicates. This is just as important as the cost, because, after all, the owner is buying information when he requests building plans. A good designer knows how to ask the right questions in the right sequence so the client can think about their options and arrive at decisions. This is a real skill because design is a process of layering on information resulting from previous decisions It always boils down to good communication and guiding the client through the design process.
What questions should customers think through before talking to professionals about their project?
Designers and draftsmen are often the first stop in the custom home construction process, and depending on how thorough and skilled they perform their job, they can save their clients many times their fee for planning services and insure the project is built on time and in budget. My services generally give my customers an instant return on investment. Good plans allow better bid responses, better administration, and overall a smoother construction process because they are the road map through the wilderness which all the various trades, material suppliers, financing, building officials, jurisdictions, and owners will follow to see the project through to completion.