The first rule in restoring or remodeling an old building is: Take your time. Old houses took a long time to get that way and most will survive a few weeks longer.
If there is a large hole in the roof or other glaring problems, they should, of course, be repaired. Do not, however, attack the house with a crowbar two hours after settlement. Think about what you want to do with the old house and how you or your tenants will use it. A good architect can help you work through that process and a lot more.
A good architect is one who is sensitive to the qualities of your old house, who understands who you are, how you live, and how much money you have to spend, and can develop design solutions based on these realities.
Architects who work on old houses have to be able to bury their ego. An old house has a personality of its own; an architect whose every work must be a personal statement will probably not be right for your house. You also should stay away from people who like doing new houses or who always do the same house. If you do not, your house could become version number 37 or the Rowhouse Restoration Series.
Finding this architect is the first task. Comparison shop. Walk or bike around neighborhoods with houses like yours.Unless you live in the country, don't drive. Parking is always a problem and you can speed by and miss what you are looking for. If you see a restoration going on or one that has been recently completed, stop and ask the owners who they used and how they liked the results.
When you have the names of three or four architects, call them and make an appointment. Describe your house and what you would like to do. Ask the architect what approach he or she would take, what tasks would be performed, and what the fee would be for various services. Ask for references and call them after the meeting.
Do not hire the first architect you meet. Be selective. A good architect can ease some of the trauma of the rehab process. Pick one that you can talk to and argue with, whose design ability you respect, and who you can tell exactly how much money you have to spend.
An architect has two principal functions: to design a building to serve the purposes of the owner and to make sure that the building is constructed as it was designed. You can hire an architect to do one or both things for you. The design phase begins with measuring the house and making drawings that show the location of utilities, supporting walls and anything else that will affect the job.
When the plans for the renovation are made and drawn, a process requiring much time and negotiation, the architect prepares the working drawings. The architect also prepares specifications for building methods, and materials and can arrange for building permits. An architect who will supervise the work to make sure that the materials and methods described in the specifications are used and the plans followed also can suggest a contractor and sub-contractors.
Before the architect does any work, agree on the billing method and the cost. For jobs that only involve design work, architects generally charge by the hour. The contract should specify the maximum amount the owners will pay and should require regular billing.
For jobs that include both design and work supervision, the fee is generally a percentage of the total cost. This can be very expensive and should be figured into the total cost. Monthly billings are a good idea here also.
Beverly Reece is associated with the Preservation Resource Group, a firm that conducts preservation workshops for homeowners here.