As the housing market pulls out of the economic morass of recent years and mortgage rates continue to be at very favorable levels, more people are considering a custom residential construction or major renovation project. 

Your first move likely will be to hire an architect to help you with all the moving parts of such an undertaking — initial design, hiring and overseeing contractors and sub-contractors, executing change orders, sourcing materials and adhering to budgets, timelines and building codes.

An architect can serve as your advocate through all phases of the design and construction process (especially by ensuring the construction is executed according to the design specifications), provide crucial pre-design consultation, negotiate the best prices on building materials and to present a final design that will reduce energy consumption and maintenance costs over the life of the home.

But how do you find an architect who is the best fit to help you execute your vision?

Start by getting recommendations from friends and family members who have used an architect.  An American Institute of Architects’ online tool is available to help you search for an architect in your local area.  You can narrow your search down to three or four firms after reviewing their design portfolios on their Web sites.

As you begin your interview process, there are a multitude of questions you should ask a prospective architect:

●What does the architect see as significant issues of consideration in your project? 

●What will the architect show you along the way to explain the project?

●What is the architect’s experience/track record with cost estimating?

●Can the architect provide a list of recent references?

The services the architect provides during construction and the fee structure need to be addressed from the outset of the relationship.  It is also in your best interests to approach this business arrangement as a “relationship.”  You should be upfront about your expectations and vision of what the final product will look and feel like.  You must also ask for clarification on anything you don’t understand.  Once that decision has been made, you should consult the American Institute of Architects’ owner-architect agreement and get a signed contract prior to any work taking place.  Expenses can range from a flat fee to an hourly rate to a percentage of construction costs.

From there the fun parts can begin.  A good starting point is to share visuals with your architect that best reflects the vision you are hoping for. You can consult design publications, share photos of residences you favor or even point to examples from the firm’s Web site.

Architects are trained as problem solvers and will approach your project with a number of questions to better inform their design efforts.  Beyond asking about location of certain rooms and square footage preferences, an architect will ask questions so he or she can tailor a design that ideally represents the way you and your family go through your daily lives.  How do you have your family meals?  What are your weekend activities like?  Do you entertain often?  Do you plan to live in this home through your senior years?

As you get deeper into the process, there are passive design strategies, such as site orientation, daylighting techniques and the use of natural ventilation that can reduce energy consumption up to as much as 50 percent at no additional costs.

Once the project is completed, you want to end up with the best combination of aesthetics and how you function in your home.  To help reach that end result, a good architect can navigate the pre-design planning and zoning ordinances to avoid costly changes later on, as well as to ensure strong coordination and communication among the entire construction team making your vision for your home become a reality that you and your family can enjoy for years to come.

John Isch is principal at RWA Architects, Inc. in Cincinnati and chair of the American Institute of Architects Custom Residential Architects Network