Should I Hire an Architect or Builder First?

Should I Hire an Architect or Builder First?

If you’re considering a custom home build or a historic renovation, you’re probably wondering which comes first — the builder or the architect? This isn’t a question with a straightforward answer.

It may seem logical to hire an architect first since he or she will design plans for a builder to execute. But here at Renew Urban, we think hiring the builder is the place to start.

Yes, it probably seems a bit gauche for us to recommend hiring a builder first. We are, in fact, a builder that specializes in luxury custom builds and historic renovations. But hear us out. We think we can make a good case that you should hire a builder first.

Read Our Guide: How To Pick A Custom Home Builder

It’s All About Relationships

A custom build is a monumental undertaking. There are numerous pieces and parts that must work in tandem to ensure the quality result you expect. Many builders – us included – have existing relationships with architects. We know the architects whom we’ve worked with successfully on prior projects.

That’s not to say Renew Urban won’t work with your preferred architect. We will absolutely be happy to do so. But when there’s an existing relationship, a complicated process gets a little simpler. Here’s why:

  • We know we can execute the architect’s design because our insight has been included.
  • We know we can communicate with the architect to ensure a satisfactory result.
  • We know the architect will be willing to alter a design if it’s too expensive or not buildable.
A custom build is a monumental undertaking

It’s a Team Effort

You very likely have an idea in mind for what you want your renovation or build to look like. But the architect and builder are ultimately responsible for turning your vision into reality. That’s why custom builds require a team approach.

Both architects and builders offer unique skill sets, expertise, and perspectives required for any project, regardless of scale. Collaboration between builder and architect from the very beginning will ultimately save you time, money, and possibly heartache. Plus, when everyone works together, there’s a better chance the finished product will look like what you had envisioned.

Architects tend to be quite creative. They must be able to transcribe the idea that’s floating around in your head onto paper. Builders are more practical. They can look at the design to determine if it’s even feasible from a construction and cost perspective. Working together, builders and architects ensure your project will function well for your lifestyle, fit within your budget, and be completed without significant delays.

During the architectural design phase, an experienced home builder will bring:

  • Comprehensive knowledge of material and labor costs and availability
  • Ability to transform your dream design into reality
  • Suggestions for reducing costs from the very beginning of the project
  • Preliminary cost estimates before plan completion, allowing you to avoid expensive changes later on in the process
  • Experience with building codes, historic zoning and deed restrictions, HOA approvals, and other permitting requirements
  • Potential to solve “constructability” issues in an architect’s plans
  • Ideas and lessons learned from previous homes
  • Familiarity with current design and building trends
  • Knowledge of best practices in building products and systems

Your architect looks at the project through a more creative lens. He or she will:

  • Put your vision on paper
  • Incorporate ideas and lessons from similar projects
  • Keep current design trends and styles in mind when designing your project
  • Consider deed restrictions, permitting, and zoning requirements when formulating a design
  • Impart your project with impressive creativity and artistic ability
But the architect and builder are ultimately responsible for turning your vision into reality

The Importance of a Team Approach

You can certainly hire an architect to design plans for your custom build before seeking a builder to construct the project. Many people take this approach, and these projects can be successful. However, in our vast experience, it works better when the architect and builder are talking from day one.

If you have an architect you would like to design your project, ask if he or she is willing to collaborate with your builder early on. The same is true if you already know the builder you want to use. Ask about the builder’s experience working with architects and how comfortable they are contributing to the architectural design process. It’s vital that all parties are on the same page before the first shovel of dirt is turned or the first wall is knocked down.

At Renew Urban, we welcome the opportunity to convene with your architect. We know projects centered around communication and collaboration have better outcomes. You’ll experience much less stress, fewer setbacks, and your costs will be contained.

Many people take this approach
You’ll experience much less stress, fewer setbacks, and your costs will be contained

Why Hire a Builder First

We’ve made a case for working as a team during any custom-building project. As long as the architect and builder are on board from the beginning and communicating effectively, your project should go off without a hitch. But there are some very practical reasons why you should contact a builder first, then an architect.

  1. Architects often design without a budget in mind. They aim for pie in the sky with no real consideration of cost. If your builder knows your budget parameters, he or she can rein the architect in based on the actual cost of executing the design.
  2. Builders have specialty knowledge when it comes to historic renovations. Many architects don’t have day-to-day, hands-on experience rehabbing and restoring historic buildings. We do. Renew Urban Charleston specializes in this type of construction and has a long track record of customer satisfaction.
  3. Builders have a team on board who can turn the project into reality. If you hire a builder first, he or she knows the tradespeople and subcontractors who will be required to carry out your vision. Architects don’t always know if a specific discipline or skill set is available in the local area.
  4. Like any professional discipline, most architects specialize in an area or type of design. Builders have existing relationships with architects. They can usually recommend the right architect for your specific project, keeping the scope and your budget in mind.
How will you ensure the design plans are buildable?

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Builder

Custom-building projects are complicated. If you’re considering a historic rehab, the project becomes even more involved. That’s why it’s important to find a qualified builder for your project. Here are some questions to ask during the interview stage:

  • Do you have an area of expertise? Do you specialize in a specific type of construction?
  • How much experience do you have with this specific type of job? Can you show examples of similar projects?
  • Have you worked in this neighborhood before?
  • Can you provide references from previous clients?
  • Will you work with an architect from the beginning to ensure the project is successful and stays on budget?
  • What is your process for a custom build? How do you like to work?
  • Which subcontractors do you use for projects like this one? Can I also speak with them about their experience?
  • How will you ensure the design plans are buildable?

Starting Your Custom Build

When you’re ready to start your custom home, we suggest hiring a builder first, followed very quickly by the architect. Good working relationships from the start are key to a successful outcome. Most builders, including Renew Urban, can recommend architects who can achieve your vision. Even so, be sure to do your own due diligence and interview several so you are comfortable with the pertinent members of your custom build team.