How can you tell if an architect has good ideas for your home?


I'm looking to do a second story addition to my tiny home. The current space has an odd layout, so the architect would have to be creative (in terms of where to put the staircase, etc). I'm loathe to hire a specific architect if they don't come up with any design ideas I like. Do you have to hire the architect before you get design ideas or is it reasonable to ask them to give verbal ideas or sketches first? And are there architects or design build firms that you love who are creative in terms of ideas/solutions? Some architects recommended on BPN don't have websites- how do you evaluate if they can come up with good renderings? Also I'm a single mom and last time I did a small remodel I think I was overcharged because the contractor knew I wouldn't have the knowledge to argue against the changes/updates that are inevitably made.

Thanks in advance!

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As a retired architect, I suggest you meet with a few architects, look at their work, and decide which one you want to go with. Ask if they will work on an hourly rate and provide a time estimate to provide concept sketches before executing a full service contract. Do not expect design work or ideas gratis. Architecture is a high-risk, low-paying field and architects deserve to be paid for their efforts.

In my experience, most architects will meet with you and many will come see your space if you are seriously thinking of building. We interviewed 6 or 7 architects before hiring, and they either met us at their office or our home, for about an hour for free. All had examples of their work to share. Most gave verbal ideas, but no actual sketches. Based on the meeting, they'd give us a quote, either hourly or based on cost of construction. Some wrote up long proposals and provided resumes.

Ask for their portfolio and references. Feel like you have some trust before you hire them. Check out things like the state of California's "Consumer's Guide to Hiring an Architect" available online.

There are usually 5 stages to architects' contracts: Schematic Design, approx 15% of fees; Design Development, approx 20% of fees; Construction Documents, approx 40% of fees; Bidding, approx  5% of fees; Construction Administration, approx 20% of fees. The contract you sign may let you or the architect "divorce" at various parts if it's not working out.

It's definitely nerve wracking to build anything if you are on a budget, and wise to be cautious. But there are almost always extra costs you didn't foresee, or come with changes to the design or construction. It is a good idea to keep 10% of your budget for these, so you don't stress out too much when it happens.

I am sure you can find an architect who can sketch out a few ideas for you on an hourly basis. Once you get an idea you like, you can hire for the project. 

One small bit of advice that may seem obvious: make sure they are actually a licensed architect. We worked with someone we thought was an architect, who came to us through a 'design and build' service, and it turns out they were a "designer". They didn't lie to us, we just didn't know the difference and didn't think to ask. It seems their skills were more toward making your kitchen pretty and not toward the kind of project we had, which involved some tricky structural engineering. Your project sounds similar. The designer made significant mistakes that cost us money and the work had to be redone by a real architect -- and he was wonderful and I recommend him highly: Ian Macleod, . Good luck!