What Comes First, The Contractor or The Architect?

By Grayson Silver

The classic question; which came first, the chicken or the egg.  Well, when it comes to construction projects you may be asking yourself a similar question.  Who do I hire or speak to first, the contractor or the architect?

In most cases, the average consumer will contact the contractor first.  This can be attributed to the fact that most consumers do not realize that an architect will be required (depending on your municipality) as the professional of record for their project.  As we have discussed before, the Tampa Bay area requires an architect’s seal of approval on any project that requires structural components.  In many cases, an architect is required for any project whose cost is greater then $25,000.  As a result of not realizing their project requires an architect’s expertise, most consumers assume they are doing right by contacting a contractor first.

Often the contractor who is contacted or selected fails to inform the consumer that an architect’s seal of approval will be required.  Instead, the contractor elects to hire an architect of his/her choice in an effort to control the extent of the design or manner in which it will be constructed.  Many times a draftsman is hired to complete an elementary set of construction documents with the bare minimum of structural details which in return are signed off by a structural engineer.

Here is the reason that this approach is a bad idea for the consumer.

The alternative of hiring an architect first allows the consumer to truly vet a pool of qualified contractors and get the best construction cost of their project.  Heres how it is suppose to work:

1.   Hire an architect that will provide you with a detailed outline of the projects program. During this process, you will have the opportunity to express the size, concepts, needs, and budgets of the project.  A trained professional will be able to guide you through the endless possibilities of how to approach your individual goals.

2.  The architect will work with the client on an intimate level and provide multiple design concepts for the consumer’s review and approval.  There is no my way or the highway budget constraints that an individual contractor may impose on the client.  Throughout the design process, the architect should keep the client informed of budgetary concerns and the group as a whole will make decisions concerning budget vs. design.

3.  An architect is going to be required to develop the construction documents no matter who the consumer contacts first, so why would you want the contractor’s approved architect when you can have your own.  In this respect, your needs are placed ahead of the contractor’s.  A set of construction documents based on your design goals are completed independent of a singular contractor’s opinion.

4.   A good architect will offer his/her clients the option of providing interior design elements.  These elements will be introduced to the construction documents so that every contractor that bids the project will know exactly what is required of the project.  This protects the consumer when bids are requested because each contractor will be expected to bid the same finishes & the same construction technique.  We call it bidding apples to apples.

5.   In the end, the architect will invite as many contractors to bid the project as requested by the client.  Instead of a group of contractors meeting the clients and giving multiple quotes that are not based on a final set of drawings, the clients can be assured that each contractor is providing a fair estimate based on a level playing field.  What often happens is that, without a set of construction documents to base their bids on, a contractor under bids the project at the start and increases the price throughout construction because the client is making “decisions that were not part of the contractor’s vision at the initial client contractor meeting.”  This will not happen with a set of construction documents already in hand.

6.   Finally, when a consumer hires the architect first, they have an advocate on their side.  An architect’s job should not be complete after the construction documents are completed.  A good architect will provide on site inspections throughout construction and will review finish selections to determine that the consumer is indeed receiving the quality of products they have selected.  This is another reason why many contractors would prefer to select their own architect, they want the documents and they want to be left alone to do as they please.

In the end, if you know you are required to hire an architect, you might as well hire one you like and trust.  You should receive multiple construction bids from multiple contractors all based on a singular design and construction method.  You should always have a professional advocate on your side.  After all, the cost of constructing a new home, business, or public works is one of the largest investments you will make.  There is no municipality, no school district, no dioceses, or large corporation that will hire a contractor without soliciting multiple bids from multiple contractors based on a defined scope of work and construction documents because they know the value of competition.  Shouldn’t your project be as important to you.