How To Choose Your Architect and Contractor

Architect Pete Gaito, Jr.

Are you thinking of building a home, or commercial improvement project? If so, you are going to need an architect and a contractor. But how to choose the right ones, who will help you achieve your goals on time, on budget, and in a stress-free manner?  

One simple resource is to ask friends and neighbors for a recommendation, and to ask about the pluses and minuses of the experience. Did the project turn out well? Were they good to work with? Take notes and invite two or three architects to meet with you, see your space and share their portfolios. Iall seems okay, ask them for a proposal for their services. 

The proposals will likely differ slightly from each other for the same projectKey items to evaluate include overall design approach, general timeline of deliverables, and the number of design scheme choices they will provide before they move into construction documents (these are the documents that you will need to obtain a building permit and will be used by the contractor to build your project).  

Then there’s cost. What is covered by a fixed fee and what is hourly work? These questions apply to many items, including appearances at review boards necessary for approvals and assistance during construction. Most likely you will want them to appear on your behalf at the review boards but assistance during construction depends on your level of involvement, aesthetic understanding, and your contractor’s competency.  

A friend of mine recently purchased a house in Tarrytown and wanted to renovate and expand. She interviewed three architects who were all great, but ultimately chose one who had drawn up existing conditions a few years earlier for the former owner, saving her a few thousand dollars. 

Planning for changes.

When you are ready to select a contractor, it’s the same process. Neighbors and architects can recommend contractors appropriate for your project type or scale. Again, meet two or three, to review the approved plans and visit the site. When evaluating their proposals, verify what is included and what is not.  

Also, remember to ask each contractor to commit to starting your project and working continuously until its done. It is common for contractors to ask for a small start-up sum and then industry standard payments should follow. That is to only pay for work that has been done correctly and not to pay for future work. Your architect can also advise you in this area during construction.  

These guidelines apply to any scale or project type and remember that skill, cost and value are very important selection criteria. One final note of consideration is to remember that you are engaging in a relationship for months or a year. You will have to enjoy working with these people and seeing them almost every day because, for a short time, they will become a member of the family. 

Peter Gaito is a licensed architect and a partner at PFGA, Architects, Engineers and Planners in White Plains.  pgaitojr@pfga.net 

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About the Author: Peter Gaito Jr.