Charging for Architectural Services

Recent polling by me of friends and via online group discussions as well as some good old fashion research about compensation for architectural services resulted in some interesting data. It seems the traditional method of billing a percentage of construction cost, usually 8 to 15 percent, is not all that common anymore. Much more common is a fixed fee based on an hourly guesstimate or percentage of construction cost or just plain hourly billing. Or some combination thereof. Some architects also bill on a $ per square foot basis although this seems to be more the territory of drafting services companies. It also seems that architects make a very low hourly wage, particularly if not billing straight hourly due to the nature of architects to want to get everything perfect. You look at a project and think “I should be able to do that in 250 hours and estimate a number based on three hundred hours then spend 500 hours on it and bill for 310. Young architects seem especially susceptible to this. Under charging is a common hindsight of many young but now established firms. I know from experience that only about half to two thirds of my own working time gets billed out. I spend lots of time researching materials and methods, networking, swearing at my computer, replying to e-mails and phone calls, learning new software, checking out potential jobs, site visits, blogging… before I know it I have only 20 billable hours in a week to show for what seems like a long and intense week of work. My own method is to bill hourly at a rather low hourly rate (for an architect) which allows me to do small simple small-town-architect local work and, for more complex projects I add a very small percentage of construction cost which brings my price to a more normal level and helps to compensate me for some of the hours I would never otherwise bill for.


  • kathleen says:

    Maybe you need an assistant to do the research end of your job, make phone calls, etc.

  • danielj1 says:

    Whatever works in your specific case is clearly the best system. In my own practice I too have this problem of underestimating, but I try to control it by the structure of my fees. Normally I charge a fixed fee for a very specific scope of work (for example including no more than three design alternatives) and charge hourly for additional iterations or modifications. This forces me to concentrate on getting the design right within those three iterations, although I’m often not that successful at self control. Having lots of concurrent work is the best control system, I’ve found. When there aren’t that many projects on-going, the work mysteriously expands to fill the time available.

    Dan J.

  • briancampa says:

    im curious as to what typical renovation/ addition hourly rates architects charge. I usually do larger projects but with the economy I am having to take anything i can get. So I am taking on smaller renovations and additions. Is $100/hr for billable work in the ballpark with you guys?

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