designing a new home FAQ

A potential client, PC, recently contacted me to inquire about a project he wants to build after thinking about it for years. I was elated because his wife seek and found Fins Architecture, so I know that our web presence helps attract new clients. He and his wife met me at their fifteen acre site ten miles north of Hilo. It is a beautiful site with almost 180 degree of ocean view. We walked the site and afterward settled in the shade to talk stories and get to know each other. He had many good questions which prompted me to jot some down, so in a sense these are frequently asked questions between clients and architect which I will paraphrase a few along with my responses.

PC:     What are the differences between the services that an Architect can provide versus a Builder?

Fins:     There are similarities and the results are all dependent on the clients taste and desired value. As an Architect I tend to approach a project with not only the clients goals but also many personal goals such as aesthetics, site sensitivity, sustainability, ease of construction and economically. When I sign a contract with a client, I am committed until the project is complete, usually one and a half to two years. The design phase may last a year then another year for construction. During construction the architect represents the client and serves as a barrier to the contractor. This method has proved historically the best way to protect the client from many conflicts that arise during construction. Ideally to protect the client from the nightmare of cost overrun.

There is a very good chance that the design for the new home is an original, because it will be designed to fit in a particular site. It will also reflect the client’s lifestyle. Above all if the client can afford all the bells and whistles to make it a special place then we all win.

Read more about designing a home with an architect…

PC:     What If I act as Owner Builder?

Fins:    I would discourage that unless you have experience as a contractor. Contractor has the pulse of his territory; he has a handle on where to find a crew, subs, and where to get the best deals for materials. Some contractors also have working relationships with county officials and inspectors that can help avoid delays.

PC:    What is your fee based on?

Fins:    This is always the hardest questions for me to answer because each project is different from the next. Small and complicated projects will take just as much time to complete as larger more simple ones. My fee is generally based on a percentage of the construction cost estimate.

PC:     What is the average cost per square foot? (Hawaii Island)

Fins:     My experience with a project of similar scope that is under construction is a little over $200/SF. (Determining square foot cost is fairly simple, one just has to compare with properties currently listed for sale in the area. At this writing home prices are no less than $175/SF for an existing home)

Afterward, I stressed to the Potential Client that having a budget before we start is the best approach to designing and having a custom home built. Cost tends to go up before the project is finished, so it is best to be prepared.


1. What an Architect can do for you?

2. Hawaii and Maui construction costs 2006

Read more…

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time for new construction

There is a simple correlation that often goes hand in hand with the housing and real estate down turn that is often missed by the media, it goes like this: slow time for the construction industry means that contractors are hungry. When contractors are hungry, there is more competition which means better prices for new constructions or renovations. The “word on the street” on the Big Island of Hawaii is that contractors are having a hard time. An insurance broker confided in me that her general contractor clients in Hilo are worried about the lack of new projects. A fellow architect expressed that his design work load is also slow. Of course, my assessment of the current local construction industry is without hard economic data, but our economy is also affected by the rest of the nation.

The time for design and new construction is now for those who can afford to build. It makes perfect sense. Only a year ago, my client and I were searching for bidders for our project, most general contractors where too busy to even give us bids. When contractors are busy, they will take on more work at a premium. Throwing a high bid at a set of plans and expect to get it was the norm because they are in high demand. Times were good for them, but not so good for owners with new constructions or renovations. The rule of economics apply without bias to the construction industry. Supply and demand. The same principal also applies in real estate; a seller’s loss is a buyer’s gain.

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