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Building Your Renovation Team: Architect, Designer and Contractor

Right At Home Daily: Planning and Budgeting
By Lisa Skolnik for Right at Home Daily

Selecting the right professionals to help you design and construct your home project is critical to its success. But do you really need an architect, contractor and a designer?

Not necessarily, because many of these professionals provide similar services. But, the final answer depends on your project. Renovating an old home involves different parameters than building a brand new home, where the starting point is a blank slate.

Finding a Competent ProfessionalThe bottom line is to look for professionals who have wide-ranging experience in residential renovation and home building. Here's what you should know when hiring an architect, designer or contractor.

Architects
While their skills can range from conceiving all or part of a project to construction management, architects usually design projects by thinking about what you need today and what you'll want in the future.

If your project calls for structural work (raising the roof, adding a family room, moving interior walls), most contractors (the good ones, anyway) won't begin work without a set of architectural blueprints signed by a licensed architect. If your contractor doesn't want to wait for your blueprints to be completed, consider finding another contractor.

An architect's fees vary. Some architects charge a percentage of the construction costs, ranging from six to fifteen percent. Others charge a fixed fee, and still others charge an hourly rate ranging from $50 to $150 an hour.

Designers
This term can be misleading, since some designers handle all aspects of a project and simply have an architect with whom they're affiliated with to review and sign off on their plans. Others concentrate only on interiors. And some designers fulfill both functions.

Many designers specialize in a certain area such as kitchens, bathrooms, lighting and remodeling. Others have their own teams to handle entire projects. On a grand project, you may employ several different designers.

Interior designers can help you determine how a space should be decorated and furnished, which can affect the location of lighting, cabinetry and electrical outlets. Their input can be valuable in a project's initial stages.

Overall, a designer's fees track closely with an architect's fees.

Contractors
Contractors typically oversee all aspects of construction from getting required building permits and making sure the project complies with building codes and ordinances, to hiring and managing craftsmen.

Although most contractors are licensed to do new construction and remodeling, most specialize in a certain area. And the techniques, materials and rules used vary radically and require different skills and expertise.

Look for a general contractor who specializes in remodeling. Fees are determined through a bidding process. Some contractors will charge you a flat fee, while others will take a percentage of the total budget. Still, others will add a fee to every item they purchase for your renovation, which makes the contractor's true profit hard to track.

TAKE IT AND RUN

Architects, designers and contractors all have their own strengths, but can also offer many of the same services. It is important to determine what each member of your design team will do and avoid duplication.

Remember, you're the homeowner; you've got the money, and you're hiring the professionals. Even if you hire the very best contractor, you should know exactly what you're paying and to whom. Also, if you don't like the fee structure, you are free to negotiate a new deal. Make sure you find professionals who want to work with you on your terms.

Have an attorney draft up a written contract with each professional you hire for your home renovation. The contract should set start and end dates, when payments are made, and the rights and responsibilities of each party.

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