What To Expect from Your Architect: Budget

By on August 10, 2017. Posted in , , .

In our previous What To Expect from Your Architect post we talked about the importance of – and pride we take in – a “good, well documented set of Construction Documents.” These CDs don’t merely lay out your design; they are critical for obtaining an accurate cost estimate for your project.


One question that almost always comes up in initial conversations with clients is “How much is this going to cost?” They often go on to explain that they’ve heard horror stories from friends about escalating costs during construction and that it’s “a nightmare.” The next question, “Is there a way to know what the house is really going to cost before we begin construction?”

Modern Residential Architecture - What To Expect from Your Architect

How much is building a new home going to cost?

At the start of every project we discuss budget with our clients. We typically approximate cost for a project based on a cost per square foot. In locales that we are familiar working in we have a general idea of what that cost/sf number is. We have a couple of projects in new areas and don’t know the construction market as well. For those 2 projects we have met with local contractors very early in the process so we have a better handle on the cost/sf up front.

We also discuss budget at every one of our design meetings. Not because we expect the budget to change, but because we know how important the budget is on a project, and we always want to keep that in the forefront of our process. If we had put every “wish-list” item into the design for most of our clients and didn’t have that budget discussion, we would have had many very unhappy clients after the bids came back higher than expected from the contractor. Quite often our clients say something like, “Ok, we understand that may not be in our budget, but we’d like to have it anyway and we’re ok if it costs a little more.” Perfect. We all understand that the costs may be higher and all understand if they are. Sometimes clients don’t say that and the budget is the number one driver. That’s perfect too. As long as we are all on the same page we will have a successful project.

Design Meeting - What To Expect from Your Architect: BudgetRecent design meeting going through Construction Documents and discussing budget.

Is there a way to know what the house is really going to cost before we start construction?

Yes, absolutely!

I don’t know how to word this question more clearly than to phrase it exactly as a client recently asked it to me: “So if the spreadsheet from the contractor says $315,000 (not real number) then does that mean it’s going to cost $315,000 or $330,000 or $400,000? In other words, how do we keep control of the budget? I completely understand – especially after hearing the same horror stories my clients hear (and watching the same unhelpful diy shows!)

We keep control of the budget because our goal is to know all of the answers before we send our drawings to the contractor for a bid. This is why we – and our clients as well – put so much time and effort into the entire design process. And why we ask our clients so many questions during the Schematic Design and Design Development Phases.

We try to determine selections for all materials and finishes, both interior and exterior, during this phase. Our goal is to know all of the answers- and therefore all of the costs associated – before we start construction. Beyond merely the cost of the material or fixture, the specifications – such as size and installation requirements, are also important to consider. Different materials or fixtures require slightly different design details. Making these decisions early in the design process will assure our clients can be confident in the cost of the project before we move forward.

Creek House

We also have to make sure we have the right team in place. I’ll get into Bidding & Negotiating in our next What To Expect post – the key to a successful project is always the collaborative quality of the team.





  1. Very difficult job now adays,as client wants high quality materials available in the market or whatever they have seen in exhibitions or used somewhere else after finalisation of design concept. Considering the cost factor of selected materials architect starts sweating to work-out the final budget,Initially it is okey to quote on persqmts basis,but finally to control the input of new materials suggested by clients is very difficult .

  2. What do you do when the client suddenly become price-sensitive at the middle of the project? His tune during the schematic and design process is everything goes despite numerous warnings and discussion. Then when at the middle of the project, the owner changed his preferred materials and keep insisting that we stay on budget?

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