Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why you should hire an architect

After my earlier post (in response to article suggesting you "ditch your architect"), I saw this article (via Archinect) praising the website houseplans.com. Now, this one doesn't make blood boil quite as much. Pre-prepared house plans have been around for forever and as far as these things go, the ones on houseplans.com aren't so bad. So instead of railing against them, I thought I'd try to make a case in favor of hiring an architect, using a few real world examples. Here's one to start:

Recently, we had a client for a commercial project ask us to help him out with a small residential project. Years ago, his family had illegally (i.e., without permit) built a bathroom off a small family room, next to the garage. The time had come to sell the house and, in this market, they wanted to maximize their chances of selling. This meant selling the house with a clean title, in other words, they needed to legalize the bathroom. This can be a pretty straightforward process: draw up the plan as it exists, show the minor changes that need to be made to bring the bathroom in line with the current code, submit to the city, pay your fees, do the work, call it a day.

Except when we took the plans to the city, they had no record showing the family room had ever existed and claimed that the client was trying to illegally create a second unit (an apartment) in their house, since the family room could be accessed through the garage, without ever going through the rest of the house. We protested, pointing out that the family room was original to the house and that it was a no-brainer to want a convenient bathroom to serve that room, none of which mean that anyone was ever going to live in this room. The city said no and demanded proof that the room was built with the rest of the house, back in the 50's. My client has only had the house since the 80's and had never seen the original drawings so he was concerned that this was an impossible task. I thought it was B.S., though, so I asked to see the city's permit history for the property. This meant going through microfiche files, not the most fun task I can think of for anyone. It took me a while, peering at the microfiche screen with a magnifying glass, trying to see what looked relevant. Sadly, the files did not contain any original drawings and, in fact, contained a drawing that seemed to show the opposite of what I wanted to find! Eventually, though, I found an electrical fixture schedule that included a room count with how many fixtures were installed in each room. And, bingo!, there was our mysterious family room, listed at the very bottom. After seeing that, the city had to concede that the family room was original and allowed the client to move forward with legalizing his bathroom.

What would have happened if our client didn't have an architect? He would have had to either a) rip out the entire family room and bathroom, making them part of the garage or b) bring the entire floor up to current building code, at a cost of about $20k. Neither of these would improve the bottom line. Yes, he had to pay me for a day's worth of work to go to the city, find those documents and argue with the city officials. But I don't make $20k a day (I wish!) and he gets to keep his family room and bathroom. So, anyone want to argue that "architects cost too much money" or that "a good builder can do anything an architect can do"?

1 comment:

  1. It's true, as you say below, that people don't know what architects do. I think of architects as people who design big buildings, not small parts of a house that I already live it. It's the celebrity architects making swanky houses and museums that come to mind. Perhaps advice columns in Oprah or Good Housekeeping? "Ask the Architect." Because, seriously, I have no idea that I, personally, could hire an architect.

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