Architects can be secretive about their prices, which can be frustrating for anyone starting their first building project. Some services are charged hourly, others at a fixed sum, and others at a percentage of the construction cost. Although fees depend on the time it takes to complete the work involved, the pricing structure can get confusing.
At Neumann Monson, our goal is to help anyone navigating the world of architecture. We aim to be clear and transparent about every aspect of the architectural process–including fees–because successful projects only occur when everyone is on the same page.
Most architectural contracts list two categories of services: basic and supplemental. In this article, you’ll learn the difference between these two categories and how they are billed. Understanding this difference will help you budget for architectural services and feel more confident and knowledgeable as you start your building project.
What are Basic Architectural Services?
Basic architectural services are the expected services of a standard architectural contract. They are the duties an architect needs to perform to complete the design and construction of a building. The Standard AIA (American Institute of Architects) Contract breaks basic services into five phases:
- Schematic Design
- Design Development
- Construction Documents
- Bidding and Negotiation
- Contract Administration (Construction)
Each phase has several deliverables that lead to a completed building. To learn about each phase, check out our breakdown of the architectural process.
Charging for Basic Services
On most projects, basic service fees are based on a percentage of the construction cost. For example, an architect might charge a 10% fee for a $1M project.
Architects calculate their fees based on the project’s size and complexity, which determines the time it will take to complete the work and the level of risk involved.
Although percentage fees are common, they are not the only way architects charge for basic services. In some situations, the client and architect can negotiate an hourly rate or a fixed sum.
Generally, architects charge by the design phase. Each phase receives a percentage based on the number of hours it should take to complete the work. For example, at Neumann Monson, we charge the percentages below:
- Schematic Design: 20%
- Design Development: 20%
- Construction Documents: 30%
- Bidding/negotiating: 5%
- Contract Administration: 25%
If the architect charges a 10% fee for a $1M project, you would be charged $100,000 for basic services. This means you would pay $20,000 for schematic design.
Unless specified otherwise, anything beyond basic services is a supplemental service and is billed as a separate line item. Therefore, when you enter the architectural process, remember that anything beyond basic services will add to the overall price you pay for architectural services.
What are Supplemental Architectural Services?
As the name suggests, supplemental architectural services are outside the scope of basic services. They are not needed to complete the building per se, but they may be necessary to complete the project. For example, basic services do not include site work, but site work might be necessary before you start construction.
Common supplemental services include:
- Programming (Determining the spaces that are needed)
- Existing facilities survey
- Site evaluations and master planning
- Landscape design
- Interior design
- Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment design (FFE)
- LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) consulting and associated fees
- Energy modeling
- Historic preservation and assistance with historic tax credit applications
- Services provided by specialty consultants
This list is not exhaustive, and every project will require different services. The supplemental services you will need depend on your budget, scope, and goals.
Charging for Supplemental Services
Architects base supplemental service fees on several factors, including the project’s complexity and the number of hours it takes to complete the service. For some projects, the architect may include a supplemental service within the larger percentage fee.
For example, the architect’s 10% fee for the $1M project might include interior design services on top of basic services.
In other cases, supplemental services may be charged as a percentage of construction. For example, the architect may charge a 10% fee for basic services and an added 1% fee for FFE design. Like basic services, the percentage fee is based on the project’s complexity and size.
Other services may be charged hourly. Usually, architects use hourly rates for unpredictable project components that are difficult to estimate, like programming studies. More predictable services, like site evaluations, may be charged at a fixed price.
What Are Your Next Steps?
Generally, architects divide invoices into basic and supplemental services. Basic services are billed by the design phase, and supplemental services are listed as separate line items. Your architect will specify (in writing) whether these services are charged hourly, at a fixed rate, or as a percentage fee.
By understanding this difference, you can plan your budget and better estimate the total amount you will spend on architectural services.
Now that you know the difference between basic and supplemental services, read about the four factors that influence a basic services fee.