Ask an Architect: Can I Pick Your Brain for Ideas?

Question: I’d love to hire an architect to give me some ideas for my remodel. I’m not sure I want to hire the architect to oversee the whole project, or even draw up any specific plans. I just want the benefit of an architect’s creative ability to come up with visions for what my house could become. Do architects do these type of “visioning” or brainstorming assignments, and how much would I expect to pay for this?

Answer: From Robert Nebolon, whose south Hermosa Beach project will be featured this Sunday in the Real Estate section of the newspaper:

I can’t speak for all architects, but yes, architects will visit your house and brainstorm along with you. And it’s best done with a glass of wine for all involved!!

An architect can charge on an hourly basis, or a flat-fee basis. An hourly basis would be good if the owner wants the architect’s input over time. A flat-fee basis could be done for a one-time visit for about an hour to 90 minutes. I would think that such a visit would cost somewhere between $250 and $500, depending how busy the architect is.

To give you some idea, my flat fee is $250. Then, if the owner decides to use my services and we sign an agreement, I credit that fee back on the first invoice.

Here’s what typically occurs during an initial visit:

1. An architect can typically see possibilities that an owner or layperson may not be able to see, and he or she will share those ideas.

2. Many owners have ideas that don’t meet the planning code, but they aren’t aware of that. A good example of this is when owners want their addition to encroach into a setback. The planning code can be quite Byzantine in some cities, and it’s hard for a homeowner to keep track of all the rules.

3. The same thing can be said for lack of knowledge about the building code. A good example is when an owner may want a bedroom without a window, which is against the building code.

4. The architect can also inform the owner of the cost feasibility of the project.

At the very least, if you can get some good solid advice from an architect as early as possible, you can be pointed in the right direction so that you won’t waste time, energy and/or money pursuing ideas that won’t work.

(Photos: Robert Nebolon created a computerized mock-up of the roof of this Manhattan Beach home to show the homeowners, the neighbors and the city how it would look after a remodel.)