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The Biggest Mistake I Made When Hiring an Architect to Design a New House

Almost two years ago, my husband and I purchased a lot to build a home on.

We talked with several builders and looked at online floor plans, but we couldn’t really find something that fit our needs. So we made the decision to hire an architect to help us design a custom home that would work for our family. We got several builder recommendations and chose a professional to help us design the property.

Unfortunately, while we considered many factors in choosing the architect, including reputation and references, we didn’t pay attention to the sizes of the homes she designed. This ended up being a big and costly error. Here’s why.

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Make sure your architect has the right experience

When we selected our architect, I took a look at her past homes and thought that they looked nice — but I did not pay attention to the fact that they were all huge. In fact, most of the properties she had designed were well over 10,000 square feet. Not taking note of this fact turned out to be a huge error.

See, we did not want a house anywhere near that large — especially since our goal was to get a very small mortgage. And although we told the architect our preferences as far as square footage, and she assured us that she would try to work with us, that ended up not really working out quite as well as planned.

Unfortunately, there can be a big difference between designing big houses and mid-sized or smaller houses. Architects who have more experience creating homes that are on a smaller scale tend to learn tricks to use space more efficiently while still including essential features and even making a property feel bigger than it is.

Our architect, however, clearly wasn’t used to designing a home with space efficiency in mind. And although we didn’t ask for a ridiculous number of rooms, the first draft that she came back to us with had around 9,000 square feet when we’d asked for a home that was less than half that size.

Our initial price agreement with the architect included one round of major revisions, so we had to work closely with her to try to get the home scaled down to a much more reasonable size. Of course, the problem is, once you have designed such a big space, it can be hard to reduce the room sizes and to scale down the spaces while still making the home look cohesive and ensuring that the rooms flow nicely.

We ended up having to go through numerous difficult conversations with the architect about our desires for a smaller home in order to try to get the floor plan to look right and come in at a size that we were comfortable with. And, although we ultimately made things work, the final design ended up being close to 500 square feet larger than we had originally anticipated.

Throughout the process, I learned the importance of making sure that you hire an architect with experience designing the type and size of home you want — not just someone with a portfolio of houses that look impressive and with a few good references. If we ever decide to build a house again, I definitely won’t make the same mistake twice.