Do You Need an Architect to Design Your Home? Part I : Country Property and Acreage Homesites

Do You Need an Architect to Design Your Home? Part I

by John Price on 09/14/10


If you are like many of my customers you are doing two things.  You are looking through books and books of house plans and you are trying to find that perfect small acreage to build that dream home.


Depending on where you want to live, I suggest finding the land first.  You can modify house plans, but cannot do that much to change the land.


Many of my customers have an idea on the type of setting they want and buy the land.  Then they get a builder to work with them and go from there.   A few get an architect.


The question is; do you need an architect?  My answer is maybe.   Without an architect you will need to buy a set of floor plans from someone.  At the minimum you will need a highly qualified draftsman to produce a set of plans for both the builder and for government regulators.


What does an architect actually do for you?


I have personally worked with two different architects on 3 different projects.  The first two projects were an addition and a remodel on a home built in about 1880.  It was money well spent.  Putting a pool, porch and patio on a farmhouse well over 100 years old and having it look good is no easy task.   Building a master bedroom suite in the same house wasn’t easy either.    Those were my first experiences.  I had a very young architect, just out of college, with an upcoming reputation for working with century old homes in Lafayette Square in St. Louis.  I got him before he got famous so could afford him.   This was 25 years ago.  You can check out his work by visiting  Look for the 1880's farmhouse for sale and you will see pictures of his work.


When I built my new home a couple of years ago, I hired an architect.  He took our concepts, pictures, desires, etc. and turned them into a set of house plans.


I still have not answered the question of what does an architect do?  It’s a little like answering the question of what does a doctor do. It is anywhere from saying "It’s ok. Take two aspirin" to saying "You need serious tests immediately."


It can be looking over your shoulder to make sure you make no serious mistakes.  It can be conceptualizing the entire project.  It can be not much more than the job of an expert draftsman which is to produce a set of legal and useable house plans.


They charge depending on the services contracted for.  The charge might be an hourly rate, in which case you should be careful in how attentive you are and how much homework you do, so as to not run up the charges.  Sometimes they charge as a percent of estimated construction, in which case they will not let you be inattentive as it costs them more. And I learned that some charge based on the size of the home.  They might or might not supervise construction.  It is important that you clearly define the relationship up front.


I have had many happy customers who never ever even talked to an architect and they built beautiful homes.  But I often hear, "I wish we had known to do this differently."


As I said before, I had an architect on my new home.  Lots of meetings and lots of frustration, but I personally feel he kept us from making some mistakes and I personally feel he added some really nice touches my wife and I would have never thought of.  We had only a vague idea of what we wanted the house to look like, but we knew what kind of general feel and what kind of living space we wanted.  He helped us take those somewhat vague ideas and turn them into a plan.


I cannot think of all the nice touches, but we have a window that gives natural light on the landing going to our finished basement.  I would have never thought of that.  My home office which is in the finished basement area has four features I love.  It has a wood burning stove.  It has a very large and open entry door so I can see outside and watch wildlife while I work. (I'm in a basement.)  It has an exhaust fan so I can indulge in my nasty smoking habit without smelling up the house.   And it has really cheap and durable flooring so a contractor can walk into my office with muddy boots and I can relax knowing all I need is a mop. And I forgot one.  The office can be locked totally separately from the house so I could give a contractor or book keeper a key to my office and know our home was still private.


My wife can tell you about touches she loves.  But there is one more issue.  The house is a series of rectangles and was easy to build.  That drove the cost per square foot of construction down.


Even though I paid the architect plenty, I think he cost me little to nothing and may have actually saved me money.


So do you need an architect?  I'm back to my firm MAYBE.  It depends on how much you are spending, how well you have previously defined the house you want and how much help you need.


I felt this issue was enough out of my technical range of expertise that I ran the first draft by three architects I trusted.  They came back with various responses; one actually writing his own article.  I respect all three gentlemen and want to include their comments in a Part II to come later.



A good one will only try to sell you a range of services that he thinks you need.  It could be anywhere from total design and construction supervision to just looking over your shoulder for a cost of a few thousand or maybe even a few hundred dollars for a couple of consultations.


You will pay for the time you use.  The architect has to make a living.  But a good one will add enough value that your total extra cost may be next to nothing.


Be sure to check out my properties for custom homes at and  You can find this article and others relating to creating your dream home at


Thanks for taking the time to read this.  Email me with any follow up questions at






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 Price Acreage Blog: Written by John V. Price          Email:

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