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How to Set a Project Budget for Architecture

Magnifying glass on floor plan

Tima Miroshnichenko

Creating a budget for finances is hard enough; the difficulty compounds when a budget scales up into something as grandiose as hiring an architect for your future home. Nevertheless, it’s vital for you as the client to set a budget and do your best to stick to it.

We’ll provide you with helpful insights to help you accomplish this task and offer some valuable tips for staying on budget.

Actualize Your Wishlist

It’s all well and good to have a general idea of what you want your architectural project to look like, but sometimes, circumstances can pull your wishlist in every direction and leave you without any actionable steps toward your goal.

Start by taking a close look at what you can afford. Then, consider the items on your wishlist and try to pare them down with the essential features you want. Communicating your project goals early into the project with your architect can help you establish a budget beforehand, define your goals, and channel your creative vision into a reality.

Of course, as you go through your wishlist, you should be reasonably critical. What would you describe as a ‘need,’ and what would you describe as a ‘want’? These categorizations are essential to defining the heart of your project—what you can and can’t live without. Creating these sections on an organization app, like Bublup, can provide clear pathways as you navigate through your project.

Directing your focus and prioritizing your needs helps your architect focus their efforts. Not only does this approach potentially save you time (and therefore money), but it can also allow you room for ‘wants’ if you have some wiggle room in your budget later.

Chat with Your Architect

When you find an architect who matches your creative vision, initiate a conversation about the budget. This discussion isn’t like a car dealership where you want to be nebulous about your price and hide as much information as possible. You shouldn’t lowball your architect with an under-budget estimate, either. Your architect gains nothing by deceiving you about the estimated price of the product, so it’s better to be transparent.

An architect has connections and resources that you, as the client, may not have, such as strong relationships with the builders who will complete the project and companies that provide the materials. Provide an accurate estimate of your budget and an architect will provide an accurate-as-possible estimate of the materials, finishes, details, and labor to meet that budget.

Of course, with that in mind, it’s usually best to undercut your architecture budget by 10-15%. These can help you preempt fees, surveying, cost of living during construction, and other design problems the builders may encounter. For example, if you can afford $100,000 on a project, you would list your maximum budget as $85,000 to $90,000 to preempt some of those soft costs that might otherwise overtax your budget.

 Architect measuring on floor plan

Meet with a Builder

The architect and builder are the dream team of cost analysis. Professional builders bring a lot of experience to the table that can help you ballpark the cost of your project and identify areas where you could save money.

An architect can also help you find the right builders and engineers to get the job done, connecting you with trusted professionals who can complete your project close to your budget. To that end, your architect and builder can help you prioritize quality where it’s important.

For example, some doors may have a cheaper price tag but a much shorter lifespan. It’s usually better to do your research and consult your experts regarding what you can and can’t skimp on. They’ll help you assess where you can cut back with cheaper finishes and where it might be wiser to stick with the more expensive but more durable installments.

Expect Changes

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of architecture is that it requires many iterations to reach completion. From the first draft to the final brush of paint, your price may change as you start narrowing down the professionals you need to hire, pricing their services, and honing your project details—yet another good reason to cut back on your overall budget to account for surprises.

Your structural engineer, for example, may offer you an estimate for services but soon discover that there are more complex structural issues than he initially surmised. These and other little hiccups along the way will bump your budget, so it’s crucial to allow yourself the financial room for errors and expect the final price to change as you move closer to project completion.

These ‘hiccups’ are especially prevalent if you’re remodeling an architectural project. Demolishing part of a home can unveil some complex problems that require creative solutions—these will eat at your budget. If you plan on remodeling, it’s sensible to ask your contractor to build a contingency plan to offset those costs before the work begins.

Work As a Team

Teamwork makes the dream work, and that’s especially true when so many different professionals are involved in the project. Work closely with your designer and architect to ensure everyone is on track and on pace. One significant error can prolong the project, increasing the strain on your budget and lowering morale.

That’s yet another reason why it’s essential to plan what you want early. Be clear and definite with your architects and designers on what you want—it’s your project, after all.

Your architectural project should reflect your creativity, but it’s up to you to ensure all the moving parts are lining up to suit your project expectations. If they don’t do so, speak up early to correct the problem before it makes a dent in your budget.

The Bottom Line

Budgeting for architecture is a challenging first step that you must consider carefully throughout the project. Managing a budget for something so expansive is extraordinarily time-consuming and taxing. Still, it’s well worth it knowing that you have spent your hard-earned money well throughout completing your project exactly the way you want it. Work closely with your team and bring a trusted architect along for the ride to convert your creative vision into a reality.