Why Are Architects So Expensive?

Architect Desk and Tools

Why are architects so expensive? I mean they’re not saving lives like doctors or litigating tangled legal messes like lawyers. Sheesh. I’m not going to pay that kind of money when all I want somebody to do is draw me a pretty house. Why are architects so expensive?

This is a sentiment we hear in our architectural firm more often than not. And let me tell you, the vast majority of architects would agree with one thing: what they really want to do is draw pretty houses. But, as with most things in life, it’s not that simple. So why do architects charge what they charge?

For one thing, becoming a registered architect is a long and costly endeavor. An architect can’t practice architecture immediately upon graduation from college. Much like a doctor, there is a residency or apprentice component. And similar to doctors and lawyers, there is board testing required to issue the actual license to practice. Doctors take medical board exams, lawyers sit for the bar exam, and architects take the ARE (Architect Registration Exam). This exam is more than proving that an architect can draw a pretty house. Its content relates to the actual tasks an architect encounters in practice. There are seven separate testing sessions that include building design and construction systems, structural systems, and schematic design, just to name a few.

So an architect has to complete a four or five year undergraduate degree program, gain years of real-world experience, study and prepare for the ARE, and pass all seven sections of the exam to become a registered architect. That’s not even taking into account the natural artistic talent and ability that’s developed and enhanced along the way. But wait – there’s more!

An architect needs to know the exact building codes for the specific municipality where the pretty house (or any structure, existing or new construction) is located. This is in addition to the nationwide standard ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements. When the architect knows and follows all code requirements set forth by the governing jurisdiction(s), the process becomes cost-effective for the client. It means the permit application forms are filled out correctly and on time which allows for work to begin promptly. Time is saved because the construction drawings are produced according to code and fewer questions arise in the field. Money is saved because the correct material and quantities are purchased up front and many (though rarely all) trouble spots are identified and corrected, if possible, before construction even begins. Plus, all the leg work and research is done by the architect, not the client.

Architectural plans

Still think an architectural fee is overly inflated? Look at it this way. The amount of money you would pay to have an architect involved could very well be doubled without their involvement. Time could be lost due to noncompliance with code requirements, material issues, construction management issues, incomplete or incorrect construction drawings, and any number of design and/or construction issues. And everybody knows: time is money.

In the end, if you don’t use an architect, you may end up needing the services of a lawyer to untangle a legal mess you unknowingly stumbled into (and maybe even a doctor if you physically stumbled because something wasn’t up to code). At that point, you’ll realize just how economical the services of an architect actually are.

Why are architects so expensive? The answer is: they’re not.