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“Do we really need to pay separately for mechanical/plumbing/electrical drawings? So far the bill is close to $10K.”

by Prince Of Petworth October 12, 2016 at 1:45 pm 33 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Elliot Mitchell

“we are doing a major renovation to our Georgetown rowhouse that includes basement excavation, staircase relocation, major layout changes on the second floor, addition of bathrooms, window replacements, etc.

Does anyone have any idea on the cost of the architectural work for this kind of project? We feel like our current architects are overcharging us. Do we really need to pay separately for mechanical/plumbing/electrical drawings? So far the bill is close to 10K.

Thank you.”

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  • Anacostia

    Yeah DCRA requires it. And $10k is going to be normal. If the architect starts going too high above that, then you could find someone for cheaper. Some unscrupulous architects use the initial contract to get you locked in but then start nickle and dimeing for extra money. No different than Contractors using change orders to nickel and dime the homeowner. But all in, around 10k is normal for that kind of work. And you will be thankful when you have detailed drawings for the contractors to work from. Saves lots of headaches later because of the lack of aforementioned change orders.

  • CoHi

    Spendy…..very spendy. I had to have an architectural layout of my 12 footwide, 850 sq ft rowhouse for permitting purposes. That was almost $2,000 and I went with a budget architect.

  • stinkeye

    I had similar work done and my total bill was about $9k, so you’re architect is in the ballpark. Don’t be surprised if the bill keeps going up.

  • seniur

    We are gut renovating our row home in upper NW (including basement excavation) and are spending about $60K in architect’s fees. Worth every penny. What you skimp on here will come back to bite you in the posterior all along the construction process.

    • LittleTim

      $60k and worth every penny?! What ever you have to tell yourself to sleep. But that price is wild!

      • seniur

        Yes, despite what you may believe from watching HGTV, designing a house is actually something that can only be done well by a professional, and that professional should be well compensated for that work.

        • Snoopy

          ^We found the architect in the thread

          • Seniur

            Ha ha — definitely NOT an architect. Just someone who appreciates that thoughtful, user-friendly, aesthetically-pleasing, code-compliant design is best done by someone who is trained to do all those things. And leaving them up to your contractors to figure out during construction is a great way to end up with a finished project that kind of sucks.

        • Accountering

          Yeah, you are still overpaying. I agree – it should be done by a professional. That doesn’t mean you aren’t overpaying (signed, homeowner who has done two gut renovations)

          • dcpolis

            just curious, how much does a gut reno run? i get that this is very vague and will depend on what specifically needs to be done, but just curious about a general ballpark.

          • anonymous

            I’m doing one right now and it’s costing just slightly over 200k. (full gut, from basement foundation/ plumbing/electrical etc) That is for mid-range finishes- but I spent $$$ on where it matters most to me and went lower end in areas that don’t. Whatever you do- don’t cut corners on structural stuff.

          • Cassie

            So you sold after 5 years each time, and didn’t care if everything fell apart after you moved?

        • PM

          Can you share the scope of the project with us? I have developed large commercial buildings and $60k is what I have paid for some pretty large projects. The idea of spending that on a residential job is pretty remarkable.

    • LittleBluePenguin

      +1 – as the daughter of an architect who, in another life, worked summers for him, my observations are the same as seniur’s here. These are professionals who are trying to ensure you get what you want while also having to work within many kinds of constraints – local councils, permitting boards, multiple parties working on the house, the laws of physics, etc!

    • Kevin

      I’m not a licensed architect but work with one and create Architecture/MEP drawings all day in AutoCad/Revit. Some of these prices in this thread shocked me…60k yikes. I couldn’t even justify 10k especially when I can do the whole design myself.

      I saw HGTV mentioned also….I wonder what Chip & Joanne charge for those sketchup designs.

  • David

    Architects and Engineers are licensed professionals who assume certain liabilities and responsibilities. Most design firms charge for their time either per the hour or by a lump sum fee. MEP drawings are typically separate as they are a separate consultant (most architects do not provide MEP design). You are purchasing an overall service not just someone drawing pretty pictures.
    WIthout knowing how big your house is it is hard to determine if you are being “overcharged”. $10,000 for architectural design, finishes, permitting, engineering drawings and administration during construction doesn’t sound too crazy for the amount of work you are mentioning since you state there is excavation, major layout changes, stair relocation and new bathrooms.

  • Smittty

    I had major work done recently, including a basement dig out, and my drawings didn’t cost $10k. I remember them being more than I wanted to spend but I feel like it was around $6k, which included architect, structural engineer, and $2k of it was for the permits alone (If I recall correctly).

  • Hold the Door

    Had and extension put on my DC rowhouse (as well as two bathroom renovations, and I paid $8500. If you know exactly what you want, I wouldn’t that much for an architect.

    No matter how good the drawings, DCRA is going to request some change or addition, so make sure you have an agreement with your architect of what will happen for those change orders. My architect tried to nickle and dime us for all the required DCRA changes, and I had to go back and forth with him over contract details.

    Hold your architect to every letter in the contract, they are a very slippery bunch.

    • LittleBluePenguin

      Same could be said for the people hiring architects….bunch of entitled a-holes. (Not that you are, but just keep in mind, there are two sides to every coin, and two sides to every story. Having encountered my fair share of outrageously entitled pr*cks who think architectural plans should be handed out for free, one must remember that a contract works both ways. You don’t get to have things you didn’t specify in the contract without negotiating and paying for them.)

      • HGTV makes architects look like money grabbers


  • Lion of LeDroit

    I’m spending about $30k on a full set of architectural drawings/permits for a full gut of a large two-unit rowhome plus penthouse in DC. To date, I’ve been impressed with the professionalism, speed and competency of the architectural team, which (per third-party awards and reviews) is lauded as being amongst the best in DC. I have friends who went with a much cheaper architect in the $10-12k range for a similar project, they have had nothing but complaints about their process and outcome, including some major issues during construction on account of their architect’s errors. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, although generally agree with the OP’s sentiment that it would be great to see some transparency on the range of price for various services in a particular city.

    • ledroit

      We spent about $35,000 for architectures to do designs and construction project management for our gut renovation / pop-up in ledroit park and honestly we wish we’d have paid more and have had them do more to avoid problems. This is super, super complicated when you’re dealing with an old house and a historic district.

    • ARCH

      I think I know what house this is and I love it, pass by it almost everyday. I’m an architect and your contractor and architect took the time to work the details. It all looks like money well spent.

      For the OP, For residential work some architects can not run the cals for the mech systems and have to source them out. The plumbing and elec should be pretty straight fwd but I can see them sourcing that out as well. My fees are typically around 10k for a home renovation under 2100sqft. This includes the arch and MEP plans along with some hours of construction administration; stamped structural and site surveys would be extra. Now I’m on the cheaper ending because I’m not a RA.

  • Ryan

    I am married to an architect and typically architectural drawings should costs roughly 10% of the cost of the construction.

    • RF

      I’d concur with this. We built a 1500 sq ft house in Maine and paid the architect roughly 10%, including his monthly fees to oversee/manage the general contractor. Our detailed plans were invaluable when it came to disputes/issues with contractor (eg, unexpected poor fill/extra footings and fill needed, wrong lighting installed, leaky frameless shower due to faulty tile installation, redo of too short granite counter top, etc)

    • ah

      Right. $10k doesn’t mean a thing without knowing the scope of the project. It’s way too much for a porch; but not necessarily expensive for a full gut.

      If you are having plumbing, electrical, and mechanical work all done, plus the other stuff, this is surely a $100k+ project, for which $10k in architecture fees wouldn’t be out of line, perhaps even on the low side.

  • SWM

    I paid about 20K for an architect for a similarly scoped project, but I don’t regret a cent. I went with a bit of a higher end architect and added additional services like construction administration and landscape and interior work, so I knew I was paying more than I had to. However, so many of my friends shared horror stories of months lost to DCRA because they didn’t have the proper documentation, bad architects or just skipping steps to save money, I decided my time and sanity were more valuable than my money. That is not always a choice available to everyone, but I’d been saving for years in order to make that decision.

  • DC worker

    I paid 35k for a total reb for a townhouse with addition. The plans were done by a very productive architect in DC. Tons of errors, missing infos, etc.

    Hired another for a different job. Took more than two years to get the plans approved.

    Hired a reputable construction company. Roof leaked and took half a year to resolve it.

    Hired a different construction company with solid background. Basement leaked. Took three repairs to get things done.

    All pricings are increasing.

  • Jane

    We’re doing a gut job that sounds much less complicated than yours (new plumbing, electrical and appliances but no structural changes at all) and ours was 5k. I would expect to pay at least 10k for the kind of work you’re doing. Keep us posted and good luck!

  • Alex

    Architecture fees are typically based on a cost of construction. I would expect a fee of somewhere between 10-13% of your construction cost. Kitchens and bathrooms push that number into the higher range as does complicated casework and detailing. Better architects may charge a higher rate. I’ve heard as high as 15% for some. Too many charge a great deal less and …. you get what you pay for.

  • Lesley Golenore is an excellent Architect; she did my restaurant on Kennedy. Lesley is Extremely detail. More Importantly, she follows through. If interested, please stop by the restaurant and look around for an idea of her work! Lesley will not disappoint.

    • Joysbrother

      That’s love. I like that.

  • thedcyears

    Architect here, I’m just here to read the comments.

    On a serious note, please don’t replace the windows if they are original wood windows.
    Save a Window! (it’s like saving kittens and puppies, I swear)
    Read the National Trust for Historic Preservation information on wood window refurb and analysis of energy savings features. My own house has original wood windows that a regular painting company stripped and repainted. Installed storm windows on the exterior. Yes my windows go up and down easily, not drafty, low street noise, cool wavy glass.


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