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Do I Need an Architect?

Cost-saving options for your new home

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1950s floor plan and rendering of neo-colonial Cape Cod house called Harmony

Stock floor plan and rendering of Neocolonial Home for 1950s-1960s America

Photo © Buyenlarge/Getty Images. Select the image to view full size in a new window.

The stunning homes you see in glossy magazines are almost always custom-designed by licensed architects. They are the unique creations of men and women with the skill and the know-how to explore new and unexpected possibilities. But, what if your own dreams are more modest? Must you hire an architect?

Maybe not. If your taste runs toward traditional, you may opt for one of these cost-saving alternatives.

1. Purchase a Stock Building Plan

Stock building plans are drawn by architects and home designers for mass marketing through magazines, catalogs, and Web sites.

Advantages: You can easily find stock plans for houses in a wide variety of sizes, styles, and budgets. If you are able to find a stock plan that works for you, you will save the cost of hiring your own architect.

Disadvantages: The architect who designed your stock building plan has never met you and does not know your tastes and needs. Moreover, stock building plans cannot take into account the nature of your building lot or the climate in your region. Many people who purchase stock building plans eventually decide to hire an architect to make modifications.

2. Use a Production Home Builder

New homes in suburban housing developments are often constructed by production home builders. Production home builders have contracted with architects and designers to create plans suitable for the region and harmonious with other houses in the development. When you work with a production home builder, you must select one of the builder's offered plans. You then "customize" the plan by choosing exterior siding, light fixtures, bay windows, and other architectural features from a menu of options.

Advantages: Builders can work more quickly and more economically when they follow familiar, traditional plans. Since the plans are locally created, they will probably be suitable for the climate and the terrain.

Disadvantages: Your home will be assembled from a limited array of standard features. Although you may request some customization, your house will not be a custom home. It is likely to look very similar to the other houses in your development. Your builder may refuse, or charge highly for, any changes that are not on the established list of options.

3. Hire a Certified Professional Building Designer

Another cost-saving alternative is to hire a Certified Professional Building Designer (also known as a Home Designer) to design your now home. Home designers do not have the same level of education or the same licensing requirements as architects, and their fees are usually lower. Nevertheless, professional home designers do hold professional certificates which demonstrate that they have completed coursework and achieved experience in the field.

Advantages: Home designers specialize in private homes - not office buildings, shopping centers or gas stations. For this reason, a home designer may actually have more experience designing houses than some licensed architects. A good home designer can create a customized home tailor-made for your family.

Disadvantages: Like builders and real estate developers, home designers tend to produce plans which are traditional. In general, home designers do not have the training to create especially complex or unusual designs. If you have special needs, or if you desire a home that is truly unique, then you'll need to hire an architect.

Next: The pros of hiring a pro >>

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