1. Not hiring an architect. You wouldn't hire a line-worker from an overalls factory to design your wedding dress. Don't hire a builder or developer to design your dream home. A custom home is more than a cluster of rooms. Registered architects have undertaken years of study, passed rigorous licensing tests, and most have extensive experience designing homes that respond uniquely to the needs and aspirations of each client. A well-designed home doesn't just function beautifully - it tells a story about its owners.
2. Hiring an out-of-town architect. You may have had a great experience renovating your city apartment with a city architect, but that was exactly because they specialize in city work. Hire an architect who is based in the area where you will build your home, and who specializes in the kind of architecture you want. They will have intimate familiarity with the local conditions, zoning codes, municipalities, contractors, engineers, and so on. This knowledge enables them to help you make critical decisions and streamline the design/permitting process. A local architect is able to make frequent site visits during construction - closely observing the progress and quality of the work, and helping the contractor solve problems in real time.
3. Expecting that the name on the door is who you'll be dealing with. Check first. In larger architecture firms the principal will run the initial meetings with a new client but the everyday work and most of the client communication is handled by a project manager. If you value personal attention from the principal and want direct access to the greatest experience available, consider using a smaller "boutique" firm. It's also likely that a larger firm with an established reputation will charge a higher fee.
4. Having firm pre-conceived ideas about the layout and appearance of the home. The design process is a journey that the client and architect take together. A good architect will take the time to understand your tastes and preferences, and will incorporate them into the design. Keep an open mind, because your architect will likely have ideas and solutions that you haven't considered.
5. Avoiding budget and scheduling discussions. If you ask an architect to design a home of a certain size or character without discussing budget, months of work might be spent on a design that can't move forward. For this reason, many architects recommend getting cost estimates during the design process. Similarly, the process of building a home takes longer than many people realize. If you are committed to the project, start as early as possible to allow sufficient time for design, permitting, and construction. Be prepared by letting your architect inform your budget and scheduling expectations.
Two critical things to remember:
Great communication is the foundation for a successful relationship with an architect. Share your thoughts freely and ask lots of questions. If an architect is uncomfortable sharing their process, maybe it's not a great fit. Your architect should be there to help, and most enjoy talking about their work!
Trust is key. Building a home is a significant investment. It might happen only once in your lifetime. It's exciting, and it should be enjoyable. Be sure to hire someone you trust, who puts you at ease - then let them act as your tour guide and adviser through the entire experience.