determining your hourly rate as an architect

How to determine your hourly rate as an architect

There are two basic ways to get paid and charge the clients for architects and city planners.

The first way is to charge a fixed price per project. In this case you are estimating how much your project will take in terms of time and effort, add whatever margin will make you love working on it, and send that price quote to your client. 

The downside here is that 

  • Unexpected circumstances can come up and require you to re-approach and bill the client more;
  • Not every client will be comfortable paying large amounts upfront;
  • Not every architect is comfortable billing a lump sum (this article addresses that too – read on);

The other way to charge your clients is based on your hourly rate. Once you determine your hourly rate, you give it to your client along with an approximate estimate on how many hours you will need to complete the project. If you end up needing more time, adding hours is easy and clients normally accept it well.

Let’s take a look at how to determine an hourly rate for an architect or a city planner. 

Study the local market

First and foremost, figure out what other architects are charging in your area.

Websites like Salary.com or Payscale.com will help you get a ballpark estimate. Use the filters for experience and location to get the average hourly rate estimate.

Please do not fully rely on these numbers, however, as some of them may be automatically generated or scraped from other sources.

Calculate your rates based on the development project cost.

The website Architectural Fees gives a pretty good breakdown of costs based on the cost of the whole development project. 

According to the estimates on that website, the fees for basic architecture services will range from 8% to 10% of the whole construction project cost. With the average architect’s hourly rate in the USA at $100-$250 and average time necessary to complete a project from 480 to 600 hours, you can get a pretty good idea of a price to prepare your client for.

Also keep in mind that you might be hired to offer additional services, like cabinetry elevation, electrical schematics, and cost reduction analysis. Moreover, your client may need project management and construction administration. 

It is your job as an architect to pitch these services and upsells, especially if you like working with the client and want to leave the best impression possible. After all, satisfied clients end up referring more clients, and that is the best marketing method.

Include your expenses

Keep in mind that as a freelance architect you need to pay your way in terms of certifications, software subscriptions, advertising, taxes, insurance, equipment, and much much more. 

Make sure you know what your monthly expenses are, and make sure they fit into the average number of working hours per month.

Revise billable hours

Normally an architect needs to do a lot of auxiliary work in between actual planning and calculations. One of the best ways to go is to invoice the architectural client for all the time you’ve worked on a project, whether it’s commuting, video calls, research, sketching, drawing, or just doodling. See our reasons for that below, in the mindset section.

Network and ask your peers

Other architects will gladly share how they’ve structured their hourly rates with you. 

Focus on networking with professionals you’re not directly competing with to keep your relationship productive. 

Exchange experience with architects that specialize in different niches, and you will get a lot of gold nuggets of information.

Several practice-based tips and the proper mindset on pricing

While starting out, many architects feel that setting low hourly prices they will get access to “easier” clients that appreciate the gesture, have more patience and understanding, and will give great references.

The reality is, however, not like that – and seasoned architects have seen this time and time again. Lowballing gives you different clients, not easier ones. 

In fact, very often if you set your hourly rates too low you will start working with inexperienced clients that don’t know how important your job is and won’t value your effort. These clients will often argue, ask for revisions, disregard your recommendations, select cheaper materials, and so on. As a result, your work for a cheaper client may result in bad reviews and an overall negative experience.

Once you set a higher hourly rate, however, you establish a sort of a filter for your clients. Now you’ve started working with individuals and companies that actually do well, and chances are, they will value hard work.

Another important thing is to get rid of the scarcity mindset. You won’t “run out” of clients if you set a higher hourly rate. Construction and development projects are happening all the time, and they won’t stop unless our societies collapse – the market is virtually endless. 

There is a certain confidence barrier that needs to be conquered in order to increase your hourly rates. In fact, some say that beginner architects are so underpaid that they can double their rates right now, and the amount of clients won’t really change.

Understand your value to the client

Clients view the architect they’ve hired as someone that stands between them and their project success or failure. 

No matter what you’ve agreed upon, you are seen as the project manager, you have the experience and authority, know the trends and best practices, you are the advisor responsible for how the project turns out. 

It is essential that you act like it, upsell, give expert advice, and make sure all your recommendations are implemented.

Make sure your communication with the client is effective – your replies are fast, on point, and backed with shared documents. Our client communication module is built in such a way that clients feel good paying you more than others, so check it out.

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