House Plans vs Architect vs Design-Build: Pros and Cons

modern, luxurious 2 story home with black and white walls with fall leaves

If you are planning a house project in the near future, you may wonder about the options of different house plan design services. As a quality residential builder, we have chosen to work with independent architects and designers. A previous blog outlines the benefits of an independent architect. But this following blog goes into more details, outlining the pros and cons of three options for new construction, an addition, or a home remodel.

Option 1: Pros and Cons of online house plans: For New Construction Only

When undertaking a new construction home, some homeowners will go online and look at house plans for sale, perhaps to get inspirational ideas or seriously consider a premade plan for sale online.

front facade and outdoor view of a nice new 2 story home with white and grey walls

Pros of Premade House Plans:

●  Most economical choice. House plans are most economical relative to custom plans, costing as little as $500 and some upwards to $5,000.

●  You can immediately visualize your home. Finished plans with their 3D renderings immediately give you an idea on what a new home could look like.

●  Customization may be available. Some will offer customization services, altering the plan, or online design tools to try out modifications, and other plan providers will refer you to a local builder.

Cons of Premade House Plans:

●  What if the design could be much better? Some online home plans can look quite appealing. However, a quality architect or designer often makes a much better plan for your tastes and lifestyle.

●  The plan lacks context of the land. If your lot is flat, has no close neighbors, and no particular view or feature, and you are not as concerned about capturing the best light based on north-south-east-west, your house plan may work for you. If not, you may be able to do better.

●  Premade plans are for new construction only. It would be very difficult to take a plan and apply it to an existing home for an addition or remodel.

●  Any customization will cost more. Any change to the plan may be more than you think as a change can create a design domino-effect. Also, if you change any load-bearing wall, not only will the plans need to be altered with services, but an engineer will need to review the changes.

●  Permits and codes need attention. A quality plan should adhere to the “International Residential Code”, updated every three years. But your chosen plan may or may not adhere to local city codes and adjustments may be needed.

●  Construction is expensive. When compared to the cost of your overall construction budget, investing in a better plan, even if you can’t yet imagine it, is a relatively small investment.

image of a luxury kitchen with marble backsplash, white cabinets, and a high tech stove
Paul McKean Architecture LLC | KuDa Photography

Option 2: Pros and Cons of a Design-Build Contractor

a large, grand home with bright recessed lighting, a grassy area, and a pool

Many general contractors hire licensed architects or drafters and then offer in-house design services. Here are the pros and cons to this service:

Pros of Design-Build Plans:

●  You should get a cohesive team. When the architect is an employee, there may be better opportunities for communication with the construction team. (However, for Hamish Murray Construction, collaboration is a major priority. We have strong communications with the architect and/or designer because we reinforce this core value in our extended team and our systems.)

●  You could leverage existing plans. Some builders will modify existing plans for you, which may help with immediate visualization, where you make changes.

●  If it’s your best fit, you may do well. If the architect fits with your tastes and lifestyle, you may be highly satisfied with the end result.

Cons of Design-Build Plans:

●  The architect and plans may not be best fit. There are many types of architects out there. You may find this design-build architect is fine enough, yet when you get the best fit architect for you, better produced plans that meet your lifestyle, goals and tastes can result.

●  Creativity? Does the architectural staff have the opportunity and an environment that promotes creativity and client-centered design?

●  Your construction costs may not be competitive. You can often choose to have one contract made up for the house plan services, and another for construction, but after the plans are complete it may be awkward to not choose this builder and get a competitive bid or look elsewhere.

●  You may get less architect advocacy. Once construction starts, your main point of contact becomes the project manager, and your in-house architect should be brought in for strategic decisions. When an architect is also an employee working for the builder, the architect may have less opportunity to advocate for the design details during construction.

There is a perception that a design-build contractor may give you a better final cost. When you get bids from similar reputable builders using the same assumptions, the construction numbers should be very close to each other.

If you clearly communicate your budget and your goals, a quality architect or designer can design a house plan to your budget, no matter whether they are a builder’s employee or an independent.

Option 3: Pros and Cons of the Independent Architect

Architect: Christie Architecture LLC | Photography: KuDa Photography

We are often asked about the benefits of working with an independent architect versus a designer. More details on this subject can be found here. Here are the pros and cons for hiring an independent architect:

Pros of an Independent Architect:

●  You can now choose the best architect for you. When you get the right independent architect that resonates with you, expect your plans to develop into something that is much better than you could have imagined. The collaboration between you and your architect takes on a creative synergy and we believe you will get your best house plans under this approach.

●  You can choose the best builder with a competitive price.  Once the final schematic is complete, you can bring in a builder of choice, or choose to get a couple of bids.

●  You have an architect who advocates for you. Our experience is that independent architects are very capable and willing to advocate and ensure that the design is built down to its fine details. (And we’re delighted to collaborate and make that vision come to life!)

Cons of an Independent Architect:

●  Higher construction costs? Maybe – maybe not. If you have declared your budget, a good architect will work the design and its square footage to the budget. Just know that some designs are more expensive than others. For example, if you choose a one-slope angled modern roof, that roof will cost more than a roof that uses pre-manufactured trusses.

●  The design may cost more…Some talented, in-demand architects may cost more than a design-build service. However, keep in mind that many people are surprised and delighted by the final design from a talented architect. We believe that any increase in services costs is relatively small compared to benefits, especially when compared to the overall construction budget.

As an aside, we are often asked about the differences between working with an independent architect versus a designer, and this subject is addressed here.

Expect that a talented independent architect that best resonates with your lifestyle and tastes will build you remodeling, addition or new construction plans much better than anything you can imagine.

Quick Stories of What Happens When You Choose a Good Architect

We have a client who, late in the design process, casually mentioned that they have a low-stanced sports car. This competent architect immediately knew to modify the almost-final plans, altering how the house sat to the driveway grading so that this unusually low sportscar could be accommodated. What a catch that was for the client!

Another client was building a new home very close to an existing house, which is a common situation. No one wants to have a window line up with a neighbor’s window, and any good design professional can anticipate. But in this home plan, the architect was able to place the windows so that the view faced away from the neighbor’s house, giving privacy while bringing in the ambient light. The space is stunning.

We also can’t tell you enough of how the simplest details, such as the trim or the flashing, can take on a “cool factor” while still providing construction integrity, or how a talented architect will place the beams, cabinets, or walls for aesthetic appeal while still anticipating the hidden parts of a house, such as ducts and plumbing, ensuring they are efficient and well thought out.

Tell Us About What’s Important to You.

At Hamish Murray Construction Inc., we pride ourselves in knowing not just how to build a quality home or remodel, but how to build on schedule and on budget. We would be delighted to talk with you about your project ideas, or refer you to some independent architects or designers that may be a good match for you. We seek to bring your home goals, ideas and dreams to life, while keeping your project within a realistic budget for you.

Contact Us

We’d love to hear from you. Contact us or call us at (503) 460-7203 with questions you have, or to tell us about your home plans.