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Is it normal for an architect to charge a retainer fee?

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Question:

My condo board is planning a renovation that will require permits, and an architect to approve the plans. Our architect requires a $750 retainer per project, along with hourly fees ($225/hour for a principal, $90/hour for an expediter). I've never heard of an architect requiring a retainer, and don't understand how this would work. Is there a standard way to approach this?

Answer:

Your architect's requirement for a retainer is standard, say our experts, though your board should do some comparison shopping to make sure you're getting a good price.

"Having a registered architect review plans on behalf of a co-op, and that architect requiring a retainer, are both fairly standard for buildings in New York City," explains David Yum, an architect with Bolster. This means that your board does indeed need to hire an architect to review your plans, and that whoever you hire will very likely work on a retainer model, charging a baseline fee up front, then hourly after that. 

However, says Douglas Elliman Property Management's Thomas Usztoke, your board should do its due diligence as far as "soliciting competitive proposals, checking references, and interviewing professionals before retaining any of them." Usztoke adds, "[the board] should investigate any new service provider for cost and references, as sometimes the best deal isn't as good as it looks."

On your architect's end of the deal, they should provide you with a detailed proposal, including what will be expected on both ends over the course of the project, says Agustin Ayuso, also an architect with Bolster. "If necessary, you might want to have a meeting with this person and go over the proposal in person, so everyone has a good understanding of what will take place and what roles are expected of each other," he adds. "Just like any project, there will be certainties and uncertainties. You want to make sure you understand what you are getting into.  Your architect should be the best person to explain the process."


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