NOTE: Discussing one's fee structure seems to be taboo but I am in favor of honesty and since I have an "open book" approach to my services, I hope that this section is helpful for you.
As a one-person firm, I do not have the pressure of needing to keep staff busy. Working out of a home office, I have relatively low overhead. I was raised to be frugal, and to know the satisfaction that comes from hard work. I believe in fairness, but I also believe in being paid for services that have been agreed upon and performed well. How I charge for my time is as fair and open as possible, in my opinion.
Typically, after interviewing with a new client and understanding your expectations, I will prepare a proposal that documents my understanding of the project, my proposed scope of services, my schedule, any consultants that will be required, and my fee. What I have found to work well - and what I feel is most fair for my clients - is to estimate the amount of time that I foresee for each stage of the design process (data gathering and schematic design, design development, and construction documents) and apply my hourly rate. This way, the total fee is predicted in advance and you have a good sense for what the total could be. My goals are to avoid surprises for you, and hold myself accountable to the proposed fee range. Time spent in selecting contractors, and in construction administration, is hard to predict in advance and so I typically will work on a time-and-materials basis once the project is underway. Reimbursable expenses (large format printing, courier services, etc.) are itemized on each invoice.
Rarely, I will base my fee on a percentage of the construction cost. Oftentimes, architects will structure their fee this way and 10-15% or more is not uncommon. When I compare my total fee with the final construction cost of a project, my fees have historically been less than 10% (often far less), yet I have also felt as if I did not detail the work as thoroughly as I perhaps should have, or was as active as I could have been in helping to make selections. Current and future projects will be more full service than many that I've done in the past, as I will be developing designs in more detail and getting more involved in product selections. I will always, however, aim to be fair and accountable in my fee.
Having a clear contract between parties is important. As much as I work to communicate clearly and give exemplary service, and as much as each project team's goal is to work cooperatively to achieve the desired outcome, it's still important that the terms and conditions of service are spelled out and agreed upon. Clear, consistent contract language is critical so that misunderstandings can be avoided, and any disputes quickly reconciled.
Contract forms must be tailored to the project. The size and duration of the project is one key factor. The number of parties involved is another (owner, architect, contractor, consultant). For smaller projects, I have developed a standard letter agreement that works well, and I often retain consultants for such projects using similar informal letters. In 15 years of practice I have rarely had a contract-related dispute.
My preference is to work toward the use of AIA Contract Documents on more projects, as they have been developed over many decades and aim for clarity and consistency, usually used as "families" so that contractors between different parties work together. AIA has developed a set of documents for small projects which fit well with what Newland Architecture typically does. This Small Projects Family uses, at its core, the A105-2007 document (between the owner and contractor) and the B105-2007 (between the owner and architect). I would be happy to review these with you prior to beginning any project.
I'm proud of the fact that I have never had a serious contract dispute on any of the hundreds of projects that I've done. My reputation, I believe, is one of honesty and integrity and I try my best to maintain this.
There have been time when I have made honest mistakes, however. With every project being unique, and working with different clients all of the time, sometimes problems arise and misunderstandings or simple oversights happen. While rare, they are impossible to avoid completely. For this reason, Newland Architecture has carried professional liability insurance for over a dozen years.