Why should you go through the time, effort, and expense of crafting and signing an agreement with your architectural clients? The easiest answer to this is that an agreement between an architect and their client can eliminate a large amount of heartache and hassle. These agreements should form the basis of every business relationship you have.
A good formal agreement-or contract- between an architect and a client helps keep the business relationship cordial and beneficial to all parties involved. The contract eliminates most possibilities for surprise during or at the termination of the project. Your client won’t be able to say: “Hey, I was expecting something different.” Additionally you won’t be able to say: “Well, this is what I understood that you wanted.” This keeps the relationship amicable and allows it to grow and flourish.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a default, or template, contract, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has, for more than 100 years, made several basic contract/agreement templates available to member architects. Over the years these contracts have become longer and longer, and the amount of legalese they contain has grown. These trends reflect the fact that our society is very litigious (we like to take people to court) and the fact that projects have become more and more complicated over time. There is also the fact that more and more statutes and codes have had to be accounted for as well. In an ideal world, the phrase: “A man is only as good as his word” would always apply, and a handshake would be enough to constitute and consummate an agreement.
So, what should an architectural agreement consist of? First and foremost, an effective architectural agreement will clearly and completely state what is required/desired by the client and what the architect will deliver. Is the architect solely responsible for design and engineering verification of the building? How long does the architect have to complete the design? These are examples of what should be spelled out in this section. Does the architect remain throughout the project duration, or are they dismissed once the designs are completed and accepted?
Next, the rights and responsibilities of both parties will be clearly spelled out. Is the architect responsible for contracting with the builder(s) or will the client do that? Who is required to pull permits and schedule inspections? What rights do both parties have in case of dispute?
Hopefully, with a contract that identifies and deals with these questions, and more, both parties can work through the project amicably and won’t even have to refer back to the contract. But, if problems or difficulties do arise, the contract is always there to help guide the parties through and get the project back on track.