The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Architectural Consultations

This is Dale Cummins with Cummins Architecture & Design, today we’d like to go over some of the basic questions we receive from our potential clients that call in to the office. I have a list of questions that are frequently asked and we will go through them one at a time. Hopefully it will be helpful and take care of some of the mystery about what it’s like to work with an architect or at least our architectural office. Cummins Architecture & Design is a family owned business and we do small scale projects, as well as large scale projects too. We also do a lot of remodels and small additions.

A lot of times when someone calls in to schedule a consultation with our firm, one of the first things they want to know is if there is a fee for the initial consultation. Typically, we do not charge for the first consultation particularly if it’s over the phone or if you come into our office. We’re more than glad to talk to you about any potential projects without any strings attached for your first meeting. If you decide you’d like to get started and have us come out to your jobsite, we’d be happy to do that. We typically charge about $500 for a field or site visit. That covers our basic cost and we apply that to your project if you decide to move forward with us.

The next question that comes up quite often is what should you bring to your meeting. As an architect what I like to see and this is kind of a loose list of things, you don’t have to have all of this, the more of it you can put together the better it’s going to be. If you have your property’s site size and dimensions, even if it came off of the property assessors map or the appraisal map and it’s 8 ½ by 11in., that’s great. It all will give us a little bit of information that we can work with to start developing your project. We also like to see the APN number which stands for assessor’s parcel number. With that we can actually get a site map so if you don’t have a site map don’t worry about it. If you do bring a site map, we like to see photographs of the overall property, photographs of the area involved, particularly if you’re going to do an interior remodel or an addition to say the back or side of the house. Make sure that when you take photographs, take them far enough away so that we can see the entire structure so that we get a feel for what’s going on around the property. Of course we’re going to get into this in more detail when we come out and do a site field visit and get the actual dimensions of the property. If you have any city handouts those are good to bring with you. A lot of times people will go and do preliminary inquiry at the planning department just to see what the restrictions are for the property. It’s nice to know what the zoning is for your property and it’s very easy to call the planning department or to go see them. The planning department has planning maps that will tell you whether you’re in a residential zone R1, R2, a multi-residential or commercial property. Recently we’ve even seen some projects that are rural residential which allow you to put commercial facilities within a residential zone.  Many counties have those particular requirements in their planning packages. You probably won’t have a soils report, but a few people may if they’ve done a project in the last few years. If you do happen to have a soils report, bring it with you. We’re not really expecting that at the first meeting but these are some things we’ll ask for. A survey of the property is great because that will give us more detail on your property’s boundary dimensions. It also might have the topographical layout of the site which is the contours of the property. That’s really helpful.

What should you know ahead of time, project scope you may or may not have heard that but basically it’s a bullet item list of the things you want to do or would like to accomplish with the project. A lot of times we’ll have someone come and say “you know my in-laws are moving in with me and I need a separate space for them with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a small living area and I’ve got enough room to build twelve hundred square feet. How do I get started?” That would be the definition of a scope of a project. Let’s use another example, maybe you have a two-story house and you want to add a one-story large addition family room in the back or maybe you want to relocate your kitchen. Any of those things are what we call a scope statement. It doesn’t have to be developed or fancy, in fact a lot of times we’ll see little sketches that potential clients will create to bring in and show what they have in mind, what they think they can do, etc. Anything like that is great. Photo of example of styles that you like are very helpful. We love to see those because we’d like to duplicate that for you. As a firm, we like cabins, mountains, earth materials, rocks, wood and all that kind of fun stuff. Whatever your style is we’ll attempt to complement it and use it in your project. It’s really good to research the current market value of your property. We will get to a point where we’re going to develop a project budget for your project and it’s good to know where you’re going to be when the project is finished. In Rancho Cucamonga right now it’s kind of fascinating because you’re actually able to create what we call net equity in your project. What that means is the retail value of the addition you put on your house or the remodel may actually cost you less than what it is marketable for at it’s completion. So best case scenario, I’m just going to use some really simple numbers here so not the exact numbers, say a 500 sf simple addition on a house in Rancho Cucamonga as an example, might cost you around $200 a square foot all in. So that would be $100,000. On a $100,000 project that 500 square feet added to the house, it’s retail value in the market right now is $300 a square foot. So you’ve just made a $100 a square foot on that addition. That’s actually a very good way to invest in your own property and increase its equity and have control of your investment. There aren’t too many places where where you can invest $100,000 and in nine months make a $50,000 profit. It isn’t always the case and all the numbers vary depending on where you are and what you want to do with your property but we can help you go through those scenarios very quickly in the first meeting. What we like to do is use a rough number say plus or minus 25% that’ll help you generate a budget and determine how much you want to put into your project. We’ll also bounce those ideas back and forth with you. If your project is a fix a flip or if you want to improve your property before you sell it, there are certain ways to look at projects like that that are low cost high value return. There are other projects where maybe you’re really not concerned about the budget but you’d like to know where you’re at but your primary purpose is maybe to save the cost of having to move in-laws into a retirement community that is going to cost $7,000 a month. Or if you did this the other way around, your investment costs $100,000 right now at about 4.5% market rate it’s only going to cost you about $500 a month. Those are some of the things we’ll get into later on. We love to help you be successful with your project. There’s no risk and no required commitment for an initial consultation or contact with us. We really enjoy what we’re doing and we hope we can help you.

Some other things that you might want to know, is a phone consultation okay? Yes, that’s great. All you will need to do is call our office to schedule it. We can even do facetime if you’d like. You can stand in the back of your yard and use your iphone and we can look at your project. A lot of times people will say, “well don’t you need to come out and see the site?”.  Of course we do, but we like to get started with a project before we do that. We also like to go and checkout the requirements, perimeters, the setbacks on your property, lot coverage, and the square footages that you’re allowed to add to your property.  We also want to find out whether or not there are any easements associated with your property. Some properties, in fact one we’re working on right now, require us to dedicate eight feet of the front of the property to the city because they are requiring a street widening in order for the project to get started. Those are the kinds of things we look up very early in the project to make sure the project is feasible. We like to do project’s on hillside properties and other difficult sites. And by the way, if you have a property you’re not sure of it’s structural integrity we’ll be happy to look at that with you. Also on foundation cracks, we can tell you whether they’re a seismic concern or whether they’re just cosmetic. We can also look at beam sizes and stresses. We’ve seen some projects where the beams were under size and they’re sagging two or three inches in some cases. Not a good thing to park your $75,000 BMW under. If you got that give us a call. We like to obviously do a preliminary check with the planning department see what restrictions they have. You can send us photos if we’re going to do a Facetime or phone consultation. Because we have a satellite in the sky which is called Google, we can actually Google your property and get a lot of good basic information for an initial consultation. We also like to stress the idea that we will cross check the value of the project with your property values and the market values in the area.

Another thing that often gets asked is what should we ask the architect. If you’re going to meet with somebody new one of the things that is very important is to make sure that they’re a licensed architect and that they are currently registered in California or the state in which the practice. Ask them or check with them about their availability with the project. Also it’s very important to ask if they’re going to be working directly with you on the project or are they going to pass this off to someone else. Because we’re a small office, being the senior architect I will be with you on the design of all projects that come into our office. Another good thing to ask is do you have some samples or where can we go to see some of your work. In our case we have lots of projects of all different types and sizes on our website at You can take a look at those then in addition to that when you come see us we have other projects that we can pull out specifically that would be similar to your type and size of project. Right now on the boards we have projects everywhere from an addition that’s about 200 sf with a little remodel all the way up to a 10,00 sf custom home and pretty much everything in between. We’ve even done a project in the past where we actually added a basement to an existing two story structure and as far as I know it’s still standing so that worked out pretty well. So when you come see us one of the things I always like to ask people is if they’d like to have a basement or attic. The reason that’s so much fun is because basements and attics are not taxed if they’re not conditioned. You can get some free storage space out of a project if it lends itself to that. A lot of people think that putting a basement in California could be a problem because of earthquakes. But if you’ve been downtown lately you can check and see there’s many multi-story office buildings in downtown Los Angeles that have maybe five-seven stories of parking below grade. So obviously if they are developed structurally sound it’s no problem to put a basement into a project. That’s just a fun little thing if you have an interest in that. Be sure to check us out on our webpage at Cummins Architecture and Design or on our Instagram at cumminsarchitecture. We hope to talk to you soon!