custom plans?

Old 02-07-05, 08:17 AM
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custom plans?

I hope someone can clarify some legal and ethical questions for me.

We have found a general plan we like on some websites. However, we will have to do a few modifications. We like the floorplan and general house design, but would remove the garage, move an outside wall slightly, modify the roof and adding/moving inside walls.

I looked into hiring the designer, but it seemed to add up rather quickly.

Could I bring the general idea to a local designer and he'd design a complete house? Or, should I buy the cad version and bring it to a designer.

Also, does anyone know the rough estimate for an architect/designer? It's a 1200 sq ft house.
Old 02-08-05, 09:36 PM
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I have offered the below as a story that might help. It almost duplicates your issues.

"What I am finding, that even though we have the internet, problems have arose. Those seeking new home plans via internet are experiencing the loss of one major component, one on one with us. This means that even if the cost seems lower, they are still getting “ripped off”. I had a contractor friend last year order plans of a home that his wife liked. At the time, it was larger than I could draw here in MI (5500 SF) but he paid $850 for the set. Upon getting it, it lacked information that was required by our local officials.

1. Some major engineering issues were not addressed nor was any stamp of approval done by a structural engineer.

2. He and his wife wanted to make some changes and this set was going to have to be re-drawn. When he called the internet plan company, they said that it would cost $500 for a redesign BUT that he would have to ensure that the plans were acceptable to the local officials. No guarantees were offered. NONE! This still didn’t cover the engineering part.

3. The cost for a structural engineer was $1000.

4. He had the plans redrawn by an Architect friend of mine, after getting permission from the company first. Redesign and redraw was $3500 as he didn’t want to pay the $500 and have no guarantee that it met local Codes. By the way, the plans were not designed for his sloped lot.

So while we see many plans offered over the internet, those unsuspecting buyers will spend more, get less than what they expected. This will be the part where we must help educate the “buyers” of our services. Not an easy task.

I want to make a note here; I do drawings for those over the internet, not new homes but additions and renovations. The difference in what you may want to buy on the net and what I do is that I GUARANTEE to meet local building codes where the client lives. I have only seen a handful that does this for new homes. True, the costs for internet home plans are lower than seeking our services but let’s face it, what are the complaints that we hear about? This or that is too small, I wish it had this and we don’t really need that. You know the story. We all could draw homes till we were blue in the face and sell them at low prices but who does this hurt, if you have any morals and strong ethics?

The old adage, “You get what you pay for” is very true. Those that are cheap, seeking new home plans via internet are not the clients we want to deal with anyway. They will suffer the consequences of their actions. We, on the other hand, will deal with clients one on one and provide the best service that, in my opinion, can never be matched by the internet."

So you want to make changes. A redraw could be done if signiciant changes are done so that it doesn't infringe on the Copyright laws. Trust me, they do have people checking on this.

Hiring a good designer or architect would be my suggestion. So it comes down to money. I stress that you should not try and take shortcuts here as this is a major investment and why chance anything?! Besides, a good set of plans is a money saver in itself. More details, specifications is what is important once you get these out for bid. Lacking details means that a Contractor will be assuming some things and to be safe adds costs in, so guess what? You end up paying more because they were insufficient. By the way, change orders once a home or addition is underway can kill any budget you might have in mind. Something for you to think about.

Costs can vary. An architect may charge 5 - 15% of the estimated construction cost. A designer may charge by the square foot or by a flat fee. With new homes, I charge $1.75 per sq ft for habitable space and $.50 per sq. ft for garages and basements. Others may charge more or less but it is based upon what you are really getting for that fee. Bear in mind, I offer a complete design process and a grest set of final blueprints with a client. Choosing an architect or designer is the best way to go when you have to consider your needs and wants that don't come with stock plans. They will walk you through the whole process, explaining where you can save money, offer better design ideas to meet your needs and even assist in reviewing bids/hiring a good GC.

Stock plans, well, what you buy is only what you get! Alterations to them can add up if you let them do it and the issue of time may be another concern. Most states allow up to 3500 SF of habitable space for a designer to draw. Architects would be unlimited.

I would recommend seeking a good designer where you live, contact the local lumber yards. A good designer will know what is required locally so you don't have to worry about any problems when plans are submitted for a permit. Lumber yards see plans everyday and can tell you who may be good or bad. The costs you will be paying are going to be more than those stock plans but you will be getting more in the end and better. My philosophy is this, "What I design here effects what is built out there!"

Hope this helps!
Old 02-11-05, 08:44 AM
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I have a couple of points that I rarely see discussed on any of the forums. First does it seem like a wise decision to try to save money and go cheap up front on the most important decision and project that most of us will ever have to make. People building their homes try to save money on the plans to a project that is several thousands of dollars. Usually hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most critical part of the process (the plans) layout the ground work for the project. The more planning up front can possibly save thousands of dollars and time if done properly. Although the plans are "expensive" I feel this is a relative term. I rarely meet clients who realize this important fact in the process. Do you really want to skimp on the first part of the process. When you consider that you want the designer or architect to be responsible should anything come up during the building process. Also if you consider that here in California the average new home cost is $200 per foot your 1200 s.f. home is still $240,000 in building cost.

With all of that said. Whether you buy stock plans with modifications or go with a local designer the only important fact is to find a reputable firm either way.

With regards to ethics and copyright: the law is real clear if the drawings are in your own hand (or drawn by you on your computer) it is your work. It is the same as if you take Picaso off the wall and paint a copy of it yourself. As long as you do not try to pass it off as a Picaso (you sign your own name) and you take the credit for the work it is not infringement. If on the other hand you go on a jobsite find a set of blueprints, cross out the original owners name and place your own on the plans, copy the plans with the designers name still in the border as if the plans were drawn by them for you, you have just committed copyright infringement.

I have often had clients bring in plan books and show me what they liked and disliked about plans and just through natural evolution of the plans they were nothing like the originals when we were done.

Good luck and take to heart that cost is a consideration but should not be the driving force in the most important family decision we make in life, our homes.

Brian Garrison
General Contractor/Professional Building Designer

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