Building for Investors: Choosing an Architect or Designer

Now that you have a couple of flips or buy and holds under your belt and a team of people, you might start to wonder if you are ready to build new. Building new, as opposed to repurposing which is the bulk of investor energy, comes with unique challenges and perks. Instead of having the uncertainty of a roof that might need replacing or uncovering carpet only to find a massive crack in the foundation, building new allows you to start from scratch.

One of the first questions you’ll have is whether to build a new home or complex? Will you use an architect or a building designer? Both are involved in the design of buildings – their appearance, layout, structure, and so on. But what’s the difference?

The simplest difference is a legal one. To be called an “architect” in the United States you must complete the following (taken directly from

Earn an architecture degree from a NAAB-accredited program, or meet your jurisdiction’s education requirement.
Gain and document the required experience. All 55 U.S. jurisdictions accept the Architectural Experience Program®(AXP®), but some require additional experience.
Pass the ARE®. All 55 U.S. jurisdictions require you to pass the Architect Registration Examination®.
Meet any extra jurisdictional requirements. Some boards require additional experience or a location-specific supplemental exam before licensure.
Have your NCARB Record transmitted to the jurisdiction where you would like to be licensed. Before transmitting your Record, you should contact your board to verify its individual requirements.

On the other hand, the titles of “Home Designer” or “Building Designer” can be used by a wide variety of professionals to design both the interior and structure of the building. Interior Designers have no federal guidelines for licensure or regulations, though several states have certifications and other designations. Engineers frequently design homes both in mechanical and structural capacities. An engineer can be proficient in AutoCad and Design, but might not be a Professional Engineer (P.E.) which, depending on your state, can be required for architectural drawings to be used by contractors to purchase equipment and start construction.

But that’s hardly even scratching the surface. Building designers are generally less expensive and mostly involved in less flamboyant buildings. It would be uncommon to see an architect design a single bedroom house to be used as an Airbnb or VRBO rental, but building designers would be a lot more common especially if there was a particular style you wished to do the extension, needing it to be both private for the renter but still fitting in with the home owner’s association or other building permit guidelines.

Though there are quite often overlaps between what architects do and what building designers do and no simple, or hard and fast rules. By doing references, using due diligence you should be able to get good work that is able to get the proper permits from both types of professionals.

Architects, on the other hand, are more likely to be involved with more distinctive, “up-market” buildings. While the perception that Architects will cost more due to the additional licensure and regulation requirements needed to use the architect title holds true in many cases, don’t dismiss them out of hand if you have a reasonable construction budget. Architects will have to work with your budget just like building designers. However, an Architect might wish to stretch the boundaries and challenge convention rather than a designer who’s more interested in fulfilling function rather than thinking to the more holistic form.

It might be smart to choose an architect if you want more than just a literal translation of your wishes. If you just have a rough idea of what you want a good architect will take that idea and transform it into something you love, that you probably could not have imagined yourself.

The most important thing is knowing what you want from the service, and choosing someone that suits your job.

And whether you choose an architect or designer, remember, their paper qualifications are no guarantee of quality. In addition to always asking for their resume, always ask to see previous examples of their work. Ask for references from previous customers. Ask how long they’ve been working. Do they have professional indemnity insurance? Are they a member of an accredited body? Don’t be shy to interview them and also to get a feel for their personality. Do you feel like they “get you”? If so, then sometimes that can be the winner over someone who has more years of experience and a lengthier portfolio.

In the end, it’s like anything else… there’s no substitute for common sense.
Q: Are architects and building designers the same thing?
A: No. Architects must earn an architecture degree from a NAAB-accredited program, or meet your jurisdiction’s education requirement. All states in the US require Architects to pass the ARE®.

Q: Will I get a better design from an architect?
A: Not necessarily. The only guarantee is that you do your due diligence in interviewing the professional, checking credentials (if required), speaking to their references, and doing a thorough check of prior work.

Q: Are building designers more in touch with builders and other trades?
A: Not necessarily. Architects are trained to deal with and manage all aspects of the building project. It all comes down to the individual’s experience and abilities.

Q: Are Building designers “would-be” architects?
A: No. Building design is a recognized profession with its own national body, the National Council of Building Designer Certification (NCBDC). The American Institute of Building Design (AIBD) also supports the careers of building designers. Many building designers have the qualifications to register with the Board of Architects but they choose not to because they don’t think the name “architect” is worth the ongoing cost of registration.

Q: Are architects more expensive?
A: Not necessarily. An architect will work to your budget like a building designer. They can do anything from a simple design to very complex interior and exterior detailing to the superintendence of the building process. Your building costs and ongoing running costs may also be less. For example, find out if your architect is incorporating cost-saving measures into the building process. They may also design to take advantage of natural lighting, ventilation, heating, cooling, etc. which will save you less in electricity.

Q: How do I tell if they’re really an architect?
A: Go here to pick your state and look them up:

Q: How do I look for an accredited building designer?
A: Go here:

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