Updated: Jul 3
For starters, there are a number of steps before you start to construct your house. It may not be obvious how these steps are sequenced and time each would take. And therefore, we all end-up under-estimating time and effort required to even start the process. Below is the typical chronological sequence leading up to house construction.
Build your own vision of house - House building is a very creative activity and like any new thing, you want to indulge yourself fully to enjoy it. House building is as much about knowing yourself as about building a physical structure. That's where it becomes either fun for some folks or frustrating chore for others. I have number of friends who would rather buy a pre-built house and are perfectly happy with that. There is absolutely nothing wrong in that! My first advice therefore is - You intrinsically want to build your own house to have fun doing it. Don't do it to compare or compete with anyone.
Think about parameters that would influence your house. These could be external elevation of the house, spaces within the house, budget, layout of the physical structure, levels within your house, reselling or renting house partially or fully, daily habits or routines of folks who would live in the house, and so on. While you do these, pay special attention to how you and folks who would live conduct their daily lives - what are their habits, what are their likes, dislikes or constraints, and how these might change over time. All of the influencing factors above help build a vision for your house. You may either document your vision through a document, or create a Google sketchup or anything in-between. Point is to have somewhat specific idea that describes personality of your house.
There is tons of material available on web and I'd suggest to make yourself familiar. You may also refer to various house design magazines, or read newspaper columns, or blogs such as this to arm yourself with experiences of others. The book that I found particularly helpful in our process is Designing Your Perfect House as it clearly and comprehensively articulates the whole process.
It is hard to put a time-limit on this step and my advice would be to set-aside time each week to build your vision. It is easiest to lose pace on this activity, or postpone it to later stage and doing so has the risk of either compromise, or having to start all over again after you have realized your own vision.
During the process, you may either feel you have a perfect idea of the house, or you may feel confused about what your house should look like. If you feel you have perfect idea, I would say stop now and proceed to the next step. However, don't be rigid about your idea - it will change. Allow for changes as long as they fit within your vision for the house. If you feel confused, keep looking and as you do research, jot-down items that you either really like, or really dislike. Over time you will see a pattern in what you really like or dislike and that will help you create a picture of how your house should look like.
Meet various architects - It is important to meet different architects as they have different styles and preferences. Some of the variations we have seen amongst architects were
Some architects build houses of contemporary style while others favor traditional style
Some architects have a good eye towards attractive elevation while others are better at detailed planning of individual spaces. We at Vinay&Rashmi are good at design and details.
Some architects are fixated towards a feature of the house such as stairs or floor levels while others may be fixated towards earthy materials or concepts.
Architects that are well reputed may relegate most of house design work to their sub-ordinates while relatively young architects themselves design the house. On the flip side, well-reputed architects have tons of design ideas and experience which very young architect may not.
Some architects tend to design tens (if not hundreds) of houses in a year while others may only do 5-10 in a year.
Some architects charge flat fee versus others that charge % of total house cost.
Some architects have designated contractor that they work with while others work with any contractor of your choice.
I am sure there are other parameters as well but this hopefully provides rationale why it is important to get to know the spectrum to make an informed decision. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong decision, it is what you feel most comfortable with.
Next obvious question is how to get to know what type of architect you are dealing with - Well, you will never have 100% idea, but a few things that can help are
Look at houses they have built. Don't rush to conclusion based solely on pictures, pictures can be very deceiving. It is important to visit the houses to get first-hand view of houses. While picking the house, pick a combination of relatively new (< 1 year old) house as well as somewhat older (2-5 years old) houses. Once you have seen 3-4 houses you might start to notice a pattern.
Provide your requirements and ask if architect would make a mock design. This will give a sense of architects' vision in reference to your own.
Finalize an architect - No matter how many architects and how much analysis you do, there will never be surety while finalizing an architect. The point really is you want to have reasonably good idea of architect's style and should feel excited at the prospect of him building your house. For us, it was this intuitive sense when we finalized the architect who designed our house.
As you may have already guessed, above process does take few weeks to few months depending on your situation and there is always cost of over-analyzing. It is not unreasonable to expect 4-6 months to finalize an architect. Not that I recommend this approach, but we also know of friends who picked an architect and had to change their mind mid-way through their house design. While you'd lose retraining amount, it is better to cut your losses than to compromise on your dream house.
Some of the things that you may learn about our architect and why you feel very excited about him even today -
Coincidentally, our tastes matched much more than we originally thought. Our choices matched in picking materials, traditional design of the house, attention to detail, and standards of quality.
Accessibility - We never had to struggle to get his time. He has been intimately involved in design. He is our direct contact and has always been very responsive.
Flexibility - Whatever requirement we have had he has designed creative ways to incorporate them. In rare instances where we were not excited about design, he has shown flexibility to incorporate our input and revise design.
House building is a long and intimate process where architect and contractors are your trusted partners. As the owner, you should take initiative to build such a relationship as that will result in final product that everyone will feel proud to attach themselves to.