Whether you are designing a dental office from the ground up or are renovating an existing location to make a new dental office, you might need to employ an architect to help with the planning and design.
Before hiring one, you should spend a little time researching the different options to find one that will do the job well and fit your goals for your space. To dig through your options and find the right one, you will want to ask a few questions.
It’s important to remember that you do have other options rather than hiring an architect to build your office including choosing a design-build contractor which can save you 2-4 months of time. Nevertheless, here are some excellent questions that will help you narrow down the field and settle on the architect that will do the job well.
A dental architect who has a lot of experience will have a portfolio of previous projects you can review. These samples should show not only the finished project but also some of the plans, pictures of construction, and blueprints. Looking over these will help you decide if the architect has a process that will match your goals.
If you are adding a specialty or are a dental specialist, such as if you are going to offer orthodontics or periodontics, you will want to work with an architect who is familiar with that type of practice. Ask specifically about their experience in your specialty before hiring an architect. Remember, designing for a specialty requires unique insight, and you want the right experience on the job.
Chances are you have a tight budget for your project. The skill of an architect does come at a price. Make sure that your budget and the architect’s costs align. That’s not to say that you should go with the architect who charges the least amount. You want to strike a balance between quality and your budget, so take honest quotes from the architects that you interview.
When discussing the budget, do not be afraid to ask for a breakdown of the architect's fees. The architect may charge for different parts of the process separately. Ask upfront about the costs, what deposit is required and how payment is arranged, so you can plan your budget accordingly.
Can the architect fit you into their schedule in a timely manner? The best dental architects may be in high demand, but you also want to ensure you can open on time. Ask the architect how long they expect the process to take, then consider whether that time frame will work with your needs or not. If you have a strict deadline for opening, you need an architect who will be able to meet it.
Communication is a critical part of any major building project. You want to work with an architect that has a solid plan in place to handle that communication. Find out what the preferred method of communication will be during the project, whether it is email, phone, or text, and make sure it is something you are comfortable using. If the architect has a client portal or similar service, learn about it before signing a contract. Make sure you will have a fast and effective way to get a hold of the architect if you want an update or wish to make some last-minute changes to your plans. Ensure that the dental architect will be responsive when you use those methods of communication.
Depending on the size of the firm, it may have multiple architects on staff. Make sure you know who will be working on your project. If you are using the firm for both the planning and design as well as the building process, ask about whom they will hire to serve as the general contractor. You need to know all potential players in the project and make sure you are comfortable with them.
While asking this question, ask about the decision-making panel. Many architectural firms will have a decision-making panel made up of consultants and industry professionals that provide advice and guidance when they are making a new design. Ideally, that panel should have consultants from many industries that can lend insight into your project, and that should include a dentist consultant. Ultimately, you want to know that the dental architect understands the design needs of a dentist.
Along with the architect’s portfolio samples, ask for some references, and permission to call those references. Make sure the architect has reverences that are dentists, and give them a call to explore how their experience went with the architect. When you call the references, ask questions about the timeliness of the project, communication, and overall satisfaction. Be detailed with your questions, inquiring about difficulties that may have arisen during the process and how they were handled.
Ask the architect about when they wish to be brought on board for the project. It usually works best to partner with the architect in the early stages of your project. When you have your architect on board early in the process, you can get help with site studies, zoning issues, feasibility studies, and more of the pre-design work that goes into building a dental practice.
In addition to asking if the architect has experience with dental practices, consider whether or not the firm has dealt with problems or projects like yours specifically. For example, if you’re hoping to redesign your practice to add more seating space or improve your ADA compliance, you will want an architect who has tackled this type of project before. Ask how they will approach the project and what experience they have to pull from.
Many architects will carry errors and omissions insurance. This protects the firm against the costs of a lawsuit should you feel that the work is not satisfactory. Ask about this coverage and, if they have it, ask them to summarize it for you. Make sure the coverage does not prevent you from making a claim should true negligence or a breach of contract take place.
This is not a question you will ask directly to your architect, but make sure you hire one that has good chemistry with you. You will spend quite a bit of time together over the course of the project, and you want to be certain that you will work well together.
To get a feel for your options, you should interview a minimum of three firms. If all other factors are equal, those interviews will help you find an architect that seems to be a good fit for your personality and your goals. If you work well together, then your final project will come together more easily.
Building a dental practice requires many different considerations. The architect you choose will be at the heart of the process. Take the time to find one with dental experience who will do the job well, and you will end up with a final building that exceeds your expectations while meeting your needs well.
As you enter the dental practice building process, remember that the contract you sign with your architect is legally binding. As such, you may wish to consult with an attorney first. Dental & Medical Counsel understands the unique needs of dentists and other medical practitioners. Reach out today for a complimentary consultation with dental attorney Ali Oromchian to discuss your contract and other needs associated with your build-out. Also, feel free to download our whitepaper on The Top 10 Pitfalls to Avoid when Building a Dental Practice to ensure you are properly protected.
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