Part 2: The Amount of Work An Architect Needs to Find to Make $100,000

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In my previous post, we looked into the cost of setting up a solo-practitioner architecture firm. Let’s say you picked the “Medium” Plan, and now you are on the mission to make the money back.

This is just a thought-exercise, so we are going to assume and ignore a few things. We are going to ignore the fact that business costs are tax-deductible. And we are not going into the idea of cash-flow and growth – we assume you just want a zero-sum game, one where you make all your money back plus the profit to match your original life-style, in a year.

We assume you are currently making $94,500 a year at an architecture firm. So, as calculated in our previous post, you are looking to make a gross income of $94,500 + $5,500 = $100,000.

How much work is $100,000?

For discussion, we assume you are starting small. We are going to look into three options:

  1. Any work that pays you hourly
  2. Residential kitchen/bathroom renovations
  3. Single-family homes

Hourly work

According to this great resource on Architectural Fees, an average architect charges anywhere between $100 to $250 per billable hour. You can do anything from drafting, to reviewing drawings, to any kind of consulting. We assume you charge somewhere in the middle, at $150 per billable hour. To make $100,000, you need to work:

$100,000 ÷ $150/hr = 667 hours

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For reference, if you work at an office which gives you 10 paid days off per year, you would have worked about 2,000 hours in 2018 ((261 working days – 10 paid vacation days) x 8 hours/day). If you are lucky to really only work 8 hours a day!

Now the biggest keyword here, of course, is “billable”. You have to find 667 billable hours – all the time spent looking for clients, drafting proposals, negotiating etc, is time you spend for free, and at your own risk.

Residential Renovations

Residential renovations are a good place to start because a lot of them require permits, and clients are relatively easy to find by being active in your community or circle of friends.

We assume a low-end/simple renovation costs $30,000. Moving a fixture, re-tiling, maybe moving one wall or replacing a door. What you charge depends on how involved you are, but let’s say you charge 15% of the construction cost. So you make $30,000 x 15% = $4,500 per renovation. To make $100,000, you need to find:

$100,000 ÷ $4,500/renovation = ~22 low end/simple renovations

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We assume a high-end/complicated renovation can cost up to $100,000. Relocating an entire room, new millwork, lighting, electrical upgrade etc. Let’s say again you charge 15% of the construction cost. So you make $100,000 x 15% = $15,000 per renovation. To make $100,000, you need to find:

$100,000 ÷ $15,000/renovation = ~7 high end/complicated renovations

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Single Family Homes

Last but not least let’s look at single family homes. The average size of a single-family house in america is about 2,600s.f., but we are in New York, so houses are somewhat smaller. Let’s say each house is 2,000s.f.

Again according to Architectural Fees (check that website out, it has so many helpful resources), a custom home costs about $250 per square foot to build. So the construction cost of a 2,000s.f. home is about $500,000. If you charge 10% of that, you make $500,000 x 10% = $50,000 per home. To make $100,000, you need to design:

$100,000 ÷ $50,000/home = 2 homes

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That’s it! Full of assumptions and generalizations, I know, but it’s just an overview, some food for thought. Any combination could work – two billable hours here, one small renovation there, and hopefully if you did a good job, the referrals will slowly make this sustainable. One thing I realized though, is that I used to think the cost of business is very high, but after seeing all this math, the $5,500 buy-in cost isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things. (That is , until you start renting a “real” office and hiring full-time staff.)

If you can find this amount of work, then you can afford having a similar life style as an architect who gets an annual salary of $94,500… minus the stress, and uncertainty, but also minus the pride and sense of satisfaction, if that’s what you are after.

I am in no way suggesting anyone should charge their time by hour or by a percentage of the construction cost – if anything, I think we should all challenge it!

I am all about being creative – when you do not have a job-job, how you spend your time is really up to you. You can spend half your time pursuing architectural work, and half your time selling handmade crafts on Etsy or walking dogs for people in your neighborhood. But I digress – that’s a topic for another article.

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Begin Again

Hello again world, long time no see!

After I got licensed, I left my job at a 100-person office, and started my new job at a 15-person office, working on small retail projects. While I was there, I started Project Subway NYC, studying New York City’s subway stations by creating 3D drawings of them. Then, a year and a half later, I went to work for a transportation company as an urban designer, learned a lot about wayfinding, infrastructure and urbanism. While I was there I moved from New York to New Jersey. Another year and a half later, I quit and now I am “fun-employed” – taking a break while trying to make it on my own. Also doing some freelance work.

That’s the gist of what I have been doing since getting licensed! All over the place ain’t I?

As I navigate the scary world of entrepreneurship while trying to apply what I have learned from the exams in real life, I suddenly felt the urge to start writing again. (I thought about saying “blogging”… but who blogs any more? It’s 2018!)

To quote Atul Gawande, one of my favorite writers, one way of being a positive deviant is to write something. In this book “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance“, he wrote:

It makes no difference whether you write five paragraphs for a blog, a paper for a professional journal, or a poem for a reading group. Just write… It need only add some small observation about your world.

… by offering your reflections to an audience, even a small one, you make yourself part of a larger world.

So here I am! I shared snippets of my world with you when I was taking the exams, and now let’s see what I can actually do with the license. Bottom line, this blog has always made me feel less alone, and I hope it does the same to you!

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Architecture, Capital A!