Setting out to build or remodel a California home is an expensive endeavor. A number of pricing considerations are at play, and one of the foremost is what costs to expect from the architecture firm handling the project. 

Unfortunately, the complexity of the architectural fees included is frequently confusing to homeowners who are unfamiliar with the process, causing a lot of stress before work has even begun!

At Letter Four, we want homeowners to have clarity and comfort every step of the way, which is why we go the extra mile to help you understand what you’re getting into. In this post, we’ve compiled a quick guide to simplify architectural fees, providing industry averages and explanations that give you a better idea of what to expect. 

What’s Included in Architectural Fees?

Architects provide a wide spectrum of services, so what they include in their fees will depend on the scope of your project. However, fees will typically cover a package of services relating to “soft costs”, such as due diligence and research, design work, permitting, and collaboration with the construction team. These fees can be billed by a fixed or hourly structure, depending on the type of work done.

1. Consultant Costs

Consultants are usually contracted during the due diligence and design phases of your project, allowing us to understand what will be required to overcome your project’s challenges. Consultants may bill by the hour or by fixed fees. Below, we’ve provided typical estimates of total consultant costs based on a standard lot.  

Surveying costs

Surveyor costs will depend on whether you’re constructing a complete new-build or adding to your existing home, as well as whether you’re building on a flat or sloped lot.

  • Flat Lots

                - Boundary Survey: $2,500

  • Sloped Lots

               - Topographic Survey: $8,000+

                - Soils Report: $7,000

  • As-Built Survey: $3,500-$5,000+. This cost will largely depend on the size of your existing home and the number of buildings affected by your project. An as-built survey is not required if we are tearing down the existing building(s) on site.

Engineering costs

Again, engineering costs are subject to the scope of your project.

  • Structural Engineering: $7,000-$12,000+
  • Civil Engineering (Sloped lot): $6,000-$8,000+
  • Energy Calculations (Title 24): $500 per building

2. Fixed Fee Services

At Letter Four, many of our architectural services are charged as a fixed fee, providing simplicity and peace of mind as you can know exactly what each project stage will cost. You can learn more about how these phases fit into our Design-Build workflow by reading through our Clear 4-Step Process.

Our fixed fee phases include:

  • Due Diligence

Evaluating your project’s unique goals and constraints, as well as city requirements, site conditions, timelines, and budgets.

  • Conceptual Design

Creating floor plans and and exterior massing to lay the groundwork for your design.

  • Preliminary Pricing

Using the Conceptual Design to create a first estimate of the construction costs and remaining soft costs. Based on costs per square foot, using cost ranges from recent projects. Here we create and help you plan for your all-in project budget.

  • Schematic Design

Drafting and modeling the approved hand sketches prepared during the Conceptual Design phase, and consulting structural engineers if needed.

  • Design Development

Developing project documentation needed to coordinate with engineers, submit basic plans to the Department of Building and Safety, and secure your permit approval.

  • Construction Documents

Creating drawings the construction team can use as official references for your design plan.

Architectural Fixed Fees by Construction Cost

At Letter Four, our fees are not based solely on the cost of constructing your project. That said, many firms do use this pricing method, and it can be helpful to see fees broken down this way. We’ve provided an example for your reference below.

  • $350,000 – $500,000: 15% -20%
  • $500,000 – $1 million: 9% – 15%
  • $1 million – $2.5 million: 6% – 9%
  • $2.5 million+: 5% -6%

3. Hourly Fee Services

At Letter Four, we bill on an hourly basis for a number of services, in addition to the fixed fee services listed above. Costs can be greatly affected by the scope of your project, as well as your own decisiveness and clarity of vision. However, you can generally expect these costs to make up between 5% and 15% of total construction costs.

  • Interior Design (Finish and Fixture Selections)

Selecting and presenting finishes and fixtures for your review and approval. Quantities and budgets are prepared and monitored closely. We also place all orders to pass on our discounted material rates to you.

  • Landscape Design

(Mixed with fixed fees) Planning landscape features such as plantings, hardscapes, lighting, and irrigation. Our in-house landscape design service ensures cohesion with your architectural plans and City requirements. 

  • Building Permitting

Submitting required documents and liaising with local agencies to secure the permits and approvals needed for your project. 

  • Construction Administration

Collaborating with the construction team by our architectural staff to guarantee accurate implementation of your design. 

4. City Fees

Plan Check and Permit Fees are the two main city fees that affect most projects. They generally amount to 1.5% to 2% of your project's total construction cost.

In addition to these, your project’s city fees may include fees for special approvals and clearances. Clearance fees are necessary for reviews conducted by the Fire Department, Bureau of Engineering, Storm Water, and other departments. The good news is that, despite the number of agencies involved, these clearances typically make up only a small proportion of your total city fee costs.

Another welcome development came in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: many cities have shifted to online payment methods, allowing you to pay fees directly without any additional markups. This change can make a big difference in terms of convenience and cost savings for your project.

Examples of Total Architecture Fees by Project Type

New Construction Project - Est. Construction Cost: $1.2 million

Completely new construction of a high-end, 3,000 square foot, 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom home on a flat lot. The client works full-time, therefore they can’t often stop by showrooms or visit the site as the build progresses. Our full scope of services is required, including finish and fixture selections, permitting, construction administration, and landscape design.

Architectural Cost Breakdown

Consultant Costs: $19,000 +/-

Fixed Fees: 8% $90,000

City Fees: 1.5% $15,000

Hourly Services: 6% $60,000


Total: $184,000 (~15% of construction costs)

Second Story Addition - Estimated Construction Cost: $850,000

Addition of a primary suite, as well as two additional bedrooms and a “Jack and Jill” bathroom. The existing home is located on a hillside lot. Client has a clear vision for their project, and is therefore confident in their ability to select fixtures and finishes for the project. Despite this, the hillside location of the property introduces work complexities and additional costs.

Architectural Cost Breakdown

Consultant Costs: $29,000 +/-

Fixed Fees: 9% $68,000

City Fees: $17,000

Hourly Services: 5% $42,500


Total: $173,500 (~20% of construction costs)

Major Remodel - Estimated Construction Cost: $350,000

A 2,000 square foot home, with no new square footage added. While this is a smaller project, the entire home is being gutted. Ceilings will be vaulted and the floorplan opened up, requiring structural engineering, framing, and foundation work. A professional couple who’d like help selecting finishes and fixtures for the project,  including their kitchen and two bathrooms.

Architectural Cost Breakdown

Consultant Costs: $13,500 +/-

Fixed Fees: 12% $42,000

City Fees: 2% $7,000

Hourly Services: 6% $21,000


Total: $82,500 (~23% of construction costs)

Letter Four Gives You Complete Cost Clarity

Our goal is always to provide transparent and comprehensive pricing information, making sure you know the investment required to build or remodel a home in California. We hope this post has given you useful insights for planning your big project.

As a Design-Build firm, we offer a streamlined process that minimizes all costs associated with your project. While our architectural services are available on a stand-alone basis, we believe that you get the best value by using our hybrid Design-Build method, where both our in-house architecture and construction teams can collaborate from the very beginning. This early cooperation enables us to more effectively forecast costs, as well as avoid extra work thanks to more efficient planning. In California’s market, the resulting savings and increased value are well worth it.

If you’d like to make the first strides on your project without committing to the full build, we highly recommend starting with one of our Project Action Plans. You’ll be able to choose the level of work you’re ready for, and get a clearer idea of what your project will entail. Contact us today to book a call and discuss your options!