Architects as Realtors

A rchitects are generalists; we orchestrate projects as a whole, consulting with other professionals in areas outside our realm. In today’s challenging economy, residential architects are reaching beyond traditional architectural roles. We more often are becoming the consultant as a means to an end and to supplement our income. We are adopting skills and widening our focus beyond purely architectural design.

In the past few months, I have run across several architects who have chosen to obtain their Realtor licenses, offering real estate services in their own practices and via the web. This seems like a natural extension of our area of knowledge.

As architects, we frequently consult with clients/owners, and their real estate agents regarding home sites before they buy. We provide our professional opinion regarding the property’s attributes and potential for improvements, either as a courtesy or at a nominal fee. We do so in expectation of being hired for design and project administration after closing. Many of us credit the consultation fee as an incentive to get the job.

We also consult with clients regarding the remodeling potential of a resale home, again at the referral of a real estate agent, again at a nominal fee and again aspiring to be hired for design and project administration. We’re very good at what we do. In relatively short order, we identify existing design conditions such as structural and mechanical issues. We visualize the property’s transformation into a charming bungalow with open flow plan, expanded kitchen and baths and well-placed outdoor components and landscaping. We act as a home inspector, pointing out potential foundation concerns or signs of plumbing or heating problems. Generally, we advise whether the property is a reasonable fixer-upper or a bottomless money pit.

Interestingly in each of these scenarios, the architect is applying his expertise in the area of real estate. While the real estate agent earns a substantial commission and the client realizes a potentially significant equity gain, the architect/expert earns a somewhat nominal consulting fee, if any.

The question begs to be asked, “Why aren’t you a licensed real estate agent?” And, “How can you apply your expertise about real estate to better advantage [i.e. more lucrative]?”

As an agent, you’ll have the opportunity to earn your client’s trust and develop a relationship before the project really begins. Being a Realtor with an architectural background will set you apart as the expert offering the best possible representation.

If you already provide this kind of real estate consultation (and most of us are), it only makes sense to obtain your real estate license; some of your AIA continuing education classes may apply in some states. It will require additional commitment as well as annual fees to associations and listing services. The time will be well invested and the ancillary knowledge you will gain will be useful.

You can offer real estate services to your clients as broadly or as limited as you want to. You can also dedicate your knowledge and tools toward growing your own wealth by researching the market and investing in a property to remodel and sell. In the book, “The Ten Roads to Riches: The Ways the Wealthy Got There (And How You Can Too!),” Forbes columnist and money manager Ken Fisher identifies investing in real estate as one of the most effective vehicles leading to potential wealth.

Buying investment property will, of course, require a higher level of investment upfront (cash), both for a down payment and for cost of improvements, and may not be suitable for your current situation. Lenders are requiring more equity upfront and financing requirements are more stringent. But if you know the market and possess the tools to make it happen, you’ll be much better positioned to make it happen.

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