You've decided to pull the trigger!...er, now what?
Step No. 1 - Get Your Ducks in a Row
Before you can have a productive conversation with an Architect or Contractor, you should start thinking about Scope (what you want to do), Timeline (when you're hoping it can be done), and Budget (how much you have to do it). The more you've thought about things, the more information you will get out of your first meeting. While you're completing this step, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. When developing your Scope and Timeline, try to develop them as frameworks that can flex as you move through the design and construction process. They will invariably change over the course of your experience. Understanding that at the beginning can save anxiety and set you up for a much more enjoyable process. Unlike your Scope and Timeline, you probably will not want your Budget to flex too much. For this reason, once you identify your ceiling, bring that number down 5-10%, if possible, before you speak with anyone. This will build into to your project a contingency, a nice safety net. Safety nets are priceless: they will keep your peace of mind.
One more duck to consider would be a list of questions. When you do interview your first professional (whether it be an Architect or Contractor), use that time to get many of your questions answered. They may shy away from speaking specifically about your project (for liability reasons, and to safeguard the milk before the cow is sold, in a matter of speaking), but they should be happy to answer general questions about the design/construction process in general, and how they operate.
Step No. 2 - Word of Mouth
You have friends, colleagues, family, classmates...no matter how intimate or expansive your personal community network, it's worth reaching out to them to see if anyone has gone through a new build or remodel experience. Even if your contacts have not, chances are someone knows someone who has. The reason this is important is word of mouth can be invaluable. This can be a very good way to find references for professionals and learn more about the design and construction process from a homeowner's perspective.
Step No. 3 - Pictures!
Speaking as a designer, trying to get on the same page in terms of style can be a challenge. One person's French Country may be another's Transitional Colonial. Pictures can be a great way to save confusion and streamline the early communication process. Clippings from magazines, photos you take of homes you've seen and/or downloads from the internet can all be extremely helpful! If you're not loyal to magazine clippings and don't have an internet phobia (doubtful if you're reading this), we'd highly recommend using Houzz.com. Their database of architectural photos is easy to navigate. And if you register, you are able to create an account you can save your favorite photos and then share with anyone, including your Architect.
Now, go find your team!