Who may legally design (and build) a house in 50 states? Just the Facts

Services for Real Estate Pros with John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc.


Like real estate agents, who offer a great deal of service to identify, price, market and sell houses but aren't legally necessary, architects do not need to be commissioned to design a single family dwelling.  No, no one licensed is required by law to design a house.  If you would rather do it yourself, it is completely legal.

If you can design a house and create the minimum drawings required by the local building department (with structural engineering and any other consultants required in your area) to qualify for a building permit, you do not have to pay anyone else to do it.  You can also build the house yourself, without a license in nearly all jurisdictions, as long as you meet the periodic inspections and get a Certificate of Occupancy.

All of this is possible only IF you are the owner of the property.

The powers that be have decided, many years ago, that the process of designing and building one's primary shelter, a house, should not legally involve professional services of any kind.

An exception to this is typically found only in gated communities for some reason, although I think it could be challenged in court.  My guess is that when you write a purchase contract for a lot in an exclusive enclave you are also agreeing to the design covenants which stipulate an architect must be involved.  And a licensed contractor.

Many states do not require licensed architects or builders in order to design and build single-family dwellings.

Architects MUST be engaged for any other public structure such as a restaurant, office building, commercial retail center, fire station, etc.  And typically only a licensed contractor is allowed to build a public structure.

(I am not an attorney, and there may be exceptions to the statements above.)

Let's say creating a set of construction drawings is not your forte but you'd like to save as much money as possible on the construction.  From sufficient basic drawings, you can pull your own permits, find subs to bid the various parts, and oversee the construction.  You could hire a construction manager to assist for example. 

Why engage an architect or other 'designer' to create the drawings?
A draftsperson working for an architect or builder will know exactly what to include on the Permit Set and can take a rough sketch to finished drawings.  You could develop a schematic plan with a consumer CAD program like the one described in this recent blog.  The draftsperson can point out any discrepancies and rework it for you.

What does an architect have to offer vs. a person trained by experience but has no formal education?

Architects must have a 5-year minimum degree to qualify for licensing.  During those five years they learn how to draw conceptually and to scale, how to analyze space, how to put together complex spaces in a logical pattern for living, how to interpret difficult client programs into a workable and buildable project, how to work with legal contracts, to understand environmental systems, to understand and calculate structural systems, to be aware of current technologies and applications, to have studied the history of building through the ages and identify stylistic and technological periods with their merits. 

University students might design ONE house in those 5 years.  They are prepared to design commercial structures for public use: large multifamily complexes, entire mixed-use areas that combine single and multifamily housing, restaurants, and office buildings into one complex.

Upon receiving their Bachelor Degree (5 years) they are qualified to take a licensing exam, after spending one to two years as an 'apprentice' documenting their work.

If they pass, they can call themselves an 'architect'.  No other person may use the word architect unless they have qualified for a license by passing this two-day exam and having graduated from an accredited university.

During these approximately 7 years of preparation, others who have wanted to design houses but sought no formal education have spent the same amount of time working for builders, other non-licensed firms, or architects learning the basic drawings for construction.  These people have had no other formal background.  They may interact with clients and under the tutelage of a knowledgeable professional may develop the skills to create very good houses.

So an architect just out of school and recently licensed probably cannot design houses as easily and correctly as his or her alternate who has spent the same amount of time working directly and solely in the home design business.

In the last 10 years or so, the unlicensed group has formed one or two associations that administer a test of their own to qualify as a 'professional' with proper knowledge in the design of houses.  One such organization is the A.I.B.D.   This is the American Institute of Building Designers.  Their professional counterpart is the A.I.A. or American Institute of Architects.  The A.I.A. in association with other academic organizations and manufacturers mandate Continuing Education courses, represent all members nationally and engage political groups and other organizations in order to improve their membership and qualifications.  

If you engage the services of others to design your home, credentials are important.  But their qualifications and success are based on years of experience in this house specialty.  Look for the bright stars if you undergo this route.

NOTE: I am not an attorney!  Please check your local codes and governing bodies to check the information presented above.

 All photos and drawings by John Henry Architect

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JOHN HENRY ARCHITECT  Orlando Florida Custom Home Designs

Beautiful European and American classical period luxury homes and plans created by premier residential Architect John Henry has been a passion now for over 30 years.  Inspired by old world archaeology and medieval to Renaissance architecture -- and having lived in Europe and the Middle East-- John Henry is widely known for the romantic and period details that make his work breathe a certain soul and drama. Striving for world-class results, his award-winning work reflects the details and proportions of luxury real estate plans in historical European and American traditional styles. Attention to detail and continuity mean that the architectural interiors should also be integrated properly.

Portfolio of Luxury Homes: https://www.dreamhomedesignusa.com/


Office on 7491 Conroy Road Orlando, Florida  32835

Tel: 407.421.6647

Email: johnhenryarchitect@gmail.com

YouTube Videos:    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3c7Jnh5ggwNw0f3fME1joA

Free Home Planning Questionnaire, inquire here.



Re-Blogged 3 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Barbara Todaro 09/30/2018 05:57 AM
  2. Fred Griffin presently on Leave of Absence 09/30/2018 06:13 PM
  3. Joyce Marsh 10/08/2018 06:45 AM
ActiveRain Community
who qualifies to design single family houses
architects and non licensing house designers
the difference between an architect and a building designer

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John Henry
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello Barbara Todaro, yes a person with hands-on experience and the local  building code can design and build without a license.  In states that require no licensing for either in regards to housing you can start your own business and build for anyone.

It can be a daunting experience designing or building for the first time.  Good example Barbara, thanks!


Sep 30, 2018 06:05 AM #2
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning John. I really learned a lot with reading this. Good experience and a lot of specifics make it happen.

Sep 30, 2018 06:38 AM #3
Ron and Alexandra Seigel
Napa Consultants - Carpinteria, CA
Luxury Real Estate Branding, Marketing & Strategy


Great article explaining the pros nd the cons of who to hire to buid a house.  We have had the good fortune of working with many wonderful architects, and although changes were made to their initial presentations, it was always a joy to see the creativity. A

Sep 30, 2018 06:39 AM #4
William Feela
Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No.

Soome states are easier to build in but tha doesn't make the homes better constructed.

Sep 30, 2018 07:00 AM #5
John Henry
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Yes William, correct.  There are minimum code requirements for every aspect of home construction.

Sep 30, 2018 07:18 AM #6
Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224

Hi John- my uncle graduated from Rice and was an architect. He primarily worked on commercial buildings. I would think that what separates architects would be the creativity and imagination that a given architect has. This person may see form and function but doesn't forget about that 3rd hard to describe layer, 

Sep 30, 2018 03:56 PM #7
John Henry
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello Kathy, yes I was considering Rice for school too.  Commercial buildings are what the universities prepare you for.  Creativity and imagination are things you develop over time.  Thank you!

Sep 30, 2018 04:45 PM #8
Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224


                                       Thank you, John. 

Oct 06, 2018 05:27 PM #9
Matthew Klinowski, PA
Downing-Frye - Naples, FL
Golf Community Real Estate Specialist

Hi John, thank you for the very thorough post which was helpful.  Knowing the local codes is critical no matter which option you chose.  I know in our area you can put your own plans together however, you still need an engineer firm to sign off on the plans.  Have a great day.

Oct 07, 2018 04:51 AM #10
John Henry
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello Matthew, yes, a structural engineer MUST seal or sign off on any construction, even a remodeling that has a structural change.  I imagine that most of the golf communities down in Naples have design covenants that require an architect's set of plans.  Thank you.

Oct 07, 2018 05:15 AM #11
Jeff Dowler, CRS
Solutions Real Estate - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Hi John

Wow, thanks for the great education here. I had no idea.


Oct 07, 2018 02:03 PM #12
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

John, I missed this post if it was not for our friend Kathy Streib  featuring you. I have been to homes that "the owner designed" no need for an architect attitude.... next to the kitchen was the Gym, on the second level. Next to the garage was the Movie Room and the maids quarters were facing the back yard...anyway you get the idea... YES not having  advice he built it on his own... was it the best layout? NO Not really, Endre

Oct 07, 2018 11:22 PM #13
Natalie Norris
Fetch A Geek - Orlando, FL
Real Estate Marketing & Consulting

Thank you for sharing John Henry ! I often love to draw, but would never think I could use my own drawings to build a home! My husband and I are currently building a tiny home on wheels and we are using my drawings for the interior design and layout, as the space is already defined by an existing structure. 

Oct 08, 2018 07:49 AM #14
John Henry
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hi Natalie, you can pick up that cad program I mention and never have to erase again!  Hope to see you one of these days around O town.

Oct 08, 2018 07:59 AM #15
Sharon Tara
Sharon Tara Transformations - Portsmouth, NH
New Hampshire Home Stager

I had no idea. Very interesting. I guess it really boils down to the fact that it has to meet all state requirements when it's done. Works for me.

Personally I would hire someone, but my husband would be very happy building himself.

Oct 08, 2018 02:48 PM #16
Margaret Mitchell
Coldwell Banker Yorke Realty - York, ME
Seacoast Maine & NH Real Estate

What an interesting post.  In Maine, builders are not licensed! My husband is a builder.  We have someone locally who does all of our house plans.  They give us a lot of detail, including very detailed framing plans.  We can then price the house.

We get a lot of out of state owners who show us a pretty sketch, or better yet a floor plan out of a book, and are indignant when we say we can't really price off of that.  A great plan, even if expensive, will save you money in the long run!

Oct 08, 2018 05:48 PM #17
Tammy Lankford,
Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668 - Eatonton, GA
Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville

I designed my office and had a draftsman draw the plans that were acceptable to the county. 

Oct 08, 2018 08:50 PM #18
Tom Bailey
Margaret Rudd & Associates Inc. - Oak Island, NC

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should! There are people like Barbara #1 mentioned, but for the most part designing your home should be left for professionals 

Oct 09, 2018 04:39 AM #19
Jan Green
Value Added Service, 602-620-2699 - Scottsdale, AZ
HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN

Great information!  I know several architects and some that work specifically in sustainable design.  I had wondered about credentials and their value. Now I see credentials and length of work combined might be the be all end all, second being length of work as I see it.  Thank you!

Oct 10, 2018 07:39 PM #20
John Wiley
Right Move Real Estate Group- EXP Realty - Fort Myers, FL
Lee County, FL, ECO Broker, GRI, SRES,GREEN,PSA

This is helpful information. I tried to answer the title question before reading and was pleased that I had the correct answer.

I am glad you pointed out that each municipality has their codes and require inspections. So the design and building of the home needs to comply to local code.

Oct 15, 2018 01:09 PM #21
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