"What's your budget?" Alternatives: How To Talk About Money With Architecture Clients

January 29, 2023

Tyler Suomala

Founder of Growthitect

Unpopular opinion: My least favorite question to ask a prospective client is “What’s your budget?”

Not only is it a poor question in and of itself, but it brings with it too many assumptions.

What do I mean?

For example, it assumes that your client:

  • Has familiarity with construction costs and processes.

  • Understands the value of architectural services.

  • Is aware of current market trends.

And it’s rare to come across a client with all three.

So when you ask “What’s your budget” guess what happens? They give you a low number that reflects unrealistic expectations. And then every discussion of fee thereafter is anchored to an unrealistic number. That’s not a great start.

So what should you do instead?

Listen, you definitely want to get a sense for their budget. I don’t disagree with that. But you also need to understand the context and feelings surrounding that budget. For example, is it based on:

  • Something they read online?

  • A conversation with a friend that worked with an architect two decades ago?

  • The size of the loan they’ve been approved for?

  • Calculations that they’ve done to guarantee an ROI?

The context allows you to respond properly and educate when necessary. It also gives you a peek into the decision-making process of your client which, as we all know, is nice to see prior to signing a contract.

Here’s 3 different ways to ask about budget:

01 // The Investment

"What are you planning to invest into this project?"

Why does this work?

  • You’re using “investment” instead of “budget” to begin framing the project itself as a transformation with an endpoint that will benefit the client.

  • It’s open-ended enough to think beyond the architecture fee. The client will likely begin talking about the entire project costs, which is great because your fee is small relative to the total investment.

02 // The Consideration

"Have you considered how much this will cost?"

Why does this work?

  • It’s entirely open-ended, which will encourage your client to give a longer response. (And that’s a good thing because…)

  • Context! Context! Context! It’s nearly impossible for your client to answer this question without addressing what lead them to a particular number or range.

03 // The Range

"Our fees for projects like this typically range between $X and $Y, are you comfortable with that?"

Why does this work?

  • It’s counter-intuitive. Usually we’re told that we don’t want to be the first to bring up a number. But there are certainly moments when you want to clarify that it’s worth your time to continue forward in the process. I find this particularly useful with lower fee projects and clients.

  • “Comfortable” is an empathetic term that will help you observe their raw response to a realistic fee.


“What’s your budget?” is a terrible question to ask a prospective client. It usually leads to an unrealistic anchor.

Instead, use questions that will provide you with more context and understanding.

  1. What are you planning to invest into this project?

  2. Have you considered how much this will cost?

  3. Our fee for projects like this typically range between $X and $Y, are you comfortable with that?

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