If you are thinking of renovating, altering or adding on to an existing home, I say you can't afford not to use an Architect. Not just because I am one, but because our firm gets called in all the time to fix the projects that were done without one or with an unqualified one.
What is qualified? If you are working on your home, qualify that the Architect's experience is in residential work. The American Institute of Architects can also assist in matching you with an Architect in your area. A family member or friend that works for a "Big Time, Big Building firm" typically does not understand the scale, the details required or the zoning to do residential work and while the fees may seem like a deal...you will always get what you pay for.
Your home is quite possibly one of your most valuable assets. A good Architect is the insurance you need to protect the integrity of that investment. A good Architect creates straight forward, sophisticated solution to complex problems. The solutions can add value and can reduce project costs in excess of the entire fee. At Clawson Architects, many of our clients have realized a return on their investment that yielded far more than our fees.
As one client put it, "By simply suggesting that we relocate our front door to the other side of the house, Clawson Architects saved me $150,000...the cost of constructing an addition and the associated taxes and utilities on a larger home."
In other situations, our clients have realized a cost savings far greater than our fees just in the cost of a competitive bid based on quality, well defined details in our drawings/construction documents and our knowledge of the construction of their home. So, when your friends and builders say you don't need an Architect to renovate your home, my guess is that they have never worked with a Licensed Architect or at least not a good one.