How do architects charge for their work?
Most architects will set out their fee proposal with sign-off and payment stages. Fees are charged either on a “lump sum”, “percentage” or “time charge” basis:
Lump sum: when the work that the architect has to do is straightforward and the client requires certainty then a lump sum fee may be offered. This is most likely for very small projects and limited appointments or for a preliminary stage of work: for instance a home extension where the architect is initially only being asked to make an application for Town Planning permission.
Percentage fees: in this case the fee offered is calculated as a percentage of the estimated cost of the work to be carried out on site. This figure is adjusted as the project progresses and a more definitive cost for the work becomes available. It offers both client and architect the assurance that the fee will reflect the scope and size of the project. Percentages vary depending on the size and complexity of the project. Generally percentage fees are higher on smaller projects where there is little opportunity for economies of scale. Works to existing buildings also accrue higher percentages due to the need for investigating and understanding the existing construction and more complex survey work.
Time charge fees: Fees are usually charged on a time basis for services other than the normal service or at the beginning of projects when the architect is asked to explore different possibilities, look at alternative sites, study feasibility or draw up a complex brief. In this case the architect will submit time sheets and charge for the hours he or she works.
Whichever of the above methods of charging fees is adopted, the architect of may require regular payments, say monthly, which will include agreed interim payments as well as stage completion payments. This is especially important on larger jobs where the architect will be committed to expenditures on staff etc.
Sometimes an architect will commence work on a project on the basis of a lump sum or time charges and his fee will be converted to a percentage fee once the basic parameters of the project have been sufficiently mapped out to establish a reliable budget.
How can I gauge progress with my project?
For all projects an architect should be expected to set out his or her fee on the basis of work stages. Work stages are based on clearly identifiable “deliverables” such as a preliminary design, a town planning application, a full scheme design, a set of working drawings for construction etc. Recommended stages are set out formally in what is called the architect’s Plan of Work and there is a generally recognised apportionment of the full percentage fee to each of these work stages.
The acknowledgement of the passing and signing off of these work stages allows both client and architect to gauge progress of the project. On large projects it is a good idea to gauge how much of a given work stage has been completed at any given time as well and this may be estimated and reported at regular intervals to gauge progress.
What expertise and value do architects bring to a project?
An architect will be your personal consultant working with you to ensure that your specific concerns, requirements, rights, obligations and liabilities are fully addressed. It is important, therefore, that you make clear your views and priorities in all aspects of the project as far as you are able. Your architect will also act as a disinterested adviser when procuring contracting services or building products.
Architects are trained to balance complex interacting issues to reach the best possible solutions that overriding constraints will allow. In design work they will take into account functionality, practicality, sustainability, aesthetics, cost and legal constraints as the design work is progressed, aiming always to fully address the client’s brief with excellence of design, prudence and service. To arrive at a good design solution on some projects it is worth exploring different possibilities in a preliminary way and evaluating their costs, risks and benefits.
How do I find and choose the right architect?
Choosing the right architect is is often tied up with a client’s concern that they will achieve a design that will suit them. As explained in the section ‘How do I know that I will get a design that I like?’, though all architects offer a generally similar kind of service, there are many different kinds of architect with different skills, persuasions and concerns. Location, sector experience, size of project, type of service, size of practice are all things which should be taken into account when choosing an architect.
You can short-list architects from the ACA Directory on the basis of their “practice descriptions” and the projects they have carried out. It is very important to have seen examples of their work. Talk to more than one architect about the things that are important to you. It’s going to be a long-standing relationship, so try to think how you will get on over the anticipated life of the project, during which there may be difficulties unforeseen at the outset to grapple with.
Personality and demeanour as well as skills and experience are often important, as is the enthusiasm the potential architect displays about your project. Gut feeling is always important too.
When dealing with a practice that has more than one partner and may also rely quite heavily on senior staff, it is important to know who will be your point of contact throughout the project. In some cases, it may be appropriate to have access to different personnel for different levels of contact or concern. While most projects will run smoothly most of the time, practices should have in place a complaints procedure.
How do I employ an architect?
Having completed a selection process appropriate you your needs and the size of your project and having decided who you would like to work with you need to put in place some kind of contract between you and your architect which sets out what both parties are to do. While you will expect your architect to provide a professional service, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the client also has obligations. Architects will usually put a proposal to a potential client that includes a fee proposition and an appointment document. The ACA publishes a Standard Form of Agreement for employing an architect (ACA SFA 2012) and we would recommend this document as a sound basis for any building project.
The ACA SFA sets out the services that the architect will provide, which can be amended and adapted to suit the project in hand and the scope of work you wish the architect to carry out. The appointment will include the fee basis for these services. It is sometimes acceptable to start the project on the basis of an exchange of letters, but this should always anticipate progressing to a more formal appointment at the stage when the scope of work for the architect is sufficiently understood.
There is a misconception that architects snatch designs from thin air with little effort. This is not the case and therefore you should not expect an architect to work, even on the most preliminary design, without agreed remuneration. An architect deploys his or her most valuable skills at the beginning of a project when experience and hard-won skills are brought to bear in an intuitive way.
What can I do if things go wrong?
Be honest with your architect if you are not happy with the way things are progressing with your project. In the first event, take time to try to discuss your concerns or misgivings with him or her directly. Architects are keen to provide the best service possible and it may be that the problem you see can be resolved through discussion or negotiation.
If discussion doesn’t resolve the matter, you may need to adopt a mediation procedure. This requires that both of you and your architect agree to jointly appoint a mediator to resolve what is effectively a dispute or complaint. If your architect is a member of the ACA, we offer a conciliation service to resolve your disagreement fairly and impartially if one of our contracts has been used. Other bodies, such as the RIBA also offer mediation services. If you and your architect agree to mediate and jointly agree the person who is to act for you, then you are obliged to abide by the mediator’s decision.
All architects (Including all ACA members) have to be registered with the Architects Registration Board and must comply with its code of conduct. If you believe you have a serious problem with your architect, that he or she is falling short of your expectations of competence, or is acting negligently in some way, then you should contact the Architects Registration Board (ARB). Please refer to the ARB website http://www.arb.org.uk/concerns-about-an-architect for an indication of what they can do.
ARB does not mediate or adjudicate, but will give an informed opinion of the legitimacy of the architects behaviour. The ARB Professional Conduct Committee is the disciplinary tribunal constituted under the Architects Act 1997 to hear allegations of unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence against architects. These are the two “offences” under which an architect can be found guilty. The Committee has the power to issue reprimands, levy fines, and suspend or erase an architect’s name from the Register. The full ARB code of Conduct can be downloaded from ARB code of conduct.
All registered architects should be registered with the Architects Registration Board. To check their registration, we suggest you visit: www.architects-register.org.uk
Architects and Architectural Derivatives
To help you understand the difference between architects, architectural technicians, architectural technologists and other classifications of design professionals, the ACA in collaboration with the ARB, CIAT and RIAS have produced an information leaflet which can be downloaded from here Consumer information leaflet DOWNLOAD version.