How do I find an architect?
All architects are not the same. Getting the right one can ensure the success of your project, and getting it wrong can be expensive and painful.
Where do I find an architect?
- Ask friends, family or neighbours who have had work done if they would recommend their architect. Nothing beats a personal recommendation
- Online databases – everyone practising as an architect in the UK must by law be registered with the Architects Registration Board, which imposes certain basic standards on architects.
- In order to be registered with the ARB an architect will have had extensive training and will need professional indemnity insurance – which will provide a pot of money in case they are required to give compensation if things go wrong
- There is then the Royal Institute of British Architects, their voluntary trade association, and whose members can call themselves chartered architects. They can also form a chartered practice which means they are subject to random checks.
- Look out for architects putting their signs outside houses they are working on
- Be aware of titles – architecture consultant, architectural designer or technician are not architects
How do I choose an architect?
- Draw up a short list of architects in your area
- Give them a brief of the work you want done, a rough budget and ask them if it is the sort of work they do, and whether they are available to do it (the good architects are often the least available). The clearer and more precise your brief is for the architect, the less likely you are to be disappointed by the outcome
- Aim to meet at least three of them at your home to discuss the project in depth
- Ask to see their portfolio, visit their website, even visit other houses they have done – and ask to speak to past clients (if they say no, ask why!)
- Make sure you like their style – different architects’ work have different feels.
- How is the personal chemistry – do you feel confident you can work well with the architect?
- Ask them directly about their fees, as different architects charge not just different amounts, but in different ways – they can charge by the hour, a flat fee (usually for smaller jobs), and as a percentage of the total build costs (usually for larger jobs); with a payment upfront (30%) to cover initial design work. They might give a vague estimate about expected costs, which you should push them on
- Find out what their level of involvement will be. How much detailing will they do? For example, will they establish where the walls will be but not the thickness or detailing like where the electrical sockets will be located?
- When comparing your quotes, compare like for like – fees compared to level of service that will be provided.
What sort of architect do you want?
As well as experience and interest in your sort of project, you need to think what else you want from your architect:
- if you are looking for inspiration to make the most of your space, get an architect who is strong on creativity
- if you have a strong idea of what you want, get an architect who has an eye for detail and is good at getting things done
- if you foresee problems with planning permission or building control, get an architect who is familiar with local planning policy and attitudes in your local authority, and has a track record of successful applications
- if you live in a listed building, get an architect with experience of them
- if you want a modern look, don’t go for an architect who is more traditional
- if you are worried about the budget, get an architect who is strong on managing costs and doesn’t keep trying to push expensive extras on you
What do you want your architect to do for you?
You also need to decide what level of service you want from the architects. The broad range is:
- broad creative designs which help determine the budget and get planning permission (normally charged at an hourly rate)
- full detailed architectural plans (usually charged at a percentage rate of projected budget)
- over-seeing the entire construction process until completion, including tendering for a builder (normally charged at a higher percentage of actual budget) and administering the contract. If you want your architect to keep a close eye on your building work, they should ideally live relatively nearby and so be able to visit the site regularly (every day or two is not unreasonable).
- They generally don’t project manage the work – coordinate the subcontractors – kitchen fitter, electricians, etc – that is for the builder you end up employing.
Instructing your architect
- Once you have decided which architect you want, you need to instruct them.
- In a meeting you will need to be absolutely clear with them about what work you want them to do, timings and budget, the payment schedule and any penalties for missing them.
- The architect should then send you a detailed appointment letter. This might run to four or more pages, depending on the amount of work you want. It should include:
- A detailed breakdown of the work
- Preliminary budget estimates
- A preliminary programme of work – what will happen when
- Details of fees and payment schedules
- Details of what will be claimable on expenses and costs involved
- Whether you will need planning permission, and what their services will be in this respect
- Whether their services will include submission of information necessary to meet building regulations
- Whether or not you will be affected by the party wall act
- The extent of their professional indemnity insurance
- With this letter the architect should also enclose a detailed contract setting out terms and a tick box list of services.
If the architect is a RIBA member these will be called “Conditions of Appointment for an Architect for a domestic project” and “Small Project Services schedule”, respectively. Check carefully and ask questions before signing it.