Last edited 19 Nov 2020

Hiring an architect as a domestic client

The process of designing and building a project as a domestic client is often an expensive and time-intensive undertaking. Most projects, unless they are very simple, will benefit from the hiring a professional such as an architect, or at the least, consulting one before starting.

The term ‘architect’ is protected by the Architects Act 1997. Only qualified individuals that are registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) can offer their services as architects. However, the same services can be provided by people that are not architects as long as they do not claim to be architects. Architects may also be a member of the RIBA, but this is not necessary.

Architects working on domestic projects will usually offer one-off consultations for a small fee. This can be useful for clients in terms of working out how to get the most out of the project, as well as obtaining expert advice on design, planning, construction, and so on. Architects can also provide advice to clients relating to optimising capital construction cost and minimising the cost in use, and so on. If planning permission or building regulations approvals are required for the building work, an architect can be useful helping prepare application drawings and other paperwork.

Generally, a client will prepare some sort of outline brief and budget for the project before entering into discussions with an architect or other professional.

Many domestic clients appoint architects based on an existing relationship, a recommendation, or because they have seen work done by the architect elsewhere. However, it can be advantageous to adopt a more rigorous process, assessing their relevant expertise, their contacts with local authority town planners, track record of approvals, and so on.

Search engines are available from the RIBA and others to help find appropriate architects:

It is recommended that clients follow up references with previous clients, asking questions about the architect’s attention to detail, their responsiveness to change, their effectiveness at budget management, ability to deal with problems, how closely they stuck to the budget, and so on. Clients may ask for the following as a means of helping them create a shortlist of preferred architects:

There should be detailed interviews prior to selection, to assess how well the architect will get on withe the client, how they will approach the project, preliminary design ideas, and so on.

Once the preferred architect has been chosen, the scope and cost of architectural services should be discussed before starting the project, with the agreement made in writing. For small domestic projects, this agreement may be set out in a self-contained letter of appointment, or may be a more formal contract such as the RIBA standard agreement.

It is very important that the exact scope of services required is agreed in advance, as some services, such as, applying for outline planning permission: See Architect's fees for more information.

If the client is a married couple or joint residential occupiers, one person will generally be listed as the representative with full authority to act on both their behalf.

Fees charged by architects vary very significantly, and since the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) abolished their indicative fee scales, there is very little benchmarking information freely available. Generally speaking, large new build projects attract much lower percentage fees than small works to existing buildings, commercial work attracts lower fees than private residential work, works to historic or listed buildings attract higher fees still, and so on.

For more information, see Architect’s fees.

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