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Last edited 22 Aug 2018
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.
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.
- Searchable directory of RIBA chartered UK practices.
- RIBA chartered members directory.
- RIBA client design advisers' directory.
- Local Architects Direct.
- Architects' Index.
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:
- Literature outlining the firm’s qualifications, expertise and any awards.
- Portfolio of works.
- Method statement as the how the work will be undertaken.
- Health and safety, quality and sustainability policies.
- Confirmation of professional indemnity insurance, public liability insurance and employer’s liability insurance.
- Use of computer aided design or building information modelling.
- Form of appointment.
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.
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.
 Find out more
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- Architect’s fees.
- Avoiding planning permission pitfalls.
- Building an extension.
- Consultant team.
- Finding good building contractors.
- Hiring an architect as a commercial client.
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- The architectural profession.
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