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House Extension - The Building Designer or Architect - What value?

Most people refer to this role as an 'Architect' which is usually incorrect. Most homeowners who employ a Design or Planning Agent refer to this as 'their architect' but Planning Records reveal some startling facts about just who are completing the majority of home extension designs - and its NOT the Architects.

Most home owners do not realise that the term 'Architect' is protected by a Royal Charter and their registration board has sole use of the term Architect (excluding navel or landscape architects).

The term architect has now become generic just like hoover did as an alternative name for vacuum cleaner. Council records reveal that over 80% of all applicants that use a Design Agent use some other building designer. These can range from the completely unqualified (the Plan drawers) to Chartered Technicians and Surveyors.

Many Building Designers offering services to the public may be academically unqualified but are very qualified by their knowledge & experience over many years and their repeat clients or recommended work load proves this point well.

Most TV programmes, professional journals, newspaper features & the dreaded Home Improvement magazines seem to promote the 'professional architect' as the only person able to provide you with a quality design worthy of your cash.

Others within the Building Design Industry would infer that the RIBA has become totally irrelevant to the domestic residential development field & perhaps the Planning and Building Regulations records confirm this as a possible fact.

However, this does assume that the 80% of non architects are already doing a great job for their clients and, if not, what added skills do the 'proper' architects bring to the table that would improve the situation?

So, the question is who should you be approaching as your preferred Building Design Agent in order to obtain a quality building that not only meets your needs but provides that added value within the design that you may not have considered in the first place.

Being a Chartered Architectural Technologist myself, I can actually see the arguments, benefits & constraints of all sides within the architectural building design world.

There are some great long term established 'plan drawers' out there providing bread and butter design services to the general public at great value and most will obtain your Planning & Building Regulation Consents for you. Some may offer specification & contractual services rather than leaving you to your own devices with the builder.

Conversely, there are some awful Architects out there who I wouldn't trust to design me a porch let alone a £200k home extension. Thankfully these are few and far between and are mostly ex PAYE commercial or industrial architects now trying their hand at the residential field after being made redundant during the normal economical cycles. They seem to forget that the residential design world is not the scummy end of their profession but possibly more complicated and intricate than the commercial / industrial fields. Most 'true' architects experienced and trained for the residential market are very good but often expensive for low level residential development.

The middle ground is often taken up by the likes of chartered architectural Technologists or Technicians, Chartered Surveyors, Chartered structural Engineers & Chartered Builders. Each profession brings their own unique perspective and influence to residential building design and many home owners find the natural and instinctive practical & pragmatic approach offered by these professions preferable to the more riskier, costly and flamboyant design styles of the Chartered Architects.

Most home owners seem to secure their Building Design Agent by recommendation or word of mouth which is very much influenced upon the social circles & networks you are already within. This is often a very good start as you may already have an idea of what to expect for your money. Some home owners moving into a new area for example rely on interviewing advertised architectural services which may not always secure the best value or level of professional service suited to your scheme.

Here are my 'golden tips' for selecting your Building design Agent relative to your budget, experience & risk.

The design services alone in securing Planning permission & Building regulations Consents you should be budgeting around 6% plus costs and fee of your budgeted contract build spend. This should include final documents suitable for obtaining fixed priced quotes from your builders for all the works required - if it does not walk away. This does not include post approval services.

'Plan Drawers' with no professional qualification should be avoided unless they have a proven track record of at least 10 years experience.

  • Anyone just offering enough design detail to secure planning and Building regulations approval should be avoided unless you have a good understanding of building construction yourself to complete the missing areas within the contract documents to engage your builder. 
  • Interview all of them on site. Are they proactive, in offering advice, options and assessing the merits and constraints of your scheme through the Council vetting & approval processes. Avoid anyone that simply goes with your own thoughts unchallenged. Conversely, are they listening to your requirements? are they verbally molding the clay to what you trying to establish. 
  • They must provide a written fee estimate for every stage of the design process and on what basis that is to be established (hourly rate or percentage fee). This must include all costs and fee estimates including any ancillary services that may be required (structural engineer, SAP heat loss assessor etc). 
  • Go and see your preferred Building Designers office. Many work from home which is very acceptable and efficient. Some have small teams & dedicated commercial offices for a multi discipline in house approach. 
  • Go and telephone two previous clients of theirs within the last two years and chat candidly. Get a feel for the quality of the information they prepared for the client and builder, was there any excessive and costly extras, did the Design Agent offer advise and help during the build if required - etc. - its all common sense stuff. 
  • Obtain a design programme for the works. You would be amazed at the amount of homeowners who are left for months before the next design stage is issued to the client for their approval. 
  • Agree terms in writing. Some Design agents require a small deposit to secure their services which are often the more successful or busier Design Teams. Never pay more than 20% deposit if you need to. 

 
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