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An architect can make a valuable contribution to a home improvement project, whatever the size or scope might be. That said, hiring an architect is not mandatory, and for a smaller project you may wonder if the potential advantages of hiring an architect are worth the cost.

As with any Pro, it is important to collect several quotes to compare before hiring an architect. Talking with several potential candidates will also help to ensure that you find an architect who understands your project and what you want to achieve. This in turn will almost always result in a better finished product. Details are also important: based on your project brief, an architect could cost anything from £1000 to £5000 for the design phase alone!

If you find that hiring an architect for your project would be too expensive, you also have the option of hiring a local architectural designer. Like an architect, they can also provide services such as architectural design and drawing, along with planning permission application advice.

Whoever you choose to hire, ensure that your chosen Pro has an active professional indemnity insurance policy. This will cover you in the event that an error in your Pro’s work has a negative impact on your project.

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Getting a quote for an architect

The cost of hiring an architect is not a fixed thing. Instead, it will vary depending on the size and complexity of the project in question. Some websites claim that an architect’s quote will take up 9-15% of a project’s total budget, while others say that an architect will add 15-20% to the cost of a project. However, if you are still in the planning stage, you may not have a clear idea of your budget anyway, so percentages will only go so far!

Rather than relying on averages, your best bet will be to start collecting quotes from several local architects. To do this, you will first need a good idea of what it is you want to achieve with your home improvement project. For example:

  • What do you require from the project (in terms of space, utilities and so on)?
  • Are there any special considerations (such as special access requirements)?
  • Does the project involve work on an existing building?
  • Is the building listed?
  • How much design repetition will be involved?

All of this will contribute to the complexity of your project and the amount of time your architect will need to spend on the design stage. The more information you can give to your potential hires, the more accurate their quotes for the work will be.

The cost of an architect’s services can also depend on their experience. Some take this as an excuse to only collect quotes from smaller, newer firms, but be warned: more often than not, having a more experienced architect can be worth the added cost. Being able to look over a candidate’s past projects will also give you a chance to judge their work and decide if it matches what you want to achieve with your own job.

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After an initial consultation, an architect will outline their fees over several stages. This is because an architect can contribute to a home improvement project throughout, from the initial design phase all the way through to overseeing the physical work. 

According to RIBA, an architect’s quote can usually be broken down as follows:

  • Concept stage 20%
  • Design development stage 20%
  • Technical design stage - 15%
  • Tender documentation stage - 25%
  • Construction to handover - 20%

There is no need to keep your architect on throughout your project. Many homeowners only hire architects for the design phase before managing the rest of the work themselves. If you choose to do this, keep in mind that you may have to pay fees later on if you need your architect to make changes to their plans. You may also lose out on the benefits of having an architect’s expertise on hand later on, such as when applying for planning permission or sourcing building materials.

Architects will usually offer a lump sum quote for every stage. This offers them more payment security than accepting a percentage amount. After all, what would they do if you offered them 10% of your overall budget but then reduced it later on? 

Be sure to ask your architect to justify their costs at every stage. You may well find that there are ways to reduce your quote. For example, certain firms may provide CAD modelling during the design development stage, but you may not need this for a smaller project.

It can often be difficult to know what an architect’s costs will be before discussing your project with them. As a very general rule, you could expect to pay between 5 and 15% of your job’s total budget on an architect (with the percentage decreasing for more expensive projects). Your best bet of getting a clear and competitive price for the work that you need doing will be to collect quotes from several different architects. Remember to think carefully about your project before doing so: the more you can tell candidates about the work involved, the more accurate your quotes will be.