How I approach starting the client/architect relationship
Following in the footsteps architectural blog-guru Mark Stephens, I am going to take some time to tell you how I go about working with first-time clients to get a project started. Hopefully, if you are in the position of considering hiring an architect, this will reassure you how client-friendly the process can be.
I am minded of the fear we all have of hiring a solicitor, because in this country we all know the horror story, which seems to be more the rule than the exception, of lack of transparency around fees. Solicitors seem to be able to pick a figure ‘out of their ass’ (a phrase recently coined by Anglo Irish directors) and that is your bill.
Architects are bound by a code of conduct which requires us to state up-front our charges and expenses. Our fee of course must be linked to the scale of the project, because this determines the projected workload. As such, it is fundamental that we try to establish a project value at the outset, and then base a fee on this. This can be as a percentage of contract cost, or it can be a lump sum (when the scope of work is clear).
From the client’s point of view, your first step is to come up with a ‘brief’. A description, either verbal or written, of what is it you require to be built.
– a list of each room required, a physical description of the size of each space, in feet or metres
– a description of the function of each room (bedroom, bathroom, utility etc). If you have particular expectations, add as much detail as you have, ie built in wardrobes here, room for x number of appliances there, underfloor heating etc.
– a description of any non-physical aspirations you want to add to the brief, lots of daylight, connection to garden, sense of drama to an entrance hall, lots of timber, clean lines, minimalism, modernism, steel and glass, natural materials… whatever you wish for. I always recommend to my clients that they open up a Pinterest account. This allows you to make boards of images of whatever inspires you. Have a look at my Pinterest boards which show my research and inspiration images. This will tell me exactly what you like and don’t like. From this without ever doing a design, I know what ball-park cost based on experience to allow for your works. I have designed and priced buildings of all types from €50 / square foot to €300 / square foot.
Agreeing a budget
For domestic projects, I have established a really good system over the years to streamline this process. You will have a figure in your head that is your available funds. However, this will be based on what you want to spend, not necessarily in any way related to the price of what you want to build. So there is a fundamental problem in that the architect needs to know what the project is actually going to cost in order to agree a fee, and your budget may or may not be sufficient. So during the design process either the budget is going to inflate to match your brief requirements, or the brief is going to scale back to meet your budget. Either way you may think the architect is intentionally loosing control of budget to get more fees, or the architect is going to loose money because he agreed a fee on a smaller amount of work and is now doing 40% more. Not a good situation for any relationship!
Development Report service/Feasibility study
So I have established a system where I do a paid Development Report for clients, to independently establish a realistic budget for their project. This is without appointing me as architect for any further services. This is how I do it;
I visit the site, examine the existing building or property
I take the clients brief as described above
I photograph everything of note
I then return to the office, and prepare a report where I put down on paper the existing site/building conditions. I note any concerns, planning issues, give warnings about risks such as rot, asbestos, drains, structure, Carbon Monoxide, Radon etc where further investigations are necessary. I describe the clients brief and requirements, taking into account anything I have noted on site which may have implications for this. I make conclusions and recommendations about potential building methods, development potential. I then compile a spreadsheet of costs with allowances for each individual element broken down into headings such as refurbishment, site costs, new build, energy upgrade, vat, profesional fees, planning costs, surveys, grant deductions. This gives the client an overall budget for the project. It is independent, and based on experience. I have no vested interest in this figure, it is a statement of fact. I put in a generic figure for fees based on industry average as surveyed by the RIAI. I do not do a design – this is just about establishing a real cost for exactly what you describe, with a lot of experience and judgement thrown in.
The cost analysis part of the report looks like this;
I will then make a fee offer for what I would charge to do the full job (from sketch design to snagging after completion) given my additional expertise and it is up to the client to decide whether they want to use my services or take the written report to other architects and get a comparative fee proposal. I will make some suggestions about where the brief might be rationalised to make it more affordable.
This service is very attractive to clients, as it gets you on the process without any commitment. Clients can take this away for six months while they consider their options, get their funds in order and come back to me when and if they are ready to proceed. Costs are currently about €400 plus vat if you are in Cork city, a little more if I have to travel further afield, which I do not mind doing. It takes me about two or three days to issue the report after the site visit depending on how busy I am.
If you would like to see a sample report, email me or use the comment box below or contact form and I will send you a copy so you can see for yourself how worthwhile and informative the report is.
‘Dear Paul, Many thanks for the excellent report on the site at Ballyroe’ Gavin Maunder.
“Just a quick note to say thanks for the alterations report you forwarded to us. We found the report to be a very useful starting point for us. The report provided a detailed breakdown of estimated costs. So we are able to see what work is feasible within a particular budget. It also provides a suggestion for our property that we would never have considered.”
Karen O’Mullane, House Extension development report client.