As some of you will know, we have just finished an 18 month renovation of our South London home. If you happen to be planning a build or home improvement project yourself then you'll need to plan, design and pick the right team to work with. So today, we focus on how to choose an architect for your extension or renovation. It can be a daunting task so we thought we’d share some advice and tips to help guide you on your way.
Where to start?
When undertaking a house renovation or structural changes to your home it is always worth enlisting the help of an architect whether to simply have your ideas professionally drawn up to submit to planning or have them completely design and manage the whole process for you.
Personality and experience
When selecting an architect first check out their portfolio to get a feel for their style and expertise. Once you have a shortlist together we’d recommend meeting with at least 3-4 to get a feel for who suits you best or who understands your need and space priorities. Most architects offer an initial-meet service for free. It’s as important for them as it is for you to get an understanding of whether you can work together and if they have the requirements to take on your project. Think of it as employing a new team member, you need to be able to enjoy working together and trust one another.
Ahead of the consultations it might be helpful to have a brief ready for them. This doesn’t need to be too specific at this stage but should cover what you need from the space, any styles you like and key materials to use. A simple mood board or Pinterest board of inspirational images to share with them should suffice.
During the consult consider their personality, the balance of their skills to your own, their perception of space and whether you have a good rapport enabling open communication.
Talk through their specialisations, for example, if you’re doing a complete overhaul of a listed building or a modern new build ensure your architect is experienced with this.
Discuss their location and whether they have experience with your local council, understand the restrictions of your local planning officer and/or have a good relationship with them. This is not necessarily vital but can certainly help when putting plans forward to avoid the disappointment of planning rejections and re-submission costs.
Ways of working
Ask the architect about their design process, this can help you get a better understanding of what will be involved along the way. This can also help you distinguish the best firms from the more mediocre ones.
Understand the level of personal involvement expected from you. What will be required from you as the build unfolds? Are you a hands-on person or prefer for others to manage the process? On the flip side, ask how they best prefer to work. Do they have a recommended team of builders they work with regularly (which can help for a smoother project) or if you have a builder in place already then are they happy to work alongside them?
Knowing these key things up front will ensure you get the most effective results together.
When considering work on your home, one of the most common questions people want to know the answer to is how much does an architect cost. It's the all important deciding factor, wanting everything on your wishlist to fall into your budget. There are a few ways architects can propose their rate. Some prefer a fixed project price, others a % of your overall build cost. Check if there is a minimum fee that needs to be met or a set fee followed by an hourly rate after.
Get them to be realistic with you in terms of what can be achieved within your price range. Part of this is making sure that the scope of the work has been clearly defined. Make sure you understand exactly what they’re going to deliver. From initial floor plans to detailed drawings and check that these meet your project requirements.
Your architect should be able to give you an example of their deliverables before you begin alongside a timeframe and budget so you know how long the work should take and what it will cost.
Confirm where their responsibility starts and finishes. Most architects offer a tiered approach to their services allowing you to have as much or as little involvement from them according to your budget.
Once you have shortlisted your preferred architect(s) then we’d recommend contacting their previous clients for feedback and reviews on their service. Most architects are happy to provide reference contact details from previous projects. Follow up and have a call with them to hear first hand about their experience. Were their briefs met? Did they feel listened to? What added value did the architect offer? Be aware that if they have put these clients forward they may be biased but it’s a really good starting point. Even better, if they are local ask if you can visit to take a look at the finished results!
Alternatively, architects often list ‘open houses’ on certain days where previous projects are open for you to view (subject to COVID regulations). These can be helpful if not a bit salesy..
Remember above all, you have to feel you can trust this person to turn your vision into a reality. A breakdown in communication can have costly effects on your build and timeframe. When choosing your architect make sure you can depend on them and that you’re both comfortable with your ways of working, what needs to be achieved and at what price.
Then you are ready to instruct!