Should you hire an architect?

Melanie Whitehouse / 18 May 2016 ( 02 August 2017 )

If you’re thinking of extending your home or even building a new property, it always pays to get an architect on board early on. Find out how to find an architect.



Programmes like Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs and George Clarke’s Restoration Man have given many of us a secret yearning to get down and dirty with the bricks and mortar and turn something derelict, outdated or mundane into a glorious place to live. 

The reality of that dream, though, is a challenge that involves time, money, imagination, battles with planning departments and dealing with builders and suppliers. However, there is one profession that offers an all-round solution. 

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Whether you want to build an entirely new home or simply extend your existing one, you should consider employing an architect. They are trained to turn your dreams into reality and have the experience to help you see the big picture and clarify what you actually want. They can help you get planning permission, manage your project, maximise your budget, deal with your builders and suppliers, and solve problems in creative ways. And it need not cost the earth.

Find out whether you should you hire an interior designer?

How to choose an architect

Check they are registered with the ARB (Architect's Registration Board, www.arb.org.uk) and with RIBA (The Royal Institute of British Architects, www.architecture.com). RIBA has a nationwide list of practices on its website and its ‘Find an Architect’ service will help you create your own shortlist from more than 3,000 RIBA Chartered Practices. 

If that sounds daunting, talk to RIBA, who will create for you, free, a tailored shortlist of practices with the appropriate skills and experience. 

Do ask around as well – personal recommendation from friends who’ve been involved in similar projects speaks louder than anything else.

Concentrate on finding an architect who has experience of the type of property you want to build or extend. Check their references and their track record of planning approvals. Follow up their references too, to find out how well they manage a budget. The first consultation is usually free, so it pays to shop around. The architect will guide you on all the aspects of your project - and you’ll get some free ideas into the bargain.

Find out how to find a reliable builder

Where do you start?

The first thing you must do is draw up a wish list for the project. Jot down all your requirements and highlight any problems that need solving, like planning.

‘Think in terms of how you will use the space now and in the future, rather than what needs to be built,’ advises RIBA. ‘You should also try to establish your overall budget. This will help you discuss costs upfront with the architect and avoid disappointment at a later stage.’

How much will an architect cost?

Architects generally offer a full service for projects with a budget of £30,000 or more, but for a smaller fee they can help you figure out how to get the best out of your project, regardless of size.

‘The first thing a good architect will do is ask questions, listen and understand what you are trying to achieve,’ says RIBA. ‘They will work with you to develop your project brief and finalise the budget. It is essential that you agree this between you before starting the project. A good architect will develop solutions and propose ways to reduce costs whilst coming up with a design that will increase the building’s value.’

Before work starts, you and your architect should also agree on the scope and cost of the architectural services. To protect everyone involved, put this in writing, setting out the services to be provided and outlining the obligations of each party. (See RIBA’s Domestic Agreement, www.ribabookshops.com/agreements.)

For smaller projects, the agreement can be set out in a letter of appointment outlining the obligations of both parties.

Fees will vary depending on the location and complexity of the project and level of the service expected. Some architects charge on the basis of a total project cost, others on a fixed price lump sum or on a time charge basis.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.