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I can't afford an architect. The building itself is already too expensive.

The cost of your house, extension or other building is a major investment - one of the biggest you will probably make in your life. So does it make good sense to undertake such an important project without proper advice and planning? A good design will improve your quality of life, and should pay back your investment when and if the time comes to sell your property. Can you afford not to have an architect?

Most builders offer a free design service, so why should I pay for it?

This is true. You can get a "free" design for your building. You can also get a "free" design for your business cards and a "free" phone from the phone company. Deep down we all know that nothing is free - all things of value cost money and you just pay for it in a different way. You can get a free design from a builder, but it will only be as good as needed to lock you into a contract. And it will be copyrighted to prevent you from getting competitive check prices. Even worse, the design will be slanted towards ease of construction (because that's "cheaper"), and not towards your ongoing needs as the occupier of the building.

Why should I use an architect when a draftsman can draw up the plans much cheaper?

Design is much more than drawing plans. In fact, producing the technical plans for construction is only one small part of the design process - the end part. If you already know exactly what floor plan, structural system, external image, lighting, finishes and fixtures, materials, people and vehicle circulation, energy consumption, whole-of-life cost, etc that you want then by all means talk to a draftsperson. They will professionally and accurately reproduce exactly what you tell them. If on the other hand you think that professional advice, creative inspiration, technical expertise and knowledge of the latest materials and building techniques may be required in any of these areas, then an architect is the best option.

My friends used an architect, and got a fantastic design but it was way too expensive to build. Architects don't care how much it costs, as long as it looks good.

No doubt building is an expensive exercise, and every line that is drawn has cost ramifications, not just for the original building cost but also for ongoing energy and maintenance costs. The chances are that if the design came in over budget, the architect neglected one of three things:

  • did not sit down and discuss a realistic budget with you from the start

  • did not stick to the agreed budget during the design process

  • produced a design that was more of a testament to their own artistic creativity than to your needs and requirements for the building.

Cost is inevitable, but the allocation of cost to meet your current and future needs is imperative for good design. If the allocation is too small in some areas, you will pay for it later. Like all other professionals, the quality and ability of particular practitioners can vary. Ask for references and make sure you get a good one. It's the same with your doctor, dentist or accountant.

How much will an architect cost?

For the full service that an architect provides you should allow around 10% to 15% of the construction cost, depending on the size and complexity of the building. This figure allows for design, obtaining approvals from authorities, documentation for tender and construction, tendering to a number of builders and administration of the building contract during construction. It should also include a limited amount of on site presence and inspections. This can be reduced pro rata for any services you don't need - like other people, architects charge for their time and if you request less time spent on your project then the fees will be cheaper. A drafting service can be cheaper because they spend less time on your project. Some building professionals and draftsmen have training and experience in building design that can be similar to that of an architect. They charge similar fees.