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Choosing an architect for a self-build project

Your self-build home is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime project and as such, you'll want to put your design in a trusted pair of hands.

Unless you've got the necessary qualifications yourself, this will usually mean hiring an architect. In this guide, we'll offer some top tips on finding and appointing the right architect for the job, while avoiding some of the most common problems self-builders fall foul of.

Why do you need an architect?

If you're not lucky enough to have a day job as an architect, you're going to need one. Simply put, they're qualified professionals that can design and manage your project from inception to the final brick being placed.

Architects will interpret your plans, from the sketchiest of outlines and even a brief consultation can be of benefit in kick-starting your project.

And while there are alternatives, like downloadable plans, that you can get for a fraction of the cost, for those looking for something unique and bespoke – an architect is a necessity.

However, since you'll be stuck with them for the long-haul, picking an architect isn't something you should do on a whim.

You're paying for the experience and specialist knowledge they bring to the table, but in a long-term project like this, it also pays to pick someone you get on with and is enthusiastic about your project.

Architects are also able to help you track down the best builder for the job, as well as holding your hand through the complex regulatory and contractual obligations you'll take on as a self-builder.

How much does an architect cost?

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) used to offer a suggested scale of fees that suggested charging around eight per cent of the total construction costs for a self-build project.

However, in order to promote competition – these were abolished and now it's up to the market to dictate what you'll pay. While price is undoubtedly important in what's likely to be one of the biggest financial undertakings of your life, you shouldn't automatically opt for the cheapest quote.

There's a great deal of variation in prices, with some practices offering fixed-fee rates and others still using the percentage model. In an attempt to provide flexibility, some go as far as to offer services on a pay-as-you-go basis – although if you lean too heavily on this – there's the chance that you'd pay more than you would for a full service package.

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Picking the right architect for your project

What's priceless, however, is the relationship you have with your architect. It can't be stressed enough that the decision shouldn't be rushed.

Choosing the right architect can make the difference between your project running like a dream or turning into a nightmare.

A poor choice in this regard can spell delays in the planning process, arguments over design, disagreements with builders and spiralling costs.

There's no silver bullet for picking the best architect for the job, but by doing your due diligence and devoting plenty of time to research – you'll be able to put together a decent shortlist and have the weight of facts behind you when it comes to making the final decision.

Some key areas to consider include:

Qualifications: It's necessary for all qualified architects in the UK to have undertaken seven years of training and be registered members of RIBA, as well as the Architects Registration Board.

RIBA boasts its own referrals service, which you can use to compose a shortlist of practitioners who best meet the needs of your project. It's also free of charge, so it's a great starting point for any self-builder.

Specialists: Another great resource is ASBA, the UK's biggest network of RIBA-registered architects that specialise in self-build and restorations.

You can get in touch directly to find specialist architects in your area and it also hosts a range of resources that offer great advice to self-builders on every aspect of project management – from budget, to green designs and anything in between.

Face-to-face: Even if you find someone who looks perfect on paper, it's vital to get to know them on a personal level, as their ability to communicate and collaborate really can make or break a project.

When meeting, get a feel for their previous work by asking to see their portfolio and discussing previous projects they've done in this vein. Don't feel pressured into making a decision you're not absolutely comfortable with and if you're at all uneasy – you shouldn't press on.

Appointing your architect

Once you've found the right architect for the job, you'll have to undertake a formal appointment. You'll need to write up a formal contract, although you can get a range of templates from RIBA, and create a brief for your project.

While the ins and outs of the brief are worthy of an entire article on their own, it's vital to make sure it's water-tight and clearly sets out all the services that will be provided and the relevant costs associated with these.

Be crystal clear about where responsibility lies for different tasks and include details of relevant insurances, as well as processes that will occur in the event of a dispute.

 

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