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  • Mariki Terblanche

Why You Shouldn't Fix Your Architect's Fees

Coins and pens representing payment for design work

When starting a building project it is always the developer or home owner's greatest desire to have a handle on the final cost. After all, the developer wants to be sure of his returns and the home owner wants to know that he can afford what he is planning.

There are many ways to get close to this and have tight control over the process. Appointing a Quantity Surveyor can be one of the most important decisions you make and at SBDS we typically save our clients the (+/--) 5% we charge just in the mitigation of claims by builders, where mark-ups can vary from 10% to 30%.

It is true: Professional fees can seem expensive as they generally make up between 15% and 22% of the total budget. It is therefor tempting to try to save on this portion of overall pie.

Architects, like all building professionals, have a percentage based fee scale that slides with the size and complexity of the project. Normally, on commercial projects their fees are around 6% and on bespoke house designs their fees vary from 10% to 15%.

I have often listened to the argument from Clients wanting to source materials themselves and hence save on the architect's fees through their own effort. But unfortunately this is a bit like trying to save on the cost of a bespoke painting by sourcing the canvas and paints yourself. It is just not where the value lies.

Architects can, with a couple of phone calls, get suppliers to bring them samples of all the latest materials on the market. It takes almost no time at all. They don't even have to leave the office! The time is spent on the layouts and colour choices and the artistry of putting it all together so that it 'works'. That is what you are paying for.

My advise: Don't try to “fix” your architect's fees. No matter who you are, you will almost certainly make changes to the design as you experience the unfolding of your project. We live in an unpredictable world. Circumstances, tastes, fashions, technology, and life in general is constantly too buildings. Not only do they take a considerable time to build, but the construction period pales in comparison to the length of time you might own them. You and your team need to make sure that the final product is the best possible solution to your needs and for that, there will be redrawing and revisiting of certain elements.

If you allow your architects' fee to be adjusted with value, they are compensated for any increased scope whilst “punished” if they have to adjust their design due to incorrect decisions. This ensures that you, as Client, receive a better service.

Fix the architects fees, and every time you want to revisit an aspect of the design you will be faced with a hourly charge. This means that the fee you so desperately want to fix, will vary in any case!

It also puts extra pressure on you, the Client, to “sign off” on the design at an early stage before anything is built and before you really understand the implications of your design decisions in a physical sense.

In conclusion, there is a good reason why architects quote based on value and complexity and why their fees should be adjusted accordingly: It ensures that you receive a service that is flexible enough to allow you to adjust to changing circumstances and get the best possible design for your needs.

Watch this space for the next installment where I will discuss what it means to “sign off” on a design.

Thanks for reading!

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