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Designer costs, briefings and contracts

How to tell your designer what you want and how much you need to pay.

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Briefing your designer

Once you have selected your architect/designer, and depending on how much ground was covered in the initial meeting, the next stage is the thorough briefing. In this briefing:

  • Go over your ideas – the architect or designer should be able to tell you what will look good as well as be functional.
  • Be flexible. If you are too fixed in your ideas, the architect/designer won’t have any room to design and come up with exciting ideas you haven’t considered – let the designer design!
  • Have a budget and be prepared to shuffle items within the budget – usually area and space, but savings can be made elsewhere, for example, using corrugated steel instead of slate on the roof.
  • Sort out exactly which of the following services the architect/designer will be providing:
    • Site selection.
    • Design – initial sketches through to final plans.
    • Budgets.
    • Managing the building process, getting building consent, selecting the builder and various subcontractors and liaison with the council over completion of the project.
    • Interior design and selection of furnishings and appliances.
    • Landscaping
  • Have everything agreed in the contract and reviewed by your lawyer.

The full service

Most architects prefer to be engaged for a full service. This means they manage the whole building process for you including selecting the builder and subcontractors, and monitoring construction. Observation on the building site is an important role carried out by architects and designers and lack of supervision is often the reason things go wrong.

The architect will want to ensure you have the best advice throughout the building process. The architect’s full service will ensure that there is no deviation from the consent documents and that the work is of a high standard. The architect can also arrange any variations to your plans as work proceeds. They will also ensure that the Building Consent Authority is properly informed of changes and the Building Consent altered accordingly. Failure to do this will cause problems when trying to obtain the Code Compliance Certificate.

It is particularly important that someone experienced in building work carries out supervision of your project on your behalf if you do not have these skills. This will smooth the building process and help to avoid future problems such as a leaky building. Some architectural designers will also manage the project for you if this is part of their brief.

If you contract them just to do the plans, you could rehire them later at an hourly rate to advise on changes or solve unforeseen problems. But be aware that most architects are not comfortable to take on only part of the process – they would rather see the whole job through from design to completion. This may include internal furnishings and fittings and colour schemes. They will want to see the contract documentation followed faithfully to prevent mistakes by the builder or subcontractors.

This way they are on the spot to keep the project on track and anticipate problems. For example, if the builder uses a different grade of timber than specified, and it is not noticed until the house is nearly built, you could find that the affected area will need to be rebuilt.

The contract

You should get an agreement in writing regardless of the size of the job. Both NZIA and ADNZ have standard contracts which are very detailed and likely to cover every possible situation that arises. Whatever contract form is used, make sure you understand it and if you don’t, get your lawyer to check it. Make sure it includes clauses about what happens if any disputes arise.

The contract must cover the full scope of the architect/designer’s involvement in the project.

You will need a separate contract with your builder for the construction of your home.

Information gathering

Once engaged, the architect/designer will start gathering information on the building site (your section). This might include the certificate of title, drainage plans, and zoning and town planning information.

They may take photographs and organise to have the site surveyed on your behalf for its contours and boundaries. They will also look at trees, water courses and soil type, if it could affect the building process. They may recommend you get an engineer’s report. Have an agreement with the architect/designer about who is responsible for this information gathering and any extra charges involved, for example, paying the engineer or quantity surveyor if any are engaged.

Materials and features

A good architect/designer should know about all the materials, latest products and innovations in design. They are responsible for producing designs that meet the manufacturers’ requirements for the materials. For example, you have advised your architect/designer of the type of roofing material you want used. It is likely that this roofing material comes with installation instructions which recommend the pitch at which the roof should be built. The architect/designer would have to design the roof to the recommended pitch otherwise the roofing material cannot be installed to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

They should also be able to advise you about environmental and energy features.

Design fees

Architectural designers generally charge around the same as architects. The respective fees will depend on the scope of the project and services required.

You should expect to pay less for an architectural draughtsperson, as they typically offer a narrower range of services.

The fees you pay to an architect or architectural designer may seem like a lot of money, but in reality they are a small part of the total cost of a building project, and have to be considered in the light of the cost-effectiveness and overall value that the architect or designer will add to your house.

Expect to budget between six to 15 percent of the total cost of the job, depending on its size and value and what services the architect or designer provides. The three usual ways of charging are:

  • By the hour - but this could become very expensive for a big job.
  • A percentage of the total cost of building - this is the most popular method. It means the cost of the design service remains proportionate to the final cost of the house and you have a better idea of your total costs. The percentage can range from as little as one-and-a-half percent for initial sketch plans up to about 15 percent for full design and administration services. Fees vary among architects/designers and according to the complexity of the project.
  • Fixed fees calculated on an hourly rate.

Engineers - role and costs

An additional cost to factor in is where the services of an engineer are required. An engineer’s expertise is likely to be needed at two stages of a house-building project.

  • If there is concern about the stability or compactness of the earth a geo-technical engineer will be called in, usually by the architect or designer, to do some testing. If there are problems a special design of the foundations will be required, with input from an engineer.
  • To design difficult details imposed by the design, or to make certain elements more efficient. Engineers may also provide expertise where there are other features out of the norm, for example, where weather extremes are likely. The engineer would calculate methods of developing lateral restraint, providing adequate support, and anchorage against wind uplift and snow loading, as well as overall stability.

Your architect or designer should let you know if an engineer is required and what the extra costs will be.

Renovation and alteration costs

Design and management costs for major alterations can be high. With a new house the architect or designer is starting with a clean slate and the design and build process can be quite straightforward. But when you are doing alterations, the architect or designer has to take into account the style and materials used in the existing part of the house and try to match them.

And when the work actually starts, there are sometimes a few surprises that appear when wall boards are removed. Sometimes the architect or designer has to return to the drawing board and start some of it over again.

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