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How much do architects charge? A guide to understanding architects fees

The number one thing architects get asked, even before finding out if they are qualified to do their work or legally registered to practise is “How much do you charge?” Contrary to popular belief, architects don’t just pull prices out of a hat in a random draw.  They also don’t look at what car you parked outside before deciding to milk you dry. There is a method to the madness, and it’s somewhat regulated. In this simple guide to understanding architects fees, you’ll discover the answer to the question “how much do architects charge?” We will cover:

  • The factors that determine how much architects charge
  • The different pricing structures
  • When you should pay an architect
  • Can architects increase their prices after a contract is signed?

How much do architects charge?

So how much do architects charge? Well, the long and short of it is, prices are subject to the information you provide about what exactly it is that you want. No two people want the exact same thing, so there is no standard price. Think about walking into a shop and picking out a suit. The suits are mass-produced with standard sizes. Prices are on the tags because it’s easy to cost each piece. It may not be a custom fit but it will do.

On the other hand, if you are going to a tailor, you expect to get a suit custom made that fits you perfectly. In order to achieve a perfect fit, the tailor needs to take measurements, know what fabric to use, what the suit is going to be for, among other things. Only after understanding your requirements will you get a quote.

Same applies to your project. You’re approaching a designer because you want a custom-built property that suits your needs and lifestyle. How much an architect charges will depend on your requirements or what they call “the client brief”.

This is why if you just call an architect to get an indication of how much you will fork out for a design, the answer will usually be “it depends”. It’s only after having a detailed discussion and answering a series of questions during a consultation, that an architect can figure out exactly what it is you need. Then only will you have a clear indication of the price.

Two factors that determine what an architect will charge

1. Size and complexity of the project

Let’s agree that you can have two 3 bedroom houses that cost different amounts to build right? the difference in price is because of the difference in size, features and complexity of designing the homes. The bigger and more complex the project, the greater the amount of time that will be spent designing and producing drawings. The greater the amount of time required to work, the bigger the bill.

Apart from size, features and complexity, materials will also play an important role. An architect can design a beautiful house made from shipping containers for a fraction of what it will cost you for a design with slate, and that’s just for the roof. The level of creative genius needed to pull off a late design should not be underestimated or undervalued.

The bigger and more complex the project, the more time will be spent designing and producing drawing.

To make sure that the design meets not only your functional requirements but also achieves the aesthetic appeal you are looking for, an architect will usually present a concept for you to approve. If it’s a simple concept it can be a week’s worth of work to design. Once the design is approved, finalising drawings and preparing for council submission can take up to a month.

If the design you want involves added elements of complexity and fine details, the amount of work involved increases. It will take longer to produce a concept including the time it will take for any revisions until a design is finalised. Bear in mind that with bigger more complex projects, the project team also grows.

2. The extent to which you need an architect professional services

By now it should be clear that an architect’s job doesn’t just end after they hand you the design and drawings. If this is what you need, then obviously you don’t have to pay as much as someone who requires the full package.

This package deal includes project managing the entire construction of your home and helping you to sleep better at night. The architect will take care of everything from creating a bid document to hire a contractor, procurement of materials, onsite inspections during construction and closeout after handing you as-built drawings.

These requirements are determined in your consultation and an agreement is reached on the scope of work involved. The architect will assess those requirements and then give you one of two rates. The time based(hourly) fee or the project cost percentage fee.

It’s important to note that Fees are determined by the Architect Registration Council (ARC) in Botswana and the South African Council of Architecture professionals in South Africa. These regulatory bodies govern all architecture professionals and their conduct with you –the consumer, in their respective countries.  Architects use this fee framework to inform all pricing for projects and its available for purchase from ARC offices.

The Pricing Structure

1. Time-based fees

We have the hourly fee that’s usually charged when you don’t have a solid idea on the exact requirements and scope of your project. The consultation sessions are mainly used for you and the architect to go through the brief and determine scope, budget, and other factors to finally arrive at a concept. Once this is clear, you can then expect a flat fee based on the percentage of the total construction cost.

If it’s a smaller project, you will get an indication of the total number of hours it will take to complete your project and receive a price based on total hours. You can also state in the agreement that you don’t want the number of hours to exceed a certain limit. This will avoid consultants taking longer to design just to bill more hours. The hourly rate for each professional is available at the local council.

These hourly rates are prescribed by the ARC fees framework. Below is a table with hourly rates from 2016 fees framework. As you can see, each professional’s hourly rate varies.

This table represent a few of the certified professionals’ rates, as a rule, certified professionals will charge more by the hour than uncertified professionals. To make sure that your principal agent is registered, and the price they are charging you is justified, you can search for their practice number on the ARC website. This should also explain different quotes on the market, or why some can charge as little as P5000.00 for plans.

2. Project-based percentage fee

When the scope and requirements of a project are known and fixed, the architect will charge a primary fee plus percentage of the total cost of construction.

For example if the project you want to design is estimated at P2, 970, 000.00 (based on estimates by quantity surveyor) the architect will charge primary fee + percentage of project cost= P62, 000.00+ ( 5% of P2, 970, 000.00)= P148, 500.00+ 62,000.00 = P210,500.00

This method is fixed regardless of complexity of the project. The percentage starts at 11,5% and can go as low as 5% depending on the project cost. The percentage charged decreases as the value of the project increases. So for smaller projects, you can expect to pay a higher percentage than you would for a bigger project.

If the architect professional you are working with is not the principal agent, a 10% reduction to the total fee should be applied. This is why it’s important to know if the professional you are working with is working as a principal-agent or not. You can find this out from the consultant themselves and verify on the ARC website.

Once drawings are complete, you and the architect will find a contractor who will determine the price they will charge to build. Normally you will select the best contractor from (usually) 3 quotes based on their skill, ability to successfully execute the project and price among other factors. The contractor’s final price can either be more or less than the estimated amount that the architect gave initially.

If you choose a contractor whose fee is significantly higher than the initial estimate, the architect’s fee will increase with the true value of construction (remember they are charging a percentage of the project cost). If you decide on a lower quote, the architect’s fee also decreases. The choice of contractor is entirely your decision, but it does affect the final fee.

3. Fixed fee

For smaller projects, it’s easier for an architect to charge a flat rate. Projects such as boundary walls don’t require hourly rates or project based percentages. Again this value is not thumb sucked.  This is from years of experience with smaller projects. The scope of work is known, the number of hours needed to complete the project is roughly the same for each of these project types.

The architect can easily establish how much time they need to invest in the project and give a fixed fee. For example, it takes 8 hours to design and draw a boundary wall. If the hourly rate is P950.00. Fixed fee will be P950.00 x 8 = P7, 600 .00. This becomes the fixed rate for boundary walls regardless of size. 

You might be thinking, why someone with a smaller boundary wall would pay the same as someone with a bigger yard and obviously bigger wall. Well, the amount of work that goes into it is the same. The architect needs to design, draw the plans, and compile the documents needed for submission to council for approval. The scale doesn’t change the number of hours needed to design.

When should you pay an architect?

As with all service professionals, a deposit is required to commence works. There is a structure that instructs when and how much you pay the architect after a fee is agreed on. Below is the table that shows all the work stages and fee you pay at each stage.

Payment is made after completion of each stage and the stages will obviously be approved by you before completion. This is to make the process as transparent and as simple as possible. We explain our own process here for clarity. Both parties will know exactly what to expect and when. If you are working with a good architect they will usually have a project chart that will enable you to see roughly how long each stage will take and the work involved in each stage based on your agreed scope.

Can an architect increase their fees after a contract is signed?

Short answer, Yes. When the project scope changes due to no fault of the architect, the fee also changes. They are within their right to increase their fee if you add more work or make any changes post approval of initial design. This is true for all fee structures.  The extras will normally be charged at the hourly rate depending on just how much you are deviating from the scope. Remember architects are consultants who work based on time. More work will cost more money.

Make sure you know everything that’s included in the original scope of works in the contract or agreement you signed. Your architect will have this conversation with you to set clear expectations going forward. Don’t try and omit works to sign at a lower price with the hopes that you can squeeze in added extras down the line. I agree that sometimes you don’t foresee the extras until you need them, but other times clients try and lock in a lower price and hope to slide in extras later with the hopes of scoring free work.

Building transparency

The most important thing is to be upfront with the architect about your budget. Explain to them what your budget is, as well as what you want to achieve with it. They will be able to advise what is possible and what isn’t. Sometimes the architect will work with a good contractor to work out a fee structure and realistic design that will allow you to remain within your budget.

Clients often think they have a P1 million budget to build, but when you factor in all the professional fees from all consultants involved, then that budget can come down to P850,000.00 roughly. Unfortunately, this is when most people will try to cut corners on professional fees.

If you’re ready to make a lifelong investment in something as valuable as property, it’s good to weigh your options carefully. However, be warned that shopping around for the cheapest price and then trying to nickel and dime service providers on top of that is the perfect recipe for ending up with a nightmare build. It will end in tears.

A word of caution, you get what you pay for.

Some contractors are notorious for quoting low to get the job, but you better believe they will make their money back down the line with all the change requests. Others are pricing below market value because they are starting out and YOUR property is their experiment.

In the end, you will always get what you pay for. Far too many people don’t understand the cost of “cheap” and will likely end up paying with their time and headaches from a nightmare build. Either that, or you end up paying twice because things didn’t go right the first time. Now you have to hire someone to fix it and do it right the second time.

Always look for value, rather than price. What are you getting for the price you are paying?

In the next article I’ll be breaking down what you need to look for when hiring an architect. If you are looking to buy land and build, I have a great guide that will take you through the entire process as a beginner. Download it here <–

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