The Ultimate Guide to Architect’s Fees for the Budget-Conscious

Table of Contents

    Introduction to Architect’s Fees

    It’s true, architect’s fees take up a considerable chunk of your project’s budget so it’s understandable that it’s often the area where cuts are made. Choosing the least expensive option may make the most financial sense for your project, particularly if you are are on a tight budget, but is that right for you?

    To make that decision you first need to understand the value that different levels of service can bring and what you should expect from your architect. In this guide we will discuss these and more.

    How are architect’s fees determined?

    Before we go any further, I’d first like to briefly explain the three Fee Types commonly used by Architects. These are:

      • Percentage-Based Fees
      • Time-Charge Fees
      • Fixed Fees

    Percentage-Based Fees

    Percentage sign on the side of a building.

    You are charged a percentage of the total construction cost. The percentage depends on the type of project but is typically between 6% and 15%, depending on the size and complexity. It is worth noting that smaller projects have comparatively larger fees.

    The advantage of the percentage-based method is that it is flexible and you and your architect can commence the project without a full understanding of its scope or final construction budget, provided you’re clear on your architect’s involvement. The initial percentage is based on an estimated budget, but allows for progression as the project develops.

    However, accurately gauging the construction budget can be a challenge and therefore a realistic budget is often unknown upfront. You may have an idea of what you would like to spend, but predicting all the costs involved in construction before a design is prepared is difficult and you will be relying on figures that are frequently updated as building materials and labour rates fluctuate.

    Additionally, due to the amount of work required to design, draw, and manage a project, this fee structure does not always proportionately align with the size and scope of a smaller project. Therefore, it is typically unsuitable for projects with limited budgets.

    Time-Charge Fees

    Hourglass indicating time-charge architect's fees.

    The calculations for Time Charge fees are straightforward. The Architectural Team submits timesheets for the hours they dedicate to your project, this is then multiplied by their Billing Rate, and you are charged based on the result.

    The Time Charge fee structure is often perceived as the fairest and offers flexibility for projects with small budgets and for additional services undertaken during a project’s life-cycle. You pay only for the time spent on your project, similar to many other professional services.

    However, exact fees are not known up-front. While most architects give an estimate of the time a service will take based on their experience with similar projects, actual costs vary depending on the individual project. In addition, the complexity behind the scenes is not always evident in the final issue of the drawings making it hard for some clients to fully understand the time invested in their projects. Preparing drawings and documents is only a small part of what an architect does, after all.

    Fixed Fees

    Person using a calculator.

    Fixed Fees take guesswork out of the equation. Prior to works commencing, a lump sum is agreed for specific services rendered and this is the amount you are charged. This fee structure offers maximum advantages when the project and service level required is clearly defined. However, if services outside the agreed scope of work are required these are typically charged at a Time-Charge rate on top of the agreed Fixed Fee.

    While this method provides you with the assurance of established costs, if the scope of work changes, renegotiations might become necessary. If renegotiations aren’t feasible, architects may factor this risk into their fee from the start. Hence, this method isn’t always the best value for money, despite appearing so initially.

    Still, for concise projects where work scope is evident, a fixed fee provides an excellent pricing structure as long as both parties clearly understand what is included.

    What is best for you?

    What is best differs from client to client, but at Rowett Architecture we find that a hybrid approach that blends Time-Charge and Fixed Fees is the most appropriate and cost-effective solution for most clients. Having worked on a large variety of projects in the past, we know that certain project stages are more predictable than others, and employing this hybrid model means our clients understand the stages where fluctuating costs are more likely.

    We find that this approach instils client’s confidence in our advice, engagement, and deliverables while effectively managing expenses and risk. Clear communication is vital, and charges should never be incurred without prior discussions and approval.

    What factors influence the cost?

    Magnifying glass over architectural plans.

    Various factors come into play, shaping the overall expense of engaging an architect.

      • Complexity: More intricate projects generally demand higher architect’s fees.
      • Project Size: Smaller residential projects often entail higher attention to detail, leading to prolonged timelines and proportionally higher costs compared to larger projects.
      • Level of Service: The extent of work at each stage significantly affect costs. Deciding whether continuous architect involvement is necessary throughout the process can help manage expenses.
      • Bespoke Design: While not necessarily exorbitant, unique designs often incur higher costs due to the substantial time investment involved. This is particularly true when pursuing a highly conceptual or innovative design.
      • Location: Factors such as site proximity, accessibility, and landscape constraints all contribute to cost considerations.
      • Heritage: Projects involving heritage buildings or working near them typically involve additional time and costs.

    What levels of service are there?

    Every project is unique and comes with its own constraints and challenges. In theory, there are as many levels of service as there are projects. However, there are some standard package types:

      • Full service from concept to completion. The most comprehensive, and most expensive.
      • Plans only. If you are confident enough to do the heavy lifting, you can hire someone just to do your drawings for you.
      • Ending services at a specific stage. Such as after you receive Building Regulations Approval, or following the end of the Tender Process.

    Then within each of these options, you can further decide what services you require. Some examples are:

      • Reducing or increasing the amount of design meetings. Less meetings mean less costs and vice versa.
      • Obtaining quotations for other professional services. Though your architect will need to collaborate with the rest of the design team, they may be happy with you sourcing quotes yourself.
      • Gauging contractor interest and going out to tender. Though in most cases you will want your architect to prepare the tender package, some clients like to liaise with contractors during the tender process themselves.

    For most clients, we advise you go with the most comprehensive service you can afford, but for those who are very money-conscious, you should consider the level of service you need and work back from there. Remember, there are other ways of cutting costs, such as carrying out the works across multiple phases or using lower cost materials and products and these may be better than cutting corners on the design work, which is the foundation of your architectural project.

    What level of service do you need?

    People brainstorming over paper.

    There are several things you should consider when deciding what level of service you require for your architectural project. The key ones are:

      1. Experience & Knowledge
      2. Type of Project
      3. Personal Involvement
      4. Time Commitment
      5. Budget

    1. Experience & Knowledge

    Why It Matters

    The level of architectural service you need depends on your familiarity with the design and construction process. Consider your own expertise. Are you well-versed in architectural concepts, regulations, and technical details?

    What to Consider

      • If you’re a novice, seek comprehensive services that guide you through every step in a clear and concise manner. Your best bet is an architect who is experienced working with first-time clients and can deliver information to you in bite size chunks as you progress through the process. Otherwise, the amount of information can become overwhelming.
      • If you have some knowledge, you might opt for a more streamlined service that cuts out services you are confident you can perform yourself.

    2. Type of Project

    Why It Matters

    Different projects have varying complexities and requirements. A small home extension differs significantly from a new build or a renovation of a listed building. Area can further complicate matters with various landscape constraints that effect how easy it is to obtain planning permission. In addition, some projects may not require planning permission or building regulations approval.

    What to Consider

      • For minor works in areas with few landscape constraints, basic design services may suffice. However, it is still important that you comply with all regulations and requirements. If considering reducing services to save money, you should discuss your project’s requirements with your architect and agree which services are necessary.
      • For small and mid scale projects with more complex requirements and constraints, it is best to go with the most comprehensive service you can afford. Many residential clients end their architect’s appointment once they receive Building Regulations Approval. While this can be an option, it often causes issues during construction as a full tender package has not been prepared. In addition, without inspections by an architect during construction, problems onsite may not be picked up until later, making them more costly to rectify.
      • For large-scale projects, you will more than likely need a more comprehensive service. Cutting corners on large projects can be an expensive mistake that’s easily avoidable by finding a well-respected architectural firm that specialises in your sector.

    3. Personal Involvement & Time Commitment.

    Why It Matters

    Some clients want to actively participate in decision-making, while others prefer a hands-off approach.

    What to Consider

      • If your project is close to your heart and the outcome will affect your life greatly, it is obvious that you will want to collaborate closely with your chosen architect. While it is important to get things right, having many design iterations can become costly. Additionally, time spent on liaison adds up surprisingly quickly. To save your budget, make sure you agree a detailed brief before design works start, thoroughly review each set of drawings before deciding on any changes, and try not to change your mind on large design elements later in the process. Remember, if you are concerned about costs, you can always ask how long it will take to make design changes and weigh up your options.
      • If you don’t have a personal stake in the process and are more concerned that the design adds value, a hands-off approach may be a more affordable option. Just make sure you discuss your expectations with your architect before the project begins to make sure your visions align.

    4. Time Commitment

    Why It Matters

    Architectural projects take time. Assess how much time you can dedicate to the process.

    What to Consider

    For those who lead a busy life, you may wish to consider a full-service architect that can manage your project for you. As this option can be costly depending what you require, you should weigh up the cost vs the benefit of having those additional hours for yourself.

    5. Budget

    Why It Matters

    Your budget shapes the level of service you can afford so you should determine your financial limits before engaging an architect.

    What to Consider

      • If you have a very tight budget, consider whether you can carry out the works across multiple phases so that you do not have to compromise on the level of service.
      • If you do go ahead with a lower level of service and take on some tasks yourself, make sure both you and your architect know who is responsible for what and when items should be delivered.


    Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Be honest about your needs, constraints, and aspirations. A well-matched architect can transform your vision into reality while respecting your preferences and limitations. Just be mindful that cutting corners at the design stage may cause issues later on and it might be better to spend a little more on architect’s fees to get the foundation of your project right.

    Most architects will be happy to offer you an Initial Appraisal service (they may call it something different so it’s best to ask) where they evaluate your aspirations versus your budget and other factors of the project and advise you on the options you have to move forward. For the money-conscious, it may seem counter-productive to spend money before you truly ‘begin’ your project, but it often saves time, money, and heartache down the line.

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