Experience counts for a lot when it comes to building work. Whether it's a domestic project or a specific type of commercial building, it helps if your chosen practitioner has a proven track record in the particular type of building that is your interest. Also, generally a long experience of dealing with councils for Planning and Warrant applications is useful.
Anyone, irrespective of qualifications, can act as an agent on behalf of others to submit a Planning or a Building Warrant application, so architects have no monopoly on this. To use the title of architect, a person or company must be registered with the Architects Registration Board. A list of registered architects can be found on their website at:-
Architects may also be a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). In Scotland, architects can also choose to be members of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). This is a good place to get advice and the RIAS also has a list of members that can be searched to find a practice near you. Their website can be found at:-
You may find that some architectural practices are not willing to take on small-scale domestic projects, so some shopping around might be required.
Architect's fees used to be closely regulated by the Royal Institute of British Architects and many practices stick with the RIBA's scale of fees, which is now no longer mandatory. For instance, for a domestic project of between £25,000 and £750,000 the recommended fee is 6% of construction cost for work up to obtaining consents and arranging tenders with contractors. Some practices may prefer to provide an hourly rate for their services, and now that fees are no longer mandatory they can vary quite a bit. Generally though, larger companies will struggle to do small projects at competitive rates. I provide fixed costs for all of the stages involved in the design process. Please see the Fees section for more information.
Most architectural practices are not able to provide structural engineering services. Again, anyone can submit structural calculations for a project and can also use the Scottish Government's booklet 'The Small Buildings Guide' in order to prepare details and drawings for smaller works. If such information is submitted as part of a Building Warrant application it will be assessed by the council. Different Scottish councils have different procedures for looking at structural calculations. At present, the City of Edinburgh Council will tend to look for a structural engineer's details and a certificate for a design and be reluctant to accept calculations. You should be very careful to ensure that the practitioner you appoint for your project tells you if they believe a structural engineer will be required. If the answer is yes then ask them to provide some guidance as to the likely cost.
Larger commercial projects are carried out with a Joint Tribunal Contract (JCT) agreement between architect, client and contractor. It is better to have a registered architect on board to administer projects under a JCT. There is a Small Works version of the contract that is sometimes used for one-off houses. Smaller projects tend to have a contract that is just between the client and the contractor. The architect, architectural designer or technologist just helps out and advises, but does not get directly involved in the financial side of the build.
If you are creating a new build house, there is now a requirement for an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the new dwelling registered for the address of the property, just as an EPC is provided if selling or renting an existing property. The registered EPC is needed at the time of the application for a Certificate of Completion to the council. (This is the document required after a Building Warrant has been obtained and once works are finished on site.) It is worth checking whether your chosen practitioner can provide this final EPC. If they cannot then this part of the project must be out-sourced. As part of the Building Warrant, a Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) calculation will be required for new build houses. The SAP calculation looks at the energy efficiency of the dwelling and this includes, insulation, type of heating, renewable installations and other factors. Again, it is worth checking whether this is something potential practitioners can provide themselves or must out-source. At present, I am able to provide the SAP calculation, but not the final EPC.
It is worthwhile for every practitioner to carry out checks about site conditions, utilities and access - especially for a new build project. It can be very awkward to find out late in the day about a sewer or a high voltage electrical cable crossing a site. It could be a very lengthy and expensive task to resolve such issues - if indeed they can be resolved. So the sooner that checks are made the better. It is therefore well worth asking about this at an early stage and find out what procedures practitioners have in place for checking out such matters as part of their design service.
Build cost of course is going to be a number one question for clients. Practitioners should be able to give you at least a ballpark figure for a likely build cost fairly early on in discussions. If you get to tender stage and the estimates from contractors are significantly higher than the figure suggested by your chosen practitioner then obviously this can be potentially disastrous. When practices are basing their fees on final build cost it is particularly important to be told very early on just how much money may be involved. An estimate of build cost is needed at the time of a Building Warrant application. At the moment, the City of Edinburgh Council is unique amongst councils in Scotland in accepting estimates from registered architects (and building surveyors) but asking for verification of build cost by way of a VAT registered contractor's quote for all other applications. I will normally encourage clients to go out to tender at an early stage anyway so a quotation is usually available to satisfy this requirement for Edinburgh.
Finally, it is always worth checking that practitioners have adequate Professional Indemnity insurance for the project that you are asking them to take on. The level of cover should ideally be around twice the build cost of the project and cover all losses that may be incurred as a result of a major problem arising with the build.
I have to say that making an appointment is a difficult choice for clients and practices vary greatly in quality and price, whether architects, designers or technologists. It is not always true that 'you get what you pay for'. The number one complaint I hear about other practices when visiting clients is that they have appointed someone for a previous project and then there were long gaps in communication when it seemed that nothing was happening. It should only take a few weeks for measuring up and preparing the existing survey drawings and then design drawings. It should not take more than about two to three months for a Planning application and perhaps a month to two months for Warrant. This gives some idea of the likely timescale for projects. (Sometimes a complex issue is encountered that delays things, but your appointed practitioner should at least be keeping you updated about progress.) If it seems like things are taking longer than they should then you have the right to ask what is happening. But of course it can be a bit late to turn back by then, so it is well worth questioning potential appointments closely about how quickly they are turning over projects and when they can make a start on yours, before you make your final choice.
Whether you decide to appoint me or not, I am always happy to give advice and help where I can so please feel free to get in touch.
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