How much does an Architect cost?

23 August 2021 by Simon Drayson

Architecture fee structure v2

Architects are often thought of as providing a luxury service, and that can sometimes be true to a certain extent. Whilst the fee structure of other professionals is universally understood (take lawyers, who are frequently billed on an hourly rate, for example), with architects – and other people providing architectural services… more on that later! – it can be more of an uncertain ‘dark art’.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (or RIBA) used to publish fee scales for their members to follow when deciding how much they should be charging their clients, these were gradually watered down in favour of a competitive market before finally being abolished in 2009. Whilst some ‘old school’ architects certainly still refer to these, fees can often vary considerably from one architect to another. As such, architects tend to be rather secretive about their fee structure, until now…

When we divulge our fees to prospective clients, the subsequent conversation sometimes goes something like this: “Our friends got their drawings done for only £X” or “Another company can do drawings for just £X”. Whilst it is almost certainly true that they will find a draughtsperson who will deliver drawings for hundreds, this is very different to an architect charging them thousands for a bespoke project from start to finish.

Unlike draughtspeople, architects have completed at least 7 years of rigorous training via education and experience, so need to find some way of paying off their student loans! Joking aside, they bring a breadth and depth of knowledge and skills with them, which you should therefore consider an investment as opposed to a cost. As such Architects are legally required to be registered with the Architects Registration Board (or ARB), which requires them to follow a code of conduct and carry professional indemnity insurance, just some of the ways to protect your rights as a consumer of services.

Broadly speaking, Architects charge fees in three ways: fixed fees, percentage fees, or a time-charge fee. Sometimes they will use just the one method, and others a combination of two or three, across the entire life cycle of a project, from RIBA Work Stages 0 through to 7 (check out our guide to these here); this will be determined by several different factors, including a project’s complexity (for example, does it involve a Listed Building?), geography, size and sector.

Fixed Fees

This is where you pay a pre-agreed amount for a known piece of work; the client knows a lot of what they require from their architect, and the architect has a high level of understanding on how to deliver it, both in terms of meeting their client’s requirements, and return a profit after covering their costs. For example, a client wants some concept designs for a kitchen extension ahead of applying for planning permission; the architect knows this will take them a week and therefore the fee will be £X.

Percentage Fees

This is where you pay a pre-agreed percentage for a piece of work that is equally both known and unknown; the client knows just some of what they require from their architect, and the architect has a medium level of understanding on how to deliver it. For example, a client wants some technical designs for a new-build house ahead of going out to tender; the architect knows the clients need six different bathrooms designed to a high standard, but not that the client wants ‘butterfly’ marble which must be painstakingly drawn piece by piece. There may be a minimum or maximum cap attached to this type of fee.

Time-charge fee

This is where you pay a pre-agreed rate (usually per hour or per day) for an unknown piece of work; the client knows a little of what they require from their architect, and the architect has a low level of understanding on how to deliver it. For example, a client wants an architect to act as Contract Administrator during the construction of an extension to a Listed Building; the architect knows the cost of their time to perform this role, but they do not and cannot know how much will be required.

There may be a minimum or maximum cap attached to this type of fee. Your architect should be able to give you a reasonable estimate beforehand, and will want to keep timesheets for later inspection at your request 

Here at George and James Architects, we offer a time-charge fee at the outset, a fixed fee up to planning, a percentage fee up to tender, and a time-charge fee during construction. We revert to a time-charge fee for the planning and tender processes themselves for the reasons outlined above. There really is no one-size-fits-all approach to both architects and clients alike, a notion which naturally extends to the fees and services connected therewith. 

Sometimes architects will work for free or pro bono publico (which roughly translates as ‘for the public good’), although this tends to be more common amongst larger more commercial practices, who can offset their smaller charitable projects against their larger profitable ones. Whilst this is not something we offer now, we aim to do so in the future. If your enquiry gets us or our team’s minds whirring, we may even send you over a quick sketch or two along with our fee proposal, to demonstrate the value we could bring to your project.

Architect’s fees will either be charged at the end of the RIBA Work Stage, or monthly as a portion thereof, plus expenses and VAT as required. Over the course of a typical project, which might take a year or so from start to finish, you can expect the total fee to be spread more-or-less evenly for cashflow purposes. We find this works both ways: our clients like invoices back-to-back with their payslips, as do us and our team! 

As a rule of thumb, you can expect to pay your architect between 8 and 15% of the construction cost for their ‘full services’; this breaks down as 35% up to planning, 35% up to tender, and 30% during construction, as the illustrated example below aims to demonstrate. 

One of the projects published on our website, which shall remain anonymous, cost our clients in the region of £150,000 + VAT to build (our minimum project value). Our 11.5% fee totalling £17,250 + VAT was distributed as follows: £6,250 + VAT up to planning (a time-charge fee for RIBA Work Stages 0 and 1, and a fixed fee of £3,000 + VAT each for Stages 2 and 3); £6,000 + VAT up to tender (a percentage fee at 4% of construction cost); and finally, £5,000 + VAT during construction (a time-charge fee for RIBA Work Stages 5 and 6, the majority spread evenly over a 4-month programme). An analysis of all our projects reveals a similar picture, which should give you a pretty good idea of how our fees for your project might break down.

Our code of conduct requires architects to record our fee or method of calculating it in writing before we undertake any services. This should be set out clearly in a fee proposal, followed by an appointment document including any terms and conditions, including any provision for expenses such as printing and travel. Architects should have no qualms whatsoever in answering any questions you may have about their fees; after all, we too would want to know what we were getting for our hard-earned cash. The adage of “you get what you pay for” certainly rings true when it comes to architect’s fees, so be sure to crosscheck the fees against the services before, during and after for peace of mind.

Of course, in addition to your architect’s fees and expenses, you will also need to pay for other professionals including probably a structural engineer and possibly a party wall surveyor, as well as a measured survey before the project kicks-off, not to mention the build itself and associated statutory fees (namely planning permission and building control). You will also need to appoint a Principal Designer to comply with health and safety legislation, which more and more architects are taking on these days… for an additional fee, of course!

We hope this article goes some way in demystifying the ‘dark art’ and in turn inspires other architects to follow suit in being more transparent with their fees. Do get in touch to discuss how we might work together on your project; it might suit the both of us to only take your project so far.

Architecture Fee Example

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