> Why should I employ an architect and not a design and build company that offers design and drafting services?
Architects have a professional qualification and a minimum of seven years training. We offer a holistic design service and our aim is to add value at every stage of your building project. As architects we are skilled in seeking solutions for every aspect of a project and the processes involved. Because we look at projects from a holistic point of view we are well placed to manage the complexities of both the design and the build process acting in our clients’ best interests.
> Your fees are not as competitive as some designers/technicians. Is there a reason for this?
We always aim to be competitive with other Architects. We advise you to carefully check the level of service on offer from architectural technicians or designers and bear in mind we have an experienced and qualified team to work on your project. We have an office for meetings and ensure our team is kept fully trained in the latest building practices and legislation through the continuing professional development program we run for our team as part of our membership of the RIBA Chartered Practice scheme. As Architects we also are obliged to carry professional indemnity insurance.
> What is the difference between the ARB and the RIBA?
The ARB is the legal body by which Architects are legally entitled to practice with the protected title of ‘Architect’. Membership is only obtained by compliance with a high level of professionalism, a code of conduct and provision of professional indemnity insurance. The RIBA is the professional body that represents Architects and promotes architecture in the UK. The RIBA also expects its members to follow a strict code of conduct and high levels of professionalism.
> What is Professional Indemnity Insurance?
As registered Architects we are legally obliged to carry PI insurance, which protects you as the customer against professional negligence. You should be aware not all designers / draughtsman carry PI Insurance.
> What is a chartered practice?
A chartered practice is one that is obliged by the RIBA to meet high levels of quality management, health and safety, continuing professional development and an environmental management policy.
> Do you charge a percentage fee on contracted works?
A percentage fee is based on all contracted and sub-contracted work. If the contract cost changes then fees based on a percentage will change also. We prefer to work to a set fee as each project is different and requires a specific approach. This means everyone is aware of exactly what is due and there is an incentive to get the work finished within the allocated fee. However, changes in scope will incur an hourly rate where these are not included in the original fee. We find that this fee structure tends to work in everyone's favour, whereas percentage fees often don't.
> Can you supply references?
We would be delighted to put you in touch with current and former clients. A large proportion of our work comes from repeat clients or referrals.
> Do you appoint other consultants?
We work with a number of Structural engineers, M and E consultants, project managers, lighting designers, party wall surveyors, garden designers etc. We put forward suggestions of suitable consultants and would expect you to appoint them directly. It is common for the Architect to be a design team leader.
> Design wise do you have a particular design style?
We certainly have strong design principles, but each project is led by a combination of client tastes, constraints on the existing building/site, its context and planning legislation, practical considerations and budget. We don’t believe in plagiarism or a slavish copy of a style.
> Do you design the interiors?
As architects we take a holistic view to the design process. Exterior, interior, structure, services, finishes etc. are all intrinsically linked and should be fully thought through to deliver the best end results. On more involved interiors we often collaborate with interior designers.
> Will there be one point of contact? Who will run the job?
If appointed we assign a team to work on your project, led by a Director with a project architect, aided by our team of architect assistants or technicians. First point of contact will typically be the director or the project architect.
> How much time should I allocate to my project?
Working all hours at the office to pay for the project is understandable, but you must also put time aside to review information and make important decisions. You will need to allocate time for 2-3 meetings in our offices during the planning stages, typically during working hours. You will also need to spend time at weekends and evenings making decisions on fixtures, fittings and finishes. We will of course guide you through this process and a collaborative approach usually brings the best results. We find that if you put in the effort it will be rewarded in the end product with a sense of ownership.
> Can you recommend builders?
We work with a number of builders on a regular basis on different sizes of projects and would put forward 3-4 of these for tender, on the basis that one will drop out. We recommend you follow up your own references and credit checks.
> Are you experienced in garden design, mechanical and electrical (MandE), cost analysis or other non-standard services?
To an extent we have some experience in all these areas, but if it is more involved than the standard service we offer, we would always recommend you employ specialist consultants. We are always happy to recommend these if you need us to.
> What will my house be worth and what sum should I invest?
This is a question for the local estate agents and we can assist you in estimating the costs to add additional floor space. We always aim to bring a return on our client’s investments.
> Can you guarantee planning approval?
Unfortunately not. Although most councils publish guidance on what is permitted, it is open to interpretation and subjective judgements. Local and recent precedents may be a guide, but each submission is judged on its own merits and often requires some negotiation. We use our experience of working with the councils to give you the best chance of success at planning.
> What is permitted development?
This is work that can be carried out without requiring planning consent. You can obtain a certificate of lawful development to demonstrate that your work falls under this permitted development. It is a good idea to obtain this for the future sale of the property, as the solicitors will often ask for this.
> How long does planning take?
From point of registration the statutory period is typically 8 weeks, but this can be extended if for example it goes to committee. And this is also dependent on the resources of the particular planning department you are dealing with, under-resourced boroughs do tend to take longer.
> Can I submit more than one option as part of a single planning application?
No, you must submit one scheme per application. You can however submit multiple planning applications, which run simultaneously.
> What is a planning committee meeting?
This is a meeting of the council's elected councillors to determine a planning application. These are lay people, politically minded but working in their own time and unpaid. They will make subjective personal design decisions, often very traditional and conservative in taste and they will not always go with the planners’ recommendations.
> What is a planning appeal?
This is an appeal to the Planning inspectorate to appeal the decision of a planning application. There is no charge, but there is a time limit from the decision date, and can take 6 months to determine.
> What is a pre-planning application?
This is an application made to the planning department to give advice before a full application is made. They can take as long or longer than a full planning application. The result is not biding on the council, so often unless the full planning fee is high, full planning is a better option and even if refused gives you a binding option from all parties.
> If a neighbour objects, will the planners refuse the application?
Not necessarily. Their objection will be judged in planning terms and if relevant the impact will be considered and can influence a planner. If there are several objections the matter will be referred to the committee who will often be influenced by objectors for political reasons.
> I live in a conservation area, are the planning restrictions more onerous?
The planners will be more wary of alterations and will want to retain the architectural character of the building and street. In principal any proposals should seek to enhance the area. The key point is that the work should not just be detrimental to the area, but also positively enhance it.
> My neighbour has a roof terrace or extension, will this be relevant as a precedent when we put in an application?
Possibly, but every application is judged on its own merits and the application may have been made previous to change in planning policy.
> Can we use planning drawings to build from?
We would recommend you also commission full construction drawings, integrating structural information and services. They will also detail construction details at all parts of the works and provide better certainty of the expected end product. Planning drawings do not contain sufficient information to price and build from accurately.
> Can you obtain freeholders consent?
As building owner you should liaise with your freeholder and we can provide drawings and assistance as required. With your authority and outside the standard appointment, we can act as your agent in these matters.
> What is listed building consent?
Buildings of historic or architectural merit are awarded a listing, which gives it an extra layer of protection. Consent to alter these buildings requires listed building consent as well as planning, which is usually more onerous and restrictive.
> What is a party wall Award?
If you carry out works to a party wall, or close to it, you may legally have to serve notice on the adjoining owner. This will set out in advance of the works; the detail of the proposals, and a schedule of condition of any affected areas. This work will be carried out by a surveyor to form the “Award”. Different works require different notices. You should allow a minimum of two months to organise a party wall Award.
> How do you estimate cost of works?
We use a number of methods, including area rates, comparable projects, elemental breakdown and budget quotes from builders. Most certainty of costs is after a full tender stage. If you require exact costs before tender a quantity surveyor can be employed. We are by nature optimists and would generally recommend getting cost for all you want and removing items rather than adding in later.
> How do I ensure cost certainty at tender stage?
The more comprehensive your tender documents, the less provisional sums and prime costs there are, the more cost certain the returns.
> I’m pregnant, can we get planning permission and all works complete before the baby arrives?
Unfortunately most building projects take longer than the gestation period of a child. We recommend not trying to combine both simultaneously! That said, the first few months of a baby’s life are very static and it is much easier than waiting until they are toddlers. A baby sleeping through building work will be able to sleep anywhere for the rest of its life, what a gift.
> Why do we need building control approval?
Conforming to building regulations is a legal requirement and separate from planning consent.
> Given you deal with suppliers all the time, does this imply that you are able and get us “discounted / wholesale” prices from each supplier?
No we will source and specify the items, the contractor then would order the items and may get trade prices with discounts, which may be passed on. They will charge for items at cost plus overhead and profit. These are either contained within their tender price or if we don’t have a full specification, we put in a budget figure called a prime cost, which is then appropriate for the item.
> And what is the process for paying the suppliers? Would they invoice us and we would pay them directly?
They are usually invoiced through the main contractor who is then responsible for quantity, delivery and programming. If a supplier is paid directly by the employer then he / she becomes responsible for their delivery and any delays to the contract.
> What is the difference between a provisional sum and a prime cost?
A provisional Sum is for the supply and fit of an item. A prime cost is the supply cost only. Both are subject to attendance costs from a contractor.
> I want to negotiate a price with one builder rather than a full tender – would you recommend this?
If you know the builder and trust that his price will be competitive, or if quality and confidence in your chosen builder are more of a priority than price, then by all means.
> Can I shorten the standard tender period of three weeks?
The three week period is an industry standard and allows builders to collate their supplier and sub contractor prices. We recommend you don’t shorten this, as you run the risk of builders providing an incomplete tender. On larger projects a longer period may be appropriate, you want to be sure they get it right.
> What are the implications of client appointed sub contractors / suppliers?
Although you may save costs on certain items, as employer you then become responsible for delivery of items to site and are then liable for any delay to the contract.
> Should I employ one main contractor, or project-manage multiple sub contractors myself?
A contractor’s cost has built into it a management fee of suppliers and sub-contractors and a good builder will be skilful and experienced at managing this process. If you wish to take on this role, do not underestimate the time and work you will need to commit to your project. Ultimately it may not save you much money and it will certainly add to the stress of the project.
> What is the difference between a supplier’s quote and Pro-forma invoice?
A quote may be subject to variation until an order has been placed and a pro-forma is the actual invoice that will be due.
> My builder doesn’t see the need for a formal contract, why do I need one?
A contract is a simple matter, in that agreed works will happen for an agreed cost. If builders were that simple that would be it. However, the contract sets out how either party will behave on timing, extras, bad weather, and bankruptcy; any of the events that can happen during building work. A contract protects both parties, Client and Contractor and we recommend you always enter into one, even on small jobs. The implications of not having one if a job goes wrong are enormous.
> Should I pay builders up front for works?
Some builders ask for mobilisation payments. Assuming that the builders are reputable this should not be a problem, but generally you should not pay more than the work carried out at any time. As contract administrators we would only certify the works that have been built on site.
> Why are some builders members of the Master Federation of Builders?
This is an organisation, which promotes best practice, and quality workmanship and builders require references to be included.
> What is a retention sum in a contract for?
This is an allowance (typically 5% of overall certified value) that the employer retains until practical completion. It is there to encourage the contractor to make good any defects, or if they fail to do so it is a sum to allow the works to be remedied by someone else.
> Do I need a contract administrator?
If you use one of the JCT contracts, then you will need to appoint an independent contract administrator to oversee it, and issue instructions, certificates etc. and mediate between employer and contractor.
> Can I pay cash to the builders and avoid VAT?
Tax evasion is not something that we recommend and we suggest you don’t enter into an agreement with a contractor on this basis.
> My builder is not charging VAT, is he behaving illegally?
Not necessarily, if a builder’s turnover is under a certain threshold he is not liable to pay the VAT.
> Should I live in the property during the works?
Building works are inherently messy and disruptive and if possible we would advise you to live elsewhere for the duration of the works. It may cost you more, but you will be much healthier and saner for it! On localised work sometimes it is possible to separate the working area, even set up a temporary kitchen. On these works programming and protection need to be discussed at tender stage.
> Do builders provide guarantees for the work?
No, not generally. They are liable under common law for a period after the works are completed, although this is dependant on the problem that arises. There are some insurance companies that offer insurance for completed building works, This can be worthwhile especially on new buildings.
> How does one guarantee they will complete on time?
There is no guarantee the works will complete on time. Even with the best will in the world and an experienced contractor, building work is complicated and subject to inherent risk and often takes longer than planned. You should aim to minimise this risk and build in contingencies if the contract over runs. There are also LADs (see below), which can compensate you for a delay to a project in certain circumstances.
> What is the potential risk associated with delivery from a supplier, which forms a large part of the contract e.g. Glazing Manufacturer.
The risk is usually one of delay and additional costs
> Do you project manage the works whilst on site?
As contract administrators we attend site on a regular basis, typically every month or two weeks. We will check the works, ensure they are building to the drawings and specification and report on their progress against a program. We will issue a certificate for payment and answer any queries. We are not there to project manage the builders on a daily basis – ultimately it is their duty to manage themselves.
> Once the works start who has responsibility for security and safety on the site?
Under contract the builder has legal responsibility for the site and his insurance must be in place.
> Can I speak to and instruct the builders directly once on site?
You are the employer so you can speak to your builder on site. We recommend you do not issue any instructions directly to the builder as there may be cost and time implications to the contract that are not immediately apparent. It is always better to have one point of contact – normally the Architect – and instructions to come from him / her only.
> If I issue instructions to revise parts of the project, will this affect the completion date and or costs?
Any deviation has a potential knock on effect. It does depend on the instruction and the point in the contract. Generally if the item is minor or issued early on in the program, then the builder can adjust his work schedule and complete within the specified contract period.
> Will there be any more unexpected extras?
By the very nature of being unexpected, we can never predict what the future will bring. We can however advise on the potential risks and likely costs associated with your building project and help you to manage any risks and how to react when the unexpected happens. We advise taking more time to plan a project in the initial stages, as this will reduce the overall risk of unexpected extras.
> Can I start work before we have planning consent?
Yes, but we advise not entering into a contract with a builder until all consents are in place, as there is a risk of delay to the project and additional costs may be incurred. On larger projects there may be work not affected by planning that could start.
> If the project goes beyond the original completion date what costs may I incur?
If you are on a fixed contract, then in theory the overall costs should not change. There may however be extra preliminaries costs (this is the cost of setting up and maintaining the site) passed onto you if the contract has been extended by a relevant event and awarded as such by the contract administrator . You would also need to budget for extra professional fees and storage costs.
> What are LADs? (liquidated ascertained damages)
Inserted into a contract is a sum, that is agreed in advance, that should compensate you for any financial loss if the project over runs. At the employer’s discretion, these can be deducted from the contract. They are to cover extra professional fees, or rental of a property, or loss of income. They should not be viewed as a penalty clause.
> What is practical completion?
This is in essence the point at which the works are fit for its practical purpose. Fit for purpose does not mean complete in every detail, nor all imperfections are put right. The key point is this is the point at which the insurance and ownership of the site reverts to the owner, and the defects period commences. Final payment of all money is made to the contractor less allowances know as ‘retention’, which is typically 2.5% of the contract sum.
> Can I move back in before the works are complete?
In an ideal situation you should wait until after practical completion, however if the builder is allowed to work unimpeded or you understand the potential delay to the project by you doing so, then occupation of part of the works can often be agreed with the builder. However ownership of the site will remain with the contractor until practical completion.
> We discover a building defect after the builder has left, what can we do?
In practice most builders will return to make good if it is a hidden (patent) defect that has come to light, but you should not expect them to return to make good general wear and tear on the building. The builder has a duty of care beyond the building contract on workmanship.