Architects fees can vary widely, not only in their level but also in the methods of their calculation; from lump sums payable at different stages of the project to percentages of the construction cost and hourly rates too. The following post will explore the different structures/ methods for calculating architects’ fees in 2021, the suitability of each method and the various factors that can influence the level of fees.
Up until the 1980’s the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) published a Mandatory and later, Recommended Fee scale that gave clients guidance on the levels of fees they could expect architects to charge. However, as part of the Thatcher government’s drive to increase competition and the free market, these fee scales were abolished.
In tandem, new routes for the procurement of buildings began to gain ground, such as Design & Build, that removed some of the design responsibilities traditionally associated with the architect, placing them now with the contractor/ builder. This had the effect of varying the architect’s scope of work and services in addition to fees.
Over the decades since, these tendencies have continued to create substantial variation in the level and structure of fees and the associated scope of services and deliverables. On the whole though, there tends to be a correlation between the level of service, quality of design output and the level of fees. So, how much do architects charge?
Architect’s Fee Structures
Here is an overview of the different methods for calculating and structuring a fee:
Percentage of construction:
This is a common method, particularly on domestic residential projects and where the full scope of work is not fully and clearly defined from the outset. Indexing the fee to the construction budget provides clients with a reasonable indication of overall fee whilst allowing for changes in the project scope as the design evolves without the need to renegotiate terms again each time. Often, architects will agree to a variance of up to 10% of construction budget before adjusting the fee.
With this method, an Initial Construction Budget is set at the beginning of work and the agreed percentage is applied to calculate the overall fee. In the event that the budget is revised and agreed together with the client, the fee is adjusted to reflect this.
The fee is spread out over the course of the project and invoices are issued on a monthly basis.
Generally, a rise in budget reflects an increased scope, resulting in more work for the design team. It has of course been argued that, in this case, it’s in the architect’s interest to inflate the construction cost. However, it should be noted that this would be in direct contravention of the Architect’s Code of Conduct by which all chartered architect’s are bound; namely to act with integrity and to manage client’s money properly.
This method is used where the scope of work is clearly defined and the architect is able to precisely forecast the amount of work involved. Whilst this method gives clients peace of mind that costs are set for a given piece of work, if the work is not clearly defined and the scope changes, there is the possibility that a renegotiation will become necessary. If that renegotiation is not an option then the architect may factor that risk into the fee from the outset – so that this method may not always produce the best value for money, even though it may appear so at the outset.
This method is often used for small, discrete pieces of work where the project and scope of work are as yet to be defined. This tends to be for feasibility studies at the start that help to define the project. Often, architects will cap their hours at an estimate, only to be exceeded with client approval.
Fees by RIBA Work Stages
The RIBA has broken down the architectural process into 7 distinct work stages from Stage 0 (that involves feasibility studies and initial consultation) to Stage 6 (Handover after practical completion of the works). You may wish to agree different fee structures for different parts of the process, for instance work on an hourly rate (capped at an agreed level) at the outset, for a feasibility study that determines the full project scope. This could be followed by an agreed percentage or lump sums for the later stages.
It’s also worth noting that, whilst you may agree a fee for the entire project, you are only committing to one stage at a time. You’re free to pause or terminate the architect’s appointment at any stage, provided that fees for the previous stage have been paid. So, whilst we would like to be involved from inception to completion, some client’s only want to work up to Stage 3 (Developed Design) that culminates in submission of a planning application. Others want to go a step further to Stage 4 (Technical Design) that ensures the scheme is compliant with building regulations, the scheme is drawn in detail and a specification is prepared. This information will enable a competitive tender of the works.
As a guide, MATA Architects generally tend to spread fees out as follows:
RIBA Stages 0-3 Feasibility to Developed Design culminating in submission of a detailed planning application 35% of fee RIBA Stage 4 Technical Design culminating in a competitive tender of the works (or accurate pricing) 35% of fee RIBA Stages 5-6 Construction to Handover 30% of fee
RIBA Stages 0-3
Feasibility to Developed Design culminating in submission of a detailed planning application
35% of fee
RIBA Stage 4
Technical Design culminating in a competitive tender of the works (or accurate pricing)
35% of fee
RIBA Stages 5-6
Construction to Handover
30% of fee
Architect’s fees to planning
To illustrate the above spread of fee, for a rear extension and ground floor refurbishment with a construction budget of £200K +VAT and a fee of 13% equating to £26K +VAT, the work up to planning submission would equate to £9,100 +VAT.
How much should an architect cost? (and why do their fees vary so much?
There are a number of factors contributing to and influencing the level of architect’s fees.
These include the following:
- The architecture firm’s fixed costs and overheads. As a general guide, the larger the firm, the larger the overheads and, as a result, the associated fees. Read more about working with smaller architecture firms here.
The level of service and deliverables offered. Some practices have a much greater capability than others in terms of in-house skills and use of technology.
The practice’s reputation and track record. A practice with a proven track record of delivering high quality schemes will naturally command higher fees than another with less. You are paying for expertise and proven experience.
It’s important to remember that a good architect will add value through an increase in the value of your property/ land and, in the case of residential development, an increase in your own well being as your home will affect your everyday.
A good architect will also save you money in the long run through careful forward planning that avoids costly changes and u-turns on site, clever cost saving design solutions learned through years of experience on similar projects and professional administration of the building contract to ensure that only work completed in accordance with the contract drawings and specification and materials delivered to site are paid for during the construction phase. A good architect will be looking out for your money at every stage and your investment in their fees is likely to yield greater returns.
Architects Fee Scales
More specifically, architect’s fees are determined by the nature of the project itself and the amount of work involved. Residential projects tend to be labour intensive. They’re small and bespoke with very few economies of scale. As a general rule, architects fees, expressed as a percentage of construction cost, decrease as the budget increases (together with an increase in economies of scale).
New build schemes will command relatively lower fees, in comparison with work to existing buildings (extensions, loft conversions and basements) that involve more complexity and unknowns. Work to listed buildings involve additional statutory consents, have more layers of complexity and will command higher fees again.
Below is an indication of fee scales based on project type:
|Construction Budget||Percentage Fee|
Surf House, Devon
Extensions, Basements, Loft Conversions and House Refurbishments:
|Construction Budget||Percentage Fee|
|Construction Budget||Percentage Fee|
Collector's Flat, Marylebone
What should you expect from an Architect’s fee proposal?
When requesting fee proposals from a shortlist of architects (particularly for domestic residential projects) it is likely they will come in different shapes and sizes. They should however, all include the same key information:
A description of the project and brief.
A schedule or description of the scope of services to be provided including any exclusions.
Details of key personnel allocated to the project and their roles.
The form of agreement and conditions of engagement to be used (this will usually be the RIBA Domestic Professional Services Contract 2020: Architectural Services)
The level of professional indemnity insurance provided.
Information regarding what recognised professional bodies the architect is registered with eg. Architect’s Registration Board (ARB) or the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
The fee chargeable (and whether this is subject to VAT) broken down against work stages of the project.
Additional chargeable expenses and hourly rates to be applied to any work outside of the proposed scope of services.
An outline of project timescales.
If you receive a fee proposal that does not include any of the details above, ask for further clarification. If there are services included in the proposal that you feel you do not need then there is an opportunity to discuss this with the architect and it is possible to alter the fee accordingly.
How to compare Architect’s fees?
When comparing architect’s fee proposals, look beyond the headline cost. Some practices simply offer the minimum required to gain planning approval for a standard extension. This might include some options for layouts (all in 2D plans) and a set of 2D planning drawings. In contrast, another practice will develop the scheme in 3D, communicating their ideas with eye level perspectives, rendered with materials and lighting etc. This higher degree of communication empowers clients to engage with the design process, enabling them to clearly visualise design proposals and ultimately make better decisions about their project. Naturally though, this level of service requires a higher level of resources and skills and, as you would expect, a higher fee. It’s important to understand what you are being provided with as part of the service. Ask yourself what level of service you need/ want?
Frequently Asked Questions
Do architects charge for an initial consultation?
Generally, architects will be happy to have an initial ‘no obligation’ phone/video call or a consultation meeting at their offices free of charge. These conversations are particularly useful for initial advice about the right approach to your project and will give you an insight into the way a practice operates. In many cases, architects are also happy to visit site (if it is not too far away) as this will allow them to provide the most accurate and competitive fee proposal as well as giving you some useful feedback on the opportunities and challenges for your project. Sometimes a small fee will be charged for an initial site visit so do check to be sure.
How do I get the best price from my architect?
To ensure you get the most accurate fee proposal it is important to give as much information about the project as you can from the outset. Spend time writing a detailed brief including your requirements, budgets and expectations. For more information read our article on how to find the right architect for you and get the most out of them
How much do architects charge?
Architects fees for residential projects in the UK will normally vary between 10%-14% of construction cost, depending, amongst other things, on project size and complexity, construction budget and quality. Fee percentages tend to decrease as construction budgets increase.
How much does an architect cost for an extension?
Designing and delivering extensions to existing buildings involve more complexity and unknowns than designing new buildings. As such they generally command higher fees. For a rear extension and ground floor refurbishment with a construction budget of £200K +VAT you can expect a fee of around 13% equating to £26K +VAT.
What are architects fees for a new build house?
New build houses and flats are typically more straightforward to design as there is no interface with an existing building. For a new build house with a construction budget of £300K (There is no VAT incurred on new build construction) you can expect a fee of around 8.5% equating to £29,750 +VAT. For more information on VAT savings read our article, ‘VAT Savings in Constuction’