What are the 6 top reasons I hear homeowners say they’re not using an architect?
Read on to learn more, and how to protect yourself from these mistakes whoever you’re using to design your project.
At Undercover Architect, I get to hear lots of understandable reasons why people don’t use architects – often generated by very bad experiences their friends or family have had.
It is never my intention to push you to use an architect. Only you can decide who the best person (if it’s anyone at all) is to help you with the design of your home build or renovation.
My mission is always to inform you, so you can feel confident and empowered in every choice you make as you create or transform your home.
(If you’re not sure what the difference between an architect, building designer or draftsperson is, read my blog here.)
So here are the top ones I know of, and some info on what to consider if this is the reason you’re not using an architect.
REASON NUMBER 1: They’re too expensive
Architects generally charge 10 – 15% of the construction cost of a project, based on how complex or large it is. Generally, the higher the construction cost, the lower the percentage. Their fees will also be linked to the construction cost – so if your building budget goes up, so do their fees (find out more about that frustrating fee arrangement here).
It may seem too costly to hand over that much of your budget to an architect, because you’ll have to go without in other areas of your build or reno.
However, that 10-15% is what it will cost to have an architect partner you for the entire project – right through to completion. Perhaps you don’t need that level of assistance from an architect? Perhaps you want help with your design only, and can then find less expensive assistance or manage the rest yourself? You don’t have to use an architect the whole way through, and can still get a far-improved outcome overall for their input at the right time (especially in the design).
If you’re planning a small project, getting started with the right strategy and design ideas can save you a fortune in the long-term. Most architects will charge $150 – 400 / hour for a consultation. There’s very few projects I know of that wouldn’t benefit from an hour of expert assistance at the beginning, and even part way through the project.
Don’t forget also that using a professional to guide and assist you can actually save you cash. In better strategies design-wise, eliminating mistakes, accessing discounted items, and exposure to far more of the industry than you can access alone. Find a professional who has demonstrated experience in adding value in this way.
REASON NUMBER 2: They will design me something that’s over my budget
This one is unfortunately supported by the experiences of many homeowners … and it’s not just limited to working with architects.
So often, I see projects commence where the homeowner has outlined a firm budget, and then followed a design process with their chosen professional. They get to the end, they’re in love with the result, and they get it costed by a builder. And it’s 1.5 times, or double, or triple their budget. Totally frustrated, they throw in the towel, or start again, or massively scale back their plans. And everything feels like a compromise from that point.
As I said, this experience isn’t limited to working architects, and even if you don’t use an architect, it won’t make you immune to it for your project.
There are professionals who have a reputation for never meeting budgets, and yet they still get clients in droves. And there are professionals who deliver projects far beyond the clients’ expectations for their budget or less … and everything in between.
How do you keep your project on budget?
- Research your chosen professional well, so you find someone who has a track record for working to budgets
- Be clear about what it is, and don’t play tricks with your designer to ‘keep them honest’. It’s not conducive to building a trusting partnership overall.
- Keep a contingency for potential overruns on site
- Listen to your chosen professional every time they say “that will cost more money” or “that’s not in budget”
- Get your project costed early in the design process (as in, don’t wait until you have all your approvals to get a quote on its cost to build) so you can amend on the way
- Read this blog for more info
REASON NUMBER 3: They won’t listen / will only design what they want
There are some incredibly egotistical and arrogant architects out there, who won’t listen to you. There’s builders, and building designers and draftspeople who are like this too.
And there are architects, and other professionals, who are awesome at understanding a client’s brief and designing an outcome for them that is not only what they asked for, but totally exceeds their expectations for their home.
What’s key is that you find the right professional for you:
- that you feel you share values with, that sees the world similarly to you
- that shows good communication skills from the outset, and that has a reputation for working well with their clients
- is collaborative in their style of working, and values your input
- does work in the aesthetic style you’re seeking, or has experience in your type of project
- that you do your homework in checking out their credentials with previous clients and projects
And that you then:
- create a brief that shows what you’re seeking to achieve, and is clear about needs, wants, budget and timing
- trust that your professional can use their expertise to expand your vision
- have honest conversations about when you feel you’re being railroaded or not listened to
REASON NUMBER 4: I or my uncle / friend / brother / builder has an interest in design
“Ask an Architect” used to be a website run by the Australian Institute of Architects, and when it began, it ran a fairly contentious ad campaign with slogans like:
“You wouldn’t ask a butcher about broccoli. So when it comes to building, askanarchitect.com.au”
“You wouldn’t ask a hairdresser about heart surgery. So when it comes to renovating, askanarchitect.com.au”
These are fairly dramatic, and you can probably see why they would have annoyed some in the industry. However, you may not be aware of this: Australia is very unusual globally in that you don’t need an architect to design or draw up your home. In most places in Australia, you can design it, and get it drawn up however you choose. No one will stop you.
However, if you were investing $50,000 (or more) in the stock market, would you rely solely on the experience of a non-qualified, untrained friend or family member? I think if they had demonstrated and repeated performance in investment, then perhaps you might.
Could the same be said if you were investing $200,000? Or $500,000?
Think about what you’re about to spend on your reno or build as an investment in the home you’re about to create – and the quality of life it will help you lead. What type of advice (and from whom) will help you be confident you’re making the best decisions for that investment?
REASON NUMBER 5: An architect will just want to use me, and my project, to win awards
The challenge we have is that architects continue to be judged purely on the homes they produce. If you’re looking for an architect – or any other designer for that fact – you’ll look through photos of the homes they’ve helped create.
Winning awards is something many architects, and other professionals, seek to do because it helps them build their profile, and their reputation … which in turn helps them get clients. It gets their work ‘out there’.
Some clients will select their professional purely on this basis. Some enjoy the status of saying their home was designed by an award-winning architect, and it can add value for resale also.
Let’s look at the stats though …
There are over 11,000 registered architects in Australia (and to legally call yourself an architect, you have to be registered with the Board of Architects).
The main industry awards for architecture are run by the Australian Institute of Architects. Only a small handful of homes receive awards each year, with each state probably only entering 40 or 50 homes at most.
Architect designed homes count for 3% of the 150,000 + homes built every year. That’s 4,500 new homes. We’re not talking renovations here either.
So there’s a lot of architects, and a lot of homes, that are not winning awards … and still creating great homes. And some that will be creating so-so homes too.
If you choose an architect, or professional, because of their awards, and don’t check with their previous clients to see how the experience was for them, you may not be doing your homework thoroughly.
Test and check any professional you’re thinking of working with to make sure they’re a good fit for you and your project – and that they’re on the same page as you for what you’re seeking to achieve.
REASON NUMBER 6: I don’t want anything complicated
Think of some of the best designed objects you know. The ipod, the post-it note, the safety pin.
Each would have started with a fairly uncomplicated requirement or desire.
Portable music that fits in your pocket. A bookmark or note that doesn’t stick permanently to things. A pin that doesn’t pin you.
But the design of them, the work that’s gone into creating them to be as great as they are – that’s great design.
They’re simple. Useful. Functional. Fit-for-purpose. Beautiful. Make your life better. Easier. More convenient.
Even though what you want may not be complicated, I’d venture to say you want it to make your life better. To make the most of your budget and maximise every opportunity to improve your home and your life.
Getting the design right makes this happen. So, regardless of how uncomplicated you think your needs may be, getting a design expert to help you get it right will mean that what you create doesn’t complicate your life overall.
So who will you choose?
There are lots of different professionals that can help you with your project – be it a new home, a significant renovation, a smaller project, or some internal rejigging and fitout.
Sometime an architect is not the best choice for your project. I have often said to clients, “You don’t need me, use a (insert other professional here). They’re a better choice for your needs.”
However, being informed about what each professional can offer is the best way to make an educated decision for your home.
If it seems unaffordable to get your preferred designer for your project the whole way through – see if you can pay for an hour or two of their time to get their expertise injected into your project. This will improve it overall, especially if done at the start.
Find a professional you can trust, has the right type of expertise for your project, and who has demonstrated experience in getting great results.
Weigh up your investment with the level of advice you know will help you be confident and clear you’re getting it right.
I’ll leave the final word to a UA-er, who worked with a draftsperson for 12 months, and changed tack after realising she was on the wrong path:
“I now appreciate how critical it is to get the design right from the beginning – to ensure a wonderful result, and to avoid disappointment and expense if things don’t work well when they are translated from the plans to the reno.”
Have you chosen to not use an architect for your project? What were your reasons? Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear why.
And if you know of someone this information could help, please share with them.
Talina edwards says
i love this post! As a fellow female architect with a mission to empower more people to make good design decisions and have more sustainable homes, i think this is a really great response to many of the (false) reasons people think they shouldn’t choose an architect.
love your work!
Thanks so much for your kind feedback on this blog post – I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
Yes, it’s always challenging as an architect to hear all the reasons that homeowners have for not working with one … and also seeing those reasons be based in things that are actually going on in the industry! As with every profession, there are those that are good at what they do, and those that are not. I really hope this post educates people (regardless of who they choose to use), to help them choose well, and know how to navigate it more smoothly.
It’s great to hear another female architect seeking to empower homeowners in creating great homes. Best wishes with your mission too – here’s to helping more and more homeowners feel confident and empowered.
Amelia, UA x
Great article, Amelia!
Honestly, I was a little afraid of reading this post, but I’m glad I did. I often get frustrated by all these reasons (or a little offended when friends and family decide to DIY their design)! But getting frustrated isn’t going to solve anything, so I’m glad to see you’ve done something to help dispel these common opinions. Brava!
Thank you Brodie! I’m so grateful for your comment and feedback on this post.
Yes! I can completely understand your hesitation in reading the article. When you’re in the industry, it can be frustrating to hear these reasons. Worse still is knowing that there are professionals out there who perpetuate these problems for homeowners.
Home design is such a tricky thing. I can completely understand homeowners wanting to have a go themselves, because ultimately it will be them living in the finished home. And when you feel you can see what you want looking in magazines, or built examples, then it can feel that replicating those elements is the way to go.
However, it’s rare we cut our own hair, or do our own dental treatments … and what we’re often investing financially in our homes is SO much more – with far more serious impact if we get it wrong. So some expert help from a trained professional can really help the process and outcome … but it has to be the best professional for you. I’m hoping this article will help homeowners feel more confident about finding the best person to help them, and then work with them more effectively!
We’re going with a building designer for a lot of these reasons, but mostly because I’m a control freak and can’t see myself giving up so much control over the design of our extension.
Thanks for your comment. As the blog outlines, these 6 reasons apply to any designer – not just architects. What I find is that the mistakes many homeowners make in renovating or building is because they don’t know what they don’t know … and they select professionals based on reasons other than filling the gap of knowledge they’re missing themselves. You ultimately control your project because you control the purse strings. If you’re going to be the design leader on your project, then I wish you the very best in unlocking the full potential for your home, your site and your budget. This website has lots of free resources to help you.
– Amelia, UA x
Hi Sarah, the architects we are using (PHAB) are super collaborative and our experience has been a million miles away from giving up control. What they bring to the table are amazing smart ideas that we would never have thought of ourselves and spatial creativity, but they have great listening skills and are never offended if we say we don’t like something. If you feel out of control, sack them.
Thanks for your reply to Sarah – I’m so glad you’ve had such a great, collaborative experience with your architects. It’s is music to my ears, as that’s how the relationship should be between client and architect. Best wishes for your project – it sounds like you’re in good hands.
– Amelia, UA x
Its was great to read your post. It give me reflections on my current situation. I have an architect for just over a year on a house project extension and renovation. I feel he is really not listing, wants to sell his ideas on the design that I’m not satisfied with. His last mail has made me feel to end this design phase altogether. I know what I want more over I know what I don’t.
Thanks for your comment. That’s unfortunate that you’ve had this experience. I know when homeowners don’t get a good match with their designer, it can be challenging to navigate. There’s lots here on the blog to help you with finding a good fit with a designer, and also how to ensure you nail your brief and communicate it well. Best wishes for moving your project forward.
– Amelia, UA
I enjoyed your article. Particularly point 3 about the philosophy and demeanour of the communication with the other party. Personally I will never deal with an architect ever again. My advice to those seeking assistance would be to ask some clarifying questions like : can I see some of you work in person, and can you describe exactly what your fee structure is? If obscure .. RUN !!!!
Thanks for your comment – I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
That’s no good that you had a bad experience. As mentioned, there can be problems with any industry regardless of who you choose to work with … and your suggestion is a great one in checking that you find the best (and most qualified) person for you! Doing your homework will always serve you well.
– Amelia, UA
Miranda Bone says
Hi Amelia. Interesting article. We had thought we might use an architect on our extension, as we are owner building, and have not done it before. However, we do do a lot ourselves. Cut our own hair, manage our own blackwater, bake our own bread in an oven we installed ourselves, heated with wood we cut.
Basically, we got severe sticker shock and we are on a small budget; we won’t spend 15% on advice!
Thanks for your comment. It’s always a personal assessment what you place value in, and what you’re willing to spend money on. An architect provides far more than advice for 15%, and any money spent on fees should be returned to you in the money they save you, and the overall result they create. Your resourcefulness may serve you well in owner-building your extension. However, as with anything new (and especially as impactful as changing your home), it’s worthwhile getting people in your corner to help you avoid the pitfalls. I hope you can find someone to fit your needs and your budget! Best wishes with your extension,
– Amelia, UA
Reason #3 – They don’t listen, so then they misinterpret your brief (and don’t bother to clarify and questions before pen hits paper), then design an outcome for you that is not what you asked for, and totally exceeds budget & expectations. Like you said, you can experience this from anyone, from the most expensive professional, to the cheap fee draftsperson.
This post definitely strikes a chord with me.
I’m glad you found the post helpful – sounds like you’ve had a difficult experience. Looking forward to helping you with your design in “How to Get it Right”!
– Amelia, UA
Hi Amelia, great blog you have here.
Could you explain what is the purpose of the ARB and also to become a registered architect, since in your blog mentioned that “Australia is very unusual globally in that you don’t need an architect to design or draw up your home.”
Is anyone with sufficient experience but not registered with the board can submit to council for approval? If that is the case, is becoming a registered architect only earns you the title and a “feel good factor” for the person itself but make no difference in any roles and responsibilities in procurement of building construction?
If by ARB you mean the Board of Architects, their purpose is to oversee the registration and performance of architects throughout Australia, and ensure it is in accordance the Architect’s Code of Conduct.
Anyone can submit a plan to council – even a homeowner if they can draw it sufficiently. And yes, Australia is unusually globally in that you don’t need an architect to design or draw up your home – in many parts of the world, it is a requirement to use an architect for your project.
There are certain projects in Australia which require a registered Architect. And far from ‘feel good factor’ or title, career progression in certain parts of the industry is limited if you are not a registered Architect. I personally would have not got to perform the roles I have, on the projects I have, in my career, if I hadn’t been a registered Architect at the time.
It ultimately depends what kinds of projects you wish to work on, what type of work you wish to do, what position you wish to have in the industry, and what type of responsibility and accountability you wish to have as well. All vary and differ based on your training, qualifications, experience and registration. And some parts of the industry will be off-limits if you are not a registered Architect.
I hope that helps. Thanks for your kind feedback on the blog.
– Amelia, UA
Martin Turner says
Good article. I am a home owner, trying to do a knock-down rebuild.
Unfortunately the Architect I used seemed to fit into all your ‘bad’ categories.
We have an approved DA, but now I need to get a CC and the construction drawings done.
When looking at the DA approval plans, I see several items the Architect either missed, or ignored. When asked about it he said, don’t worry, that is what section 96 are for.
I would like to now find someone else to finish this work for me…. but have lost all faith in the profession.
How frustrating for you. There are lots of blogs on Undercover Architect’s website to help you with finding a designer who is a good fit for your needs. I find that if you know more about the questions to ask, and how to interview them, then it helps find the right professional. The interview with Shaun Lockyer on the podcast also gives great insight to the process of working with an architect (when it goes as it should!) You can listen here >>> Shaun Lockyer Interview. Best wishes for getting your project going again,
– Amelia, UA
Edmund Schmidt says
Starting the project of my life in a foreign country has given me a sleepless night of thoughts. Thanks for your insight, this has reduced the element of doubt and most especially concerns l had. Now I would go into my building project with a little more relaxed approach.
You’re so welcome – I’m so glad Undercover Architect has helped you in your project.
– Amelia, UA
Have had several bad experiences now with architects, after extensive briefs, meetings etc in perplexed at how leading architects can completely miss basic requirements in the brief eg a bedroom, a study, a separate living area, lockup car parking… the list goes on and all listed in the brief and at the early sketch design phase we get an invoice for a house that doesn’t even contain the basics of the brief. I don’t know where to turn anymore. This is the second time this has happened even after thorough checks of architects before use.
That is infuriating. Do they have an explanation for why they’re overlooking these spaces? What happens when you push back and question what’s going on? I know that many architects are super busy, juggling very full schedules, and so (silly) mistakes can get made. Whilst incredibly frustrating and not ideal at all – I also know that architects will vary on how much personal responsibility they take for their stuff ups. So, I think when a professional owns that they’ve made a silly mistake, and identifies a pathway through that won’t incur you extra cost, it’s possible to work with that scenario. It’s when they pretend nothing is wrong, charge you for changes they’re responsible for, and are dismissive of your concerns … that’s when there’s bigger issues.
I hope you can resolve this for your project, Shelley.
– Amelia, UA
I am in similar sticky frustrating situation, could you please share your journey of how far you have succeeded and what step have taken so far.
Our experience of trying to get an architect to work on our project, is that they simply weren’t interested in working with us because our budget wasn’t big enough for them (they wanted at least $3k/m2). So my former belief that there were architects out there interested in affordable housing design has been blown away. We eventually found a designer (architect trained, not registered) who worked with us to hone our design, then passed us to another designer who has environmental training and experience, who has tweaked the design for greater solar passive functionality, and then tendered to a volume builder. It’s working for us, as we have some design training ourselves and have found good help, but I do wish there were more architects willing to work on modest projects.
Thanks for your comment. It sound like it was frustrating for you, but great you’ve been able to find a team and a process that works for you. There are definitely architects out there willing to do lower budget work. However, quality custom new homes and renovations in Australia are rarely under $2,000m2 these days, and in cities like Sydney and Melbourne, can increase quite quickly above that. So, it’s also a case of how far you want your budget to stretch, and what that means for the building approach and finish you’ll choose. There are many architects who’ll create that initial concept design for clients, regardless of their project budget, and that can be a great way to get a great design approach embedded into your project. This is how we delivered the Anderson home for less than an off-the-plan volume built home.
Best wishes for your future home!
– Amelia, UA