Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction

Despite what many think a building project is a complex process requiring constant monitoring of time cost and quality. Thorough and clear communication between the architect client and builder is paramount if you are to ensure the construction process runs smoothly. The prospect of taking on any building project can be daunting as it is probably one of the most important investments you will ever make in your life. You probably have many questions like:

Do I need an architect?

What do architects do?

That is why the Architects Black & Wilson web site has set up some Frequently Asked Questions with answers.  

Mark Wilson (the director of ABW – aka Markitect) has created a series of 20 videos or architecture hacks about the process. Go to the Architects Black &Wilson YouTube channel to watch them as they are rolled out here …LINK.  

Just so you know what is coming the subject matter each video is as follows:

  • Video1 Introduction to the Grand Design Guru
  • Video2 Does good design cost more (the risk of poor design versus the reward of good design)
  • Video3 What do architects do (what can an Architect do for you?)
  • Video4 The design process (outline of an Architects design process)
  • Video5 Better life by design (how to create a better life by Design)
  • Video6 Is bigger better (who says bigger is better)
  • Video7 The importance of shape and size (who says shape is more important than size)
  • Video8 The importance of ceiling heights (who says the ceiling height is important)
  • Video9 The importance of materials (who says quality material selection is important)
  • Video10 Light and ventilation (who says light and ventilation is important)
  • Video11 Passive design (the quick explanation of passive design)
  • Video12 The cost of good design (the real cost of good design)
  • Video13 Designing for climate (how do you design for climate)
  • Video14 Practical application of climate design (practical examples of designing for climate)
  • Video15 Designing for climate and site (how do you design for climate and site constraints)
  • Video16 Designing for accessibility (how do you design for accessibility)
  • Video17 The building procurement process
  • Video18 Selecting the right designer (how do you select the right designer for you)
  • Video19 Selecting the right architect (how do you select the right Architect for you)
  • Video20 The wrap

The FAQ’s.

FAQ 1: What is an architect? Are there other people who can draw up plans?

Architects do more than draw up your plans. Just like medical professionals Architects must obtain at least one degree (more often two) and also must log sufficient work experience before they are eligible to sit for exam. Only after they pass this exam (which is not easy) before they can legally call themselves an Architect. Architects are experts in designing a building specifically to suit your needs matched to the budget and site constraints. Accordingly, intensive consultation is required assemble the brief in order to properly diagnose the building problem and possibly further investigations undertaken before coming up with a bespoke solution.

Using a standard house plans is essentially prescription without diagnosis which could be considered tantamount to malpractice. That said there are times when a standard plan may suit. Refer to this Video 3 ‘what do architects do?

Watch the video about Who and what you need. Click on photo.

This is basically a summary of that video.  

How do you select the right designer for you?

Should you use a builder’s draftsman a building designer or an architect?

I like to use my pharmacist/G.P./medical specialist as an analogy.

A pharmacist can dispense drugs but not make them a doctor

A G.P. can make general diagnosis but that does not make them a specialist.

In my belief you probably can use a builder’s draftsman if you understand everything I discuss in my videos. In other words you know what you want and why you want it.

You can self medicate and go to a “prescribed” solution works when:

  1. easy flat site
  2. the extension fits on site within all set backs
  3. it can be “deemed to comply” with all Town Planning regulations
  4. no Development Application (D.A.) required as it is “as of right”

If on the other handmore diagnosis required say when you are in a character area (and a D.A. required then maybe some G.P. advice is required.

In such an instance you may want to consult aBuilding Designerwho fully understands this stuffto confirm your diagnosis or offer an alternate prescriptions.

There are many good building designers out there especially if they have “practiced” for many years.

If you require a more detailed diagnosis from a design specialist then consider seeing an Architect. You should use a specialist Architect if:

  1. you have a difficult site;
  2. it is steeply sloping;
  3.  it is an awkward shape
  4. it is facing the wrong way e.g. views to the west
  5. it is and expensive site
  6. it has great views of land or water;
  7. it is surrounded by expensive houses
  8. it is an expensive suburb 

Specialist Architects like medical specialists are not all created equal.

Not even all Architects are specialized to design your specific project.

It is possible less than 20% of architects have even designed their own home.

Some may never design a house their whole career unless they move jobs.

Some Architects are experts in a particular type of commercial project – but may know nothing about houses or industrialor fit outs or schools and so forth.   

Now you would not use a foot surgeon to do your heart transplant would you?

So you need to do your due diligence.

So like all specialists you engage you really want someone with a track record.

After all you want the procedure to work don’t you?

If you have difficulty visualizing then consider someone who has used 3D modelling on computers for a long time. Refer to FAQ 2 How do I find an architect – how can I know if he/she is any good?

FAQ 7: Should I build a new home or alter my existing home?

More often the not the true value of your existing house is overestimated?

Unfortunately your home may possibly be worth more to you than anyone else. You may attribute more value on all the sweat equity ‘improvements‘ that have been made than the market. Some of these improvements may add little to the sale price. Some may even detract from the true ‘market value’ of the property.

As transaction costs increase the question of whether to alter or rebuild is becoming

more critical. Allowance has to be made in the budget upgrade figures for:

i.        miscellaneous costs like building inspections,

ii.       removal costs,

iii.      conveyancing

iv.      real estate agent’s commission for the sale of the existing property

v.       stamp duty on the new purchase

In the end the main reason for considering staying put and doing a renovation may be because you love the area or your street or just your neighbours.

At the end of the day the decision may not be totally financial.

There are two other aspects of alterations that need to be borne in mind. Firstly, many inner-city sites have planning constraints particularly if the buildings are pre 1937. Secondly alterations and additions cost significantly more per square metre than new work due to the constraints and unknown problems invariably unearthed. The biggest benefit of sites close to the city is that lack of supply increases demand, so they go up in value much more than those sites further from the city. Similarly, if the site has rare features like city hinterland river or ocean views then again you need an architect to ensure the design takes maximum advantage of the intrinsic site value. Refer to FAQ 1.

FAQ 8: Why are renovations so much more expensive than a new house?

The “reality” TV show Grand Designs has shown us that often the “dream home” ends up costing several thousand more than expected. You don’t want your dream renovation ending up costing twice as much as you ever dreamed it would.

Be wary of an estimate is given with no final plans or commitment. At the end of the day all quotes are meaningless unless they are by someone prepared to sign a contract for that amount.

So why are renovation costs so high and always underestimated? The simple answer is they have to compete with and are therefore “compared” to new homes. The best way to answer is to ask why new homes are so much cheaper than renovations. For new homes there are less risks to potentially eat into the profit. New builds:

  1. have no unknowns or ghosts in the closet (at least they should not have any)
  2. permit unrestricted access to site at all hours of the day
  3. incur less workplace health and safety issues as the owners are not in the way
  4. do not have owners perpetually on-site questioning everything before it is finished
  5. don’t to waste time materials and effort on demolition – essentially one step back before going forwards  
  6. don’t waste time materials and effort on temporarily holding up the roof or floor etc
  7. rarely have asbestos removal and disposal
  8. don’t have lead or galvanized pipes which have to be replaced
  9. don’t have degraded insulation which has to be removed and replaced  
  10. don’t have vitreous china sewer lines which have to be replaced
  11. don’t have outdated wiring which has to be replaced
  12. don’t have years of dust
  13. don’t have access and material delivery and storage problems
  14. don’t have overhead power lines
  15. don’t have potentially difficult neighbours
  16. have fewer Town Planning and Building restrictions      
  17. don’t have to meld with or match the existing fabric
  18. are not constrained by the existing arrangement so waste less space

The good news is because someone has had to resolve all these issues renovated homes are usually valued by the market at near to their intrinsic “improved” value. In other word’s the overcoming of these “risks” are valued. The real value in undertaking the renovations yourself is they will be brand new and to your taste.

FAQ 9: What does an architect cost?

An architect’s fees depend on:

  • the scope of the work (see below)
  • whether the project involves a new building or refurbishment
  • the particular local authority
  • the value of the project
  • you attitude to quality and detail
  • market competition

 The scope of the pre-construction work can include some or all of the following:

  • site investigations and measured drawings (not surveying)
  • pre-design (concept) and sketch design
  • developed design and DA (Development application) submission
  • construction BA (Building Approval) drawings

Architects also can provide addition services to design and documentation including:

  • detailed documentation including specifications
  • tendering and contract preparation
  • contract administration and defects monitoring

Due to the significant amount of time this work takes it can add another 100% to the Architects fees. It might be advisable to take into account these additional services when you compare designers fee proposals.

Fees can be expressed as:

  • a percentage of the construction budget
  • a fixed lump sum fee
  • an hourly rate
  • a mixture of all the above

The agreement should be:

  • in a recognized format preferably endorsed by AIA The Australian Institute of Architects
  • signed by both parties
  • refer to the scope of work

FAQ 10: How will I finance this project?

The financing any building project that falls outside the banking institutions standard cookie cutter criteria can be more arduous.

The harsh reality is lending institutions prefer the simplicity of new builds over renovations. They particularly like flat blocks of land where the retaining walls are already constructed and incorporated in the sale price of the land. They also love package deals including driveways turf and the letterbox. Why is this so? Because they can very accurately establish the finished value so of the “package” because they have an entire street of exactly similar homes.  

Conversely lending institutions are less capable of “valuing” bespoke renovations because finding reliable comparable homes. They do not attribute any value to fences swimming pools or other landscaping improvements.  

Your needs and expectations must be communicated to the architect early in the process to mitigate bottlenecks later on. You do not want to go to all the trouble of designing a great building that comes in on budget and sign a contract only to find finance is not available. This is a critical area where you require a professional with relevant skills and knowledge and good communication skills to provide you with unbiased advice to help you achieve your goals.

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