So, you’ve got a home that you want to renovate but first, you need to engage an architect to design your renovation. But how do you go about choosing an architect?
Unless you have an architect you’ve worked with before or you have one that comes highly recommended, you’ll need to source an architect from scratch. But how will you know if you’ve chosen the right one for your project?
It’s not as easy as you might think. Not all architects are the same and your choice will ultimately impact the functionality of your residence, your lifestyle and the value of your home. If you want the result to be a positive one, then you need to do your research.
To help get you started, here are the top ten questions you should ask before engaging an architect to design your home or renovation.
10 questions to ask before hiring an architect
1. How much experience do you have?
Anyone using the title architect will be registered and qualified (if you’re unsure ask for evidence of both), however experience and expertise can vary greatly from one architect to the next. Ask your architect about their experience, how long they’ve been in business, the types of projects that they’ve worked on and even their philosophy when it comes to architecture, design, sustainability etc.
2. Are you experienced in this type of renovation?
Whilst it’s not necessarily vital that the architect you choose has experience in renovating your style of home, there is a certain peace of mind that comes from knowing that they are familiar with your style of project. Ask them to show you examples of similar types of renovations they’ve done before. Importantly, ask them about the goals of the owners of those projects, why they choose the design they did, the benefits and any challenges they faced with that project. Great architects are passionate about their work and will happily share that information with you.
3. This is my desired outcome, what would you suggest to achieve that outcome?
Many clients go to architects with a rigid plan in mind, feeling that they know what they want and simply need it drawn up. However, when you engage an experienced, highly skilled architect you are engaging a design professional with potentially decades of design experience. So why not take advantage of their knowledge? A skilled architect will ask you questions about your lifestyle and what is important to you in terms of the outcome you’re looking for. As you speak, they will be coming up with several potential design options which they will then tailor in their mind to perfectly suit your lifestyle as well as your budget. Get them to explain their reasoning behind their design suggestions so you’re comfortable with the advice and design suggestions they’re offering.
4. Will my design be unique?
Whilst it’s common that architects will draw on their past experiences for inspiration when creating designs (what’s the point of experience if you don’t use it right?), it’s important that your design is tailored to suit your exact needs. Whilst your renovation goals and existing home may seem very similar to other projects your architect may have worked on, it’s doubtful that your lifestyle needs will be exactly the same as their previous clients. For this reason, it’s vital that your architect creates a bespoke design for your individual needs and not simply rehash a previous one.
5. Will you help get my project approved by council?
Most, but not all, architects will offer a documentation service whereby they can either supply you with the documents to submit for approval, or they will submit them for you. Ask if this is a service that your architect offers and what is involved with that service. Also, keep in mind that your approval will not come through any faster if your architect submits it, but it will be done correctly the first time, which can save on delays.
6. Will I be able to choose my own builder?
This is important, and an often overlooked question which can potentially impact the cost of your renovation. Many architects are aligned with, or in partnership with, licensed builders and offer a one-stop design/build service. And whilst these may seem like a good idea on the surface, the truth is it offers very few advantages and can end up costing you more. An independent architect will allow you to take the designs they create and get several tenders from different builders to ensure that you’re getting the best possible price for your project. Some architects will run the tender process for you as an additional service.
7. Will you be involved beyond the design phase?
How important this service is to you will depend on how confident you feel, or how experienced you are in dealing with builders. But if you’re not entirely comfortable with the thought of confronting a builder or tradesperson over problems with your project then you might want to take advantage of this service. Again, contract administration, or project management as some people call it, is not a service offered by every architect, so it pays to ask the question. While you are on the subject you should ask them if they provide their own contracts as many of the standard building contracts tend to favour the builder rather than the homeowner and I for one would never recommend using a standard contract.
8. Apart from the design, what other services do you offer?
Whilst some architects only offer a basic design service, others offer a range of services including such things as interior design, landscape architecture, contract administration, tendering services and more. Whilst you may not need all these services, it pays to ask what additional services they can provide, in case some are of interest to you.
9. How long will the renovation take?
An experienced architect will have a pretty good idea of how long the project will take from initial design through to completion. If it’s a home that you’re currently living in, you will no doubt want to know the stages and timeframes associated with your project.
10. Will we need to move out?
If you’re living in the home, will the renovation require you to move out at any stage? Will there be periods of time where you are without utilities like electricity, gas or water? What parts of the home will tradespeople need to access? What times of the day will they be present? Will the home be secure during the renovations? Keep in mind that the architect themselves won’t be building the project, but an experienced architect should be able to answer those questions and give you a good indication of what, if any, impact there will be on your lifestyle during the construction phase.
So, there you have it, ten questions that should be the starting point of any conversation with prospective architects before you engage them to create your renovation design. Any architect should welcome these questions and have no challenge in answering them.
As an architect who services customers from across Australia, offering services including building architecture, interior design and landscape design, I understand how challenging renovation projects can be. But the rewards of a well-designed renovation are enormous, both financially and in terms of your lifestyle. Good luck with your renovation.