Here is a list of questions I am frequently asked about Prime’s services, practice, fees etc.
You are very welcome to contact me directly for more information or to discuss ideas for your new project.
What is your Design Process?
The typical design process has been described quite well in this article on the NZ Institute of Architects website.
Of course, every project is different, and so our design process is tailored to suit your unique needs.
A strong point of difference is the level of integration we offer throughout, leveraging BIM technology through the creative process from beginning to end, more capably and effectively than most; allowing us to more productively collaborate with you and others in the building team in generating functionally, aesthetically and technically successful, interesting and exciting ideas, more confidence in knowing what you will be getting, and thoroughly thought-through construction details and drawings at the end.
Paul, you call yourself a ‘Freelance Architect’. What does that mean?
This simply means that my clients include other architects. I often assist other practices around New Zealand when they are too busy and need some help, or when they need specialist skills and experience for a task that might lie outside their normal day-to-day capabilities.
Of course anyone using me directly gets the same quality of service, without the ‘middlman’!
Architecture Prime is a small company. Am I not better off with a larger firm?
To be fair, there are situations where you really would be better off with a large firm despite the extra cost, though not as many nowadays as there once might have been.
With today’s BIM technology a single architect with the right skill set can address large and complex projects (such as high-end houses, apartment buildings, multi-story commercial buildings etc), that historically would have required a whole team of architects and draftspeople.
Dealing with a small company also offers you certain advantages – the service is always personalized, and you know you are always getting the most talented and capable person assigned to your job for one thing. You are also saved from the inevitable large firm inefficiencies, higher overheads and staff churn (staff leaving the company, new staff coming on board, or just staff being moved from project to project).
With a large firm, the practice principals you meet and deal with are seldom the ones actually doing the work. To sustain their overheads (and salaries), most work is delegated to more junior staff. Delegation of course, is a two-edged sword, especially where it involves junior staff; it can add to the likelihood of mistakes, and adds a significant internal office communication overhead. With many projects to address, a large practice typically also needs to move staff from project to project as the firm juggles with competing project and client deadlines, and as workloads on each ramp up and down, each time creating a potential break in continuity for your project, and each time adding more ‘getting up to speed’ delay when the next person assigned has to pick up the reigns and learn the history of your job.
There are also all the normal HR issues and compliance costs any large organisation faces, that all need to be covered by your fee.
In a nutshell, within the same fee budget, a large firm faced with higher overheads generally has no choice but to allocate fewer working hours and/or less qualified personnel to your project, if they hope to break even, let alone turn a profit. It is important to note that beyond a certain level of complexity, some projects will still definitely benefit from the resources a large company can offer. Of course at the other end of the scale, there are situations where using an architect at all may be overkill.
We can have a frank discussion about whether we are the right ‘fit’ for your project at our first meeting, and if necessary suggest other suitable practices and options where this makes better sense.
What is ‘Professional Indemnity Insurance’ for, and do you need it?
PI insurance provides financial and legal assistance to the architect in the unlikely event of a claim for negligence.
This may be a somewhat double-edged sword from the perspective of the client who ultimately pays for this through higher fees; it provides a kind of surety in the form of a known pool of insurer’s money to potentially claim against, but also pays for expensive lawyers to defend against any claims and minimize the chances that any claim will actually succeed.
Architecture Prime would much rather avoid being sued in the first place through superior quality of work, attention to detail, and good communication, than through insurance products and lawyers. We do not normally use PI insurance unless a client specifically requires us to. If you do prefer we have it for your job, no problem – please just ask.
Either way, we are highly motivated to ensure our work is good and our clients are happy. We are absolutely committed to ensuring no client will ever have reason to accuse us of negligence!
Architects, architectural designers and draftsmen are more or less the same thing, right?
You would be justified in assuming that anyone who is allowed to design buildings for a living is probably an architect, right?
Surprisingly, as the law stands, this is far from true, and just about anyone who can hold a crayon can have a go at designing a building (which does explain a few things!). Some operators out there seem to be quite happy not to correct your assumptions when you refer to them as ‘architects’, enjoying all the professional credibility that the title brings – without having to actually earn it.
Unfortunately, it can be quite hard for a layperson to spot who is the real deal – at least before it is too late…
Consumer protection law does at least require anyone explicitly advertising themselves an architect to be officially registered as one. Being registered essentially involves demonstrating a high standard of knowledge, training, skill, ethics and care. Designers who have not met the standard for registration for architects can’t legally use the title, so tend to use other similar sounding words to describe what they do; typically ‘architectural designer’, or less often now, ‘draftsman’.
Unfortunately, unregistered designers of buildings are not always quick to correct your natural assumptions about their credentials, so it is probably best to ask them outright – “are you an architect?”.
If you hear your potential designer claiming to be ‘just as good’, or ‘more or less the same’ as an architect, or ‘never quite got around to registering’, you have your answer.
Any genuine architect can quote you their registration number, and you can verify this directly on the NZ Registered Architects Board website www.nzrab.nz
‘But, at the end of the day, what’s in a name’? I hear you ask.
Well, there certainly are differences, and let’s be honest, one of them is cost. Another one is what you actually get for your money; i.e. quality of outcome, return on investment, and your exposure to risk.
While many architectural designers are good at what they do, most who can meet the standard have already registered as architects themselves.
Note that there is a very basic standard ‘Licensed Building Practitioner’ (LBP) qualification that any designer or tradesperson operating in the building industry must have – but the bar for this one is set quite low (which probably suits the crayon-holding brigade quite well). ‘Licensed’ should not be confused with ‘Registered’ in other words.
The issue of professional titles aside, unsurprisingly, for any given build budget, minimizing design cost is strongly associated with also minimizing the skill, design quality and documentation quality that goes into your project. This is basic economics.
Without a good designer and thorough documentation, you should generally expect less imaginative, attractive or efficient solutions, more (expensive) problems on site, and lower resale value – but maybe a saving of a few % on your up-front design costs.
If saving those few % is still sounding like a good idea to you, let me put it this way: if you were on the operating table, and you learned that your surgeon was the lowest bidder, how would you feel about that?
A house for sure is not as important as your life, but well or badly designed, it probably does represent a massive investment for you – maybe your life savings, if not many years worth of mortgage payments…
So it might as well be done right … Right?
Why are architects so expensive?
A common misconception, but quite simply, we aren’t at all expensive – at least when you compare the alternatives.
For sure, designing buildings properly does require an investment in time and care that not all developers and home builders allow for. There is more to go wrong, and more involved in getting it right than many people realise. No amount of efficiency will sidestep this requirement.
Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the extra costs down the track caused by minimizing design fees are not obvious up front and are too often overlooked by inexperienced clients when selecting a building and design delivery strategy.
Obviously, as an architect I would say this, but architect fees, while not often the cheapest, do, with monotonous regularity, turn out to represent the best value overall.
I can make this claim with some confidence, because the fees you spend on an architect are typically more than offset by the increased valuation (resale or rental return) of the building you get from architect-quality design; the increased efficiency, desirability and amenity in operation, and as studies show, with an investment in better than average documentation you get substantially reduced costs during construction from reduced mistakes and delays on site.
It is no stretch at all to say that every dollar saved up front on architectural fees probably costs you many more dollars by the end.
Why are architects so cheap?
… Actually, I am not asked this one too often to be fair, but surprisingly, compared with almost any other profession, typical architect incomes are firmly at the bottom end of the scale.
This is because a good deal of time and care is required to ensure the client gets a great outcome, and so the fees earned need to be spread over a high number of hours.
Consider for example that a real estate agent, with no more than a high school education, might charge 2-4% of the value of a property for the equivalent of maybe a few days work. An architect can meanwhile easily require months of intense work (or even years on large or complex buildings) to properly design and draw up all the details of that same building, all for around the same money.
… Which building the client may well then be able to sell at a substantial profit (far more than any fees), based on the value added by the architect!
Some else is offering to work for 2% less than you, so why should I use Architecture Prime ?
If someone else appears to be significantly cheaper, there is probably a very good reason for it.
The market is crowded with designers of all kinds, and pricing is very competitive. This means practices are forced to price keenly in relation to what it costs them to provide the service, and the costs faced by any practice typically relate to the level of efficiency, the specific services, the level of skill and the level of care being offered.
Certainly, operating at the forefront of technology, and without large practice overheads to carry, the efficiency at Architecture Prime is already far better than most, so you already get more service for every dollar spent.
This leaves only three ways to undercut Architecture Prime, all of which involve added risk for you:
1) Provide reduced service, i.e. by omitting key outcomes or processes that Prime has included in the price (quite possibly making up the difference later via a bunch of unexpected ‘extra’ costs as the need for these tasks becomes apparent to you).
2) Provide less skill than Prime offers, typically by using or delegating to cheaper less qualified, or experienced staff.
3) Provide less care than Prime insists upon providing. Cutting corners and not allowing for the time required for good thorough work.
Whatever you do, and whoever you finally use, please make sure the fees you are considering really are an ‘apples for apples’ comparison and don’t leave any seemingly minor aspects out that others include.
I cannot reiterate strongly enough that every dollar saved on design fees will likely cost you far more by the end.
Ok, so how much do you charge?
This depends completely on what services you need.
There is an NZIA ‘scale of fees’ where estimates can range anywhere from 3% of construction cost for a very large and expensive building, to perhaps 15% for a tiny low budget alteration job – but without knowing quite a bit about your objectives and your project, and how much involvement you need from me, I would be doing you no favours by guessing at a more specific figure.
For this reason, you should be very careful if ‘shopping around’ for an architect or another designer and one gives you an attractive sounding price over the phone – almost certianly any over the phone estimate will be subject to so many disclaimers that it will be meaningless, and commit the designer to nothing.
It is vital if comparing prices that you also ensure you really are comparing apples with apples, and that the fees proposed will actually allow for everything you will need. There are nearly always things that are essential for a good outcome, beyond just ‘drawing the plans’, that most people never consider (until too late).
Luckily, your favourite architect does know about all these mysterious and wonderful but easily-overlooked things, and there are usually a number of fee and service options available to you at any scale of building, meaning we can usually tailor our services intelligently to suit your unique objectives and budget.
Listening carefully to your objectives and understanding what your project really needs is the first and most essential service we offer.