Allan Corfield from Allan Corfield Architects (ACA) explains how his approach to services and fees differs from traditional architecture practices in the UK. He describes the staged services his practice offers, giving indicative costs.
Interview with Allan Corfield
Allan Corfield is an architect who aims to educate and help homeowners deliver their one-off dream home. He’s spent the last eight years building his practice based in Scotland focusing on self-builds. Their location isn’t an obstacle to working further afield as Allan factors into each fee proposal two or three face-to-face visits during each stage. Currently working on their 250th project, they now operate across the UK and are involved in projects with construction costs ranging from £70,000 to £2 million.
Percentage-based fees will increase if construction costs go up
Allan’s approach is different to the majority of traditional architecture practices in the UK who work on a percentage basis, charging 7-10% of the construction cost for their services. Allan prefers his approach because self-builds have a set budget and if you don’t know what your architect’s fee is going to be, you can’t plan ahead. He also argues there’s no incentive for an architect to save you money if their fee will drop in line with reduced construction costs.
As can be seen on the ACA website, Allan’s practice splits the build process into different stages which are priced separately as fixed costs. This allows self-builders to budget for architectural fees knowing they won’t change as the project goes on. At the end of each stage, ACA asks if clients are happy to go ahead with the next one. Allan recognises that a self-builder may run out of money or there may be a change in family circumstances meaning they can’t commit and finish their project. So his approach offers flexibility and the ability to stop if necessary.
An example of ACA’s fees based on an estimated construction cost of £250,000:
|Stage||Fixed Cost (excl. VAT)||% of Total Fee|
|Initial Design Development||£5,000||25%|
|Detailed Design Development||£6,000||30%|
|On-site Supervision||£250 per visit (optional)||5%|
A detailed project brief is essential for the design stage
Allan explains, “You want to get a design that you love, so that’s our initial design stage”. The most important thing for a client to get right is the project brief. ACA encourage clients to think about how they’ll use their buildings, e.g. an outdoors family may benefit from a wet room attached to their garage. Clients considering details like these help the architect design a home, not a house. ACA ask clients to create lots of different Pinterest boards, including a dislike board, as this helps them gauge what clients like aesthetically.
ACA use the client’s project brief to propose a couple of initial design options, usually two variations on a theme. Often a third option evolves by combining preferred elements from the first two, which is then typically revised a couple of times until the client’s happy. Their design service ranges from 2-D drawings for lower budget projects to full 3-D modelling where clients can ‘walk around’ their house.
The first stage also includes a cost check to ensure the design is affordable and self-build elements are achievable. And if there are any contentious elements that could affect planning permission, for example rural location, they make a pre-application enquiry or get a planning consultant in during the design stage.
Make neighbours and planners feel they’re part of the process
The cost of the planning stage may seem high but a lot of work goes into getting a planning application approved. Allan explains their high success rate is due to the amount of supporting information they provide, saying, “We’re very good I think at getting a lot more of our clients’ desires through the planning process than other practices because we give really good rendered images.” The thinking behind their design is explained in detail using a Design & Access Statement accompanying the application.
ACA always ensure they know the local planning policy. Allan comments, “Actually it doesn’t matter where we are or where we come from. If you know the regulations and why you’re going to get something through planning, you shouldn’t have an issue.”
Before submitting an application, Allan recommends clients discuss their drawings with neighbours so they feel they’re part of the process. While some may have objections, you can also benefit from letters of support.
It’s advisable to get certification before starting to build
The third stage is detailed design development. The architect and engineer will spend time researching and inputting information like SAP / PHPP calculations, but many things need to be confirmed by the client such as construction methods, materials, finishes, heating strategy and the level of energy performance.
Within England’s building regulations system there’s an option to give notice to start work followed by a drip feed of information as the build goes on. Allan realises this can seem attractive to self-builders who may have experienced delays and be eager to get started. However, he prefers to put together a well thought out and detailed package for review and approval before construction starts (as is mandatory in Scotland), cautioning, “If you do rush ahead it will always cost you more in the long run.”
Construction drawings show how the design should be built
Stage 4 is called Production Information. The level of detail required in the previous stage demonstrates compliance with building regulations but doesn’t show precisely how the design will be built. Construction drawings are particularly important for self-builders, to ensure contractors use the methods agreed between client and architect.
With low energy buildings or fabric first approach, you’ll need to have all the details worked out because there may be methods and products that are new to the builder. And with off-site construction methods, it’s down to the client to review and sign for a set of drawings and make sure they're in line with the window and door schedule (e.g. ensuring the window openings match the kit size), so the cost of retaining your architect to help make sense of the complicated documentation is money well spent.
You may not need as much on-site supervision as you might think
The final stage is on-site supervision. In England, building control inspectors visit the site to assess work and provide assistance, but limited funding in Scotland means they don’t have time to come out, so you don’t have that safety net.
Traditional architects often ask for a monthly retainer for site visits, but Allan feels this shouldn’t be necessary if the architect has provided all the required information and you’ve hired competent contractors. So ACA usually provide an adhoc service for this stage, charging a fixed price per visit if the client requests one. The exception to this is when ACA provides mortgage certificates, where they have to certify a phase of work (e.g. groundworks) has been completed before the lender will release the next chunk of money.
Architects should be able to justify their fees
When a project ends, ACA compare the time spent on that project versus fees charged. Quarterly reviews also help to ensure their fees are set appropriately, which will vary according to a client’s budget and requirements.
Allan comments that building your own home is a very personal thing, and the deciding factor when choosing an architect shouldn’t be solely cost. He acknowledges his practice is slightly more expensive than some of their competitors (but a lot more cost effective than a comparative practice down south, even accounting for travel costs) and justifies their fees, saying, “We’ve got a better team, so we can charge the fee that we do because we actually deliver on what we need to.” He adds the majority of their clients take the full service through stages 1-5 and nobody has come back and quibbled over the fee.
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