Fees charged by architects vary very significantly and since the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) abolished their indicative fee scales, there is very little benchmarking information freely available.
Architects fees depend on the size, type and quality of the project that a client requires.
Fees vary for many different reasons, yet as with most services, the fee generally reflects the level of service provided and the quality of the completed building.
If the brief and budget are well defined, fees are usually negotiated at the start of a project. When this isn't the case, architects sometimes work on a time charge basis for feasibility stages until the build cost, size and complexity of the project are known or can be better estimated.
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The cost of an architect should be considered in conjunction with the value that the particular practice is able to add to a project.
There are no standard architect's fees in the UK. Historically, the RIBA produced a recommended fee scale. This graph gave indications of fees for particular sizes and types of project. Now practices usually produce their own fee charts based on their operating costs amongst other factors.
Architects fees: options
In the UK, fees are typically charged in one of three main ways:
percentage of construction cost
time charge/hourly rate
Percentage fee: a percentage fee gives the client a reasonable indication of total architectural fees, whilst also allowing for some flexibility if the project scope is increased. Percentages are based on the construction cost, as this is generally proportionate to the work required by the architect.
The fee will be automatically adjusted to any changes in the estimated construction cost. This estimate is refined during the design process, providing a straightforward way of adjusting fees to changes in the project size or complexity, without having to renegotiate. Percentage fees are usually divided into monthly payments during each work-stage.
Clients are sometimes concerned that a percentage approach doesn't give architects an incentive to keep construction costs low. However, architects offer a professional service and are bound by their code of conduct. This code is issued by the Architects Registration Board. It requires architects to be honest and act with integrity and to be trustworthy and look after your client's money properly.
Lump sum fee: this type of fee will be very carefully defined based on specific items of work. The fee will need to be renegotiated if the nature of the appointment changes significantly. This approach may, therefore, be best for a straightforward project with a very clearly defined brief.
Time charge: Time charged fees work well at the start of a project when the scope hasn't been clearly defined. They can also provide flexibility with a "pay as you go" approach when used for the entire process. This option offers the least fee certainty for the client, so often an architect will estimate the total number of hours required or agree hourly caps.
Other key points to consider
For larger projects with higher build costs, the percentage upon which the fee is based will be lower. This is due to the economies of scale in larger projects.
RIBA architects fees shouldn't be any more than non-RIBA chartered practices.
In the UK, VAT is chargeable in addition to architects fees.
Percentage fees are sometimes only amended to reflect a change of more than 10% in the cost estimate. This allows for some reasonable project variations before adjusting fees.
An additional sum is usually payable for expenses incurred in connection with the work (printing, postage, travel etc.).
Any disbursements made on a client's behalf are usually charged at net cost. This includes things like payments to the local authority for planning applications.
By the end of a project, the total architectural fee paid is likely to be in the same region regardless of which approach is chosen. This is due to the relationship between the number of hours required for a project and the charge out rate that an architect needs to make a job profitable. Ultimately, as a professional service, an architect is billing for their time.
Architectural fees for a full service are usually based on RIBA work stages 1-6. A schedule of services will be provided along with the fee proposal, this details the items of work that are included and also gives exclusions. If a client requires additional services after appointment, these can be time charged or a separate fixed fee agreed. An architect must, of course, obtain a client's consent before providing any such additional services.
Some example optional services are given below. Each of these would typically incur between 0.5% and 2% of additional percentage fee, depending on the type/scope of the project:
Detailed joinery design: bespoke kitchen, bookcases, wardrobes etc.
External landscape design: surface finishes, planters, boundaries, lighting
Interior design: furniture, soft furnishings, decorations, specialist lighting
Architects fees in London
Charge out rates for architects are typically higher in London than the rest of the UK. This addition is generally in line with the higher staff salaries and costs of running a practice in London. Percentage fees are also likely to be slightly higher in London, although the difference may be less marked if the practice is working on a project based in the capital, due to the corresponding higher construction values.
Residential project fees
As the table below indicates, residential projects are one of the most time-intensive types of work for an architect. Clearly, a client's own home is a very personal project and a high-quality building and in-depth service is required. These commissions are often relatively small, are quite bespoke and offer few economies of scale or repeated elements.
Comparative difficulty levels for various project types: where class 1 = simple and 5 = complex
private houses for individual clients: 5
housing / apartment blocks: 4
office developments: 3
community halls: 2
storage sheds: 1
Within the category ‘private houses for individual clients’ there are four subcategories explored below:
Architects fees for a new house
A new build house on a vacant site is the most straightforward private residential project type for an architect, and therefore typically attracts the lowest percentage fees for residential work. For a new house or self-build project, architects fees for a full service in 2019 may be as follows. These figures are of course indicative as there will be many other factors to consider:
£100k budget: 9.5%
£200k budget: 8.5%
£500k budget: 8%
£1m budget: 7.5%
Extensions, basements and loft conversions
These are resource-intensive projects due to the complexity of working with existing buildings. There are few economies of scale or repetition. It is worth noting that these types of projects seldom occur in isolation, as there is often some refurbishment of the existing house too.
For a high-quality design, architects fees for extensions in 2019 may be in the region of:
£100k budget: 14%
£200k budget: 13%
£500k budget: 12%
£1m budget: 11.5%
Listed building fees
These projects are even more resource-intensive due to the complexity of working with listed buildings. The process of obtaining listed building consent and designing for the alteration or restoration of historic fabric requires an experienced architect with specialist knowledge. Fees for works to listed buildings in 2019 may be in the region of:
£100k budget: 16%
£200k budget: 15%
£500k budget: 14%
£1m budget: 13%