How to compare AC Architects against another Architect?
Choosing the right architect to build the home you’ve been dreaming of is undoubtedly one of the most important decisions you will make at the start of your self-build journey.
This blog article has been written for our potential clients, who are on the brink of making the big decision, to ACA or not…. that is the question! Read on for further clarity, one way or the other.
Why choose ACA over another Architect?
ACA are an established practice who have worked on over 500 residential projects, spread the length and breadth of the UK. With that in mind, we have developed the knowledge to be able to help and guide our prospective clients. First and foremost, we’re here to help. We want to help.
We appreciate that clients have a vision of the home they want to build. It’s your dream, it’s your home, and it’s your hard-earned money. It’s your chosen Architect’s job to understand, interpret and turn those dreams into an inspiring, affordable home. This takes skill and above everything a good relationship between client and designer.
This article is full of the main questions we get asked or you may want to ask ACA or the other architect, so that you can make that big decision, with as little fear as possible.
Below we have listed the top 12 most asked questions (yes 12) when we are being compared against other fee proposals, we hope this helps you make your decision –
- What makes us different from other Architects
- What can ACA offer you as a client
- Fixed cost fees v’s percentage of construction cost
- Why do you not follow the RIBA plan of works
- What are the benifits of bringing everything in-house rather than outsourcing other consultants
- What protection do you have if things go wrong
- Why do you take various payments throughout the stages
- Why would I go for ACA over a more local practice
- What other professionals do I need to employ
- How long is my project going to take
- How can ACA help with the finance side of my project
- Finally, how do I appoint ACA as my architect
1 – What makes us different from other Architects?
As part of our basic service, we draw everything in a 3D drawing package (ArchiCAD), which you can then view on an iPad or tablet in your own time. These tools give you a view of your new home design in 3D and explore every aspect and design feature. But if you want more from your design experience, we also have a Virtual Reality system in both of our offices, where you and your family can come and spend three or four hours wandering around your house.
This helps you to gain perspective on furniture placement and the layout of your rooms. It is also a great way to see whether any aspects of the design need to be changed to suit your needs.
At ACA we consider ourselves to be specialists in low-energy homes using modern methods of construction. These include SIPS, Timber Frame, and ICF, (we also do traditional methods of construction). Each of our houses are designed to the fabric first principles and we can provide an in-house Certified Passive House specialist. So whether you want to save the planet or just reduce your energy bills, we can design the house you want.
We are also in a unique position where we have our own Structural Engineering business – AC Structures (ACS). They are a talented team of 6 working under the same roof as their design colleagues at ACA. This joined-up approach means that we are designing efficiently in terms of the structure of your design.
Most structural engineers would get involved at the end of the project once the architects have completed the design, with the intention of trying to make that design work (reactive rather than proactive). At ACA, the structural engineers get involved from the early design stages, giving clients the benefit of them completing a value-engineering exercise before expensive mistakes are made. This also helps to make the design process as efficient and streamlined as possible, from start to finish
2 – What can ACA offer you as a client?
ACA offers a tailored service that suits your requirements as well as provides you with a fee proposal that is specific to your design needs. Our team will take you through the initial design stage and ensure that you have the correct approvals for planning and building regulations. We also create a production package which gives an established or novice self-builder all the information that they require when speaking with contractors.
At ACA, we are far more engaged throughout the whole process, it’s your design, your home, and we want it to be right for you!
Over the years, we have also created a wealth of articles, blogs and videos that we can share with clients as an educational tool. These can be accessed through our website and provide an excellent resource to educate and guide clients to make decisions that are right for their build.
And we’re also here at the other end of the phone. Our team are always happy to speak directly with you.
3 – Fixed cost vs percentage of construction cost
As a self-builder, it is highly likely that you are working to a defined budget, usually from retirement money or the sale of a property. We therefore believe that all professional fees you obtain should be exact and fixed, you need cost certainty from the outset.
If you chose to appoint an architect on a percentage of construction cost (this is old fashioned in our opinion) then there is no benefit for that architect to save you money, as their fee will go down – it is completely counter productive!
Where possible, we suggest that you get fixed costs for everything… architects, structural engineers, quantity surveyors and any other professionals that get involved. Read more about it in our article about professional fees here.
4 – Why do you not follow the RIBA plan of works
The RIBA plan of work or stages, is a well established set of stages that a generic project can follow, from inception to occupation of the building. This is great for larger commercial projects, but we feel that a more client focused approach, is better suited to the personal nature of a self-build project.
This is why we created our own bespoke set of stages, refined after more than 500 residential projects! These are set out around clear tasks all leading to defined milestone events –
- Initial Design
- Planning Submission
- Building Regs/Warrant
- Production Pack
- On site assistance
Clear and easy to understand, even if you haven’t worked with an architect before.
5 – What are the benefits of bringing everything in-house like we do at ACA rather than outsourcing?
At ACA, we have a team that can provide you with a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise. Our in-house team consists of Passive House Designers, architects, technicians, designers, structural engineers and everything in between! Due to this, we ensure that we provide our clients with a cohesive design journey where you aren’t having to stop and start the process to wait for an outside consultant to return a call or email.
Through this team working environment, we are able to fix any problems, issues or changes much quicker whilst still keeping your requirements at the heart of any decisions. Issue’s between separate companies can very quickly descend into a blame game.
6 – What protection do we have if things go wrong?
At both ACA and ACS, we hold professional indemnity insurance, this protects you against any design mistakes we could make. ACA has professional insurance to the value of £5 million pounds per claim, and AC Structures have £2 million pounds per claim. And having delivered over 500 projects, we haven’t had a claim to date.
As an RIBA Chartered Practice, we also have to ensure that we are following strict rules and guidelines to ensure competency and professionalism.
At each stage of your self-build we would consult with you for approval to move on to the next stage of your project. If you don’t like the way a design is going, something happens financially/personally, or there are dramatic changes with your plot purchase (for example), then we would let you out of your contract. As per our terms, we would complete the stage that we were currently working on. This should give you the peace of mind that you aren’t committing to a long and expensive process if things do go wrong.
7 – Why do you take various payments throughout the stages?
So you may be asking yourself why we do this, when other practices are willing to get paid on completion of the full work.
At ACA, we split the payments into three stages. This is done to help both our cash flow and yours, payments are more regular and smaller.
Payments would be split in percentages of the overall cost; 30% when we start the stage, 30% at an interim point and 40% on the completion of our works.
As our services are in demand, we always take a deposit payment (20% of stage 1), which secures your place in our work schedule. It’s usually a time frame of 3-4 weeks from this point before we would start work on your project.
With regard to making payments, we offer traditional BACS payments (which is our preference), we also offer Stripe as a payment method, where you can pay by debit/credit card.
Once an invoice has been issued, we follow a 14-day payment term. It is appreciated that our clients pay in a timely manner.
8 – Why would I go for ACA over a more local practice?
Through past experience and the types of homes that we have designed across the UK, we feel that we have a far better knowledge base and in-house talent than many smaller local practices may have.
If this question was asked ten years ago, then we may have said, ‘yes go to your local architect’. At that point the architect would have been able to walk into a planning office and have a chat with the planner or even take them for a bar lunch! That just doesn’t happen anymore, it’s almost impossible to have a conversation outwith a formal application.
All planning applications are distributed on a case-by-case basis to the next available officer. This mean whoever is assigned to your case doesn’t necessarily have extensive knowledge of your exact locality and area.
Regardless of where your architect is based, they all have to design to the same planning policy for that area, it’s not therefore relevant whether your architect is local or not. The policy and local design guides are available for anyone to download on the LPA’s website.
On all our projects, we come to carry out a site visit and meet with the clients. We would also instruct a topographical survey to be carried out. This gives us in depth information of your site within a millimetre tolerance, we then build that out in our 3D model – this is where the design happens.
The benefit of having an architect who is not local is that they are more likely to push the local authority for answers on your behalf. The local architect might also have another 10 projects with that planner, so they aren’t going to want to fight against them – you will lose out!
At the end of the day the success of a planning application is on the basis of the quality of work provided, not on who you know at the planning office. Appoint the best practice you can afford not the closest!
9 – What other professionals do I need to employ?
Architects aren’t the only professionals that you will need to employ to assist you, there are lots of specialists that go make up your team. Because of this we recently prepared a blog walking you through the key people and some advice on what to expect to pay.
10 – How long is my project going to take?
This is a difficult question to answer as each design/build is unique, and each client’s requirements will differ also. Some factors that may extend the timescales of your project are –
- How challenging your design is and the time it takes to complete the design
- the time taken by clients to review designs
- and the time it takes for the planner to get back to us
For us, planning is the biggest hurdle and the one factor that is likely to add time to your project. Currently, we could be looking at anything between 12-14 weeks throughout the UK.
At ACA, we will keep you updated on the timeline of your project. We explain each stage of the project and the expected timeframes for each stage. We will also provide you with a gantt chart which shows the stages and associated timeline, from start to finish.
11 – How can ACA help with the finance side of my project?
ACA work closely with BuildStore, who are the largest providers of lending in the self and custom build sector. We can offer a free initial consultation with one of their representatives, who will guide you through all the different financing options.
You may be thinking that you don’t need a mortgage. However, it may be beneficial to your project to explore the lending possibilities. This can even help to support the initial purchase of your plot.
It’s important to know what your overall budget is straight away, even before you start your design.
12 – How do I appoint ACA as my architect?
First and foremost, we need to make sure that we’ve answered all the questions that you have. If this guide hasn’t answered all of your questions or minimised any feelings of doubt, then please get back in touch.
When you are finally ready to commit to ACA, then send an email back to the architect you have been speaking with. All we need is a short statement confirming acceptance of Stage 1 of our proposal. We would then issue a deposit invoice (20% of stage 1), and once paid, this would secure your slot, and a date to start your project would be confirmed.
We appreciate that our approach and fees may not be for everyone and respect your decision to go with another architect – if we aren’t right for you then we wish you all the success with your project!
If you are reading this article ahead of contacting ACA, then follow one of the links to book an initial free consultation.