While my fees are definitely towards the lower end of the price spectrum for a quality design, I recognize that there is always someone to do work cheaper. The fees for the design of a house are largely the result of the amount of time a designer/architect budgets for the project. The basic reality is that bad design is quick (and thus cheap at the outset) and good, smart, durable, efficient, environmentally responsible and appealing design is an extremely time consuming endeavor.
This makes competing on a price basis for the design of a building a very difficult task as you can quickly pump out bad drawings/designs for a low price but it will end up costing the client more in the end (based on lost resale value, the involved costs of poor orientation and material selection, and incomplete drawings which can leave the tendering and construction process wide open for price variations). Put simply in a more familiar way: you get what you pay for.
I intentionally keep overheads low so as to be as competitive as I can be while still allowing myself enough time on each project to thoroughly consider what will yield the best outcome and ultimately be the best use of your resources (materials, land and money) and in doing so provide great value to my clients.
For what is likely the largest economic investment in one’s life, do you want the design of your home to be carefully thought out after exploring several options? Or are you happy to have someone settle on the first idea that comes to mind, or worse yet just copy and paste a design from previous site and squeeze it on to yours (this almost always neglects, orientation, planning constraints, access, efficiency, quality outdoor space and so on).
I thought I would use a real life comparative exercise below to point out how a bit of thoughtful design can save money, add value and yield a nicer result.
A current client of mine is developing two homes a block away from each other on similar sized sites thus making for a very easy comparison. The project I did was on Ovens St. and the other draftsman’s work was on Norfolk Street.
Ovens St Ground Floor
Ovens St First Floor
Norfolk St Ground Floor (other draftsman)
Norfolk St First Floor (other draftsman)
At first glance, they appear similar, but look closer. A quick take off shows that 12% of the houses area done by the other draftsman is used as hallways (with no other function). While the Norfolk Street dwgs aren’t bad plans, the drawings that I did for the same clients only have 7% of the home as hallways. I think we could agree that extra hallway space doesn’t add much amenity to a house but it does cost roughly the same as the space for say a bedroom or living room. If we base the comparison on a 180 sqm. home that extra 5% of “wasted” hallway space would amount to 9 sqm. At roughly $2000/sqm that is an extra $18,000.00 in labour, materials (roofing, flooring, walls, windows, lighting, wiring etc), and contractors profit that would be paid for with no real added amenity for the house. Furthermore, the shape of the upstairs roof is more complicated (thus more costly to frame and waterproof) than the one for 56 Ovens St (a single ridge line) and lastly the house appears to have its most significant spaces (master bedroom, living, dining and kitchen) facing south. Aside from being environmentally unfriendly and generally unpleasant to live in a dark house, it will cost far more to light, heat and cool these spaces over the life cycle of the home and the spaces that need natural light the most will have little or no access to it (keep in mind the sun is to the North). While orienting your building to the Sun is basically design 101, it’s incredible how many designers and/or builders seem to get this fundamental completely wrong.
Furthermore, the client began work with the other draftsman around 4 months prior to starting with me and while my design has sailed through the approval process with little resistance, they are still trying to get the other scheme through the planning process as the designer clearly has not considered many different planning issues. This adds carrying costs to the project (costs associated with mortgage interest, taxes, rates etc. for land that is not usable because building was delayed).
To conclude, it is quite easy to be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to construction. You may save a few thousand dollars at the start of the design process on a cheaper designer, however you may end up spending tens of thousands of dollars extra for less amenity by the time the construction process is complete.