Working with an Architect – Appointment, Fees & Stages

Extending and improving your home can bring enormous benefits to your life style and potentially increase the value of your home. Working with a professionally qualified and registered architect should be an enjoyable and creative process. Design is also a two-way process into which you will feed not only your aspirations and requirements but also your constraints of budget and time. A good working relationship is essential to the success of a projec

Appointing an Architect and Fees

Once you have identified your architect and agreed to engage them for your project, a contract is drawn up. The RIAI publishes a range of agreements for use by client and architect, which are suited to projects of varying complexity and explain the scope of the services available to the client. Your architect will advise on the most appropriate contract to use.


An architect’s fee depends on the requirements and complexity of each project and the scope of services provided. For this reason there is no set or standard fee. Fees can also be calculated in different ways, for example as a:

  • Quoted percentage of the total construction cost (ex VAT) – the most common way to charge fees
  • Agreed lump sum based on the anticipated work involved (clients and architects may agree to fix and agree a fee)
  • Time charge (hourly or daily) based on the estimated time of a project. (Usually only applies to a limited service, such as a measured survey)

The architect’s fee is usually drawn down at various project stages, typically coinciding with project milestones such as Initial Design (25%), Developed Design (30%), Detail Design (25%) and Construction (20%). At the outset you and your architect should agree these staged payments. The above percentages are based on domestic services.


The RIAI carried out an independent fee survey to ascertain the fees obtained by architectural practices in the open market place for private and public sector building projects.

Typically for an extension project up to €500,000 the percentage fee is between 9 and 11 per cent (plus the applicable VAT rate) of the contract sum (ex VAT).

The survey was carried out late in 2008 and it covers projects designed and constructed during the period 2003-2007. The survey must not be taken as representing, mandatory, minimum or recommended charges.


Your architect will also charge for expenses incurred on your project such as fees for printing and copying of drawings and other documents; site investigations; travel to and from site; and making models (if applicable). Costs could also arise from planning application charges and commencement notices such as newspaper and site notices. Some of these expenses and costs may attract VAT. Your architect will advise.

Aside from the architect’s fee, your project may require the input of specialist consultants such as a structural engineer or a quantity surveyor, on larger projects, who will monitor costs. Your architect will obtain quotations for their fees and include them in the overall budget.

Client Brief to Initial Design


At the start of your project you and your architect will meet to discuss in detail your requirements and aspirations. It is important that you advise your architect of your budget, time frame and any other parameters, as these will impact on the design. The information you provide for your architect is called ‘The Brief’. Time spent at this initial stage is invaluable as a design is only as good as the brief. There are many possible design solutions for each project and a detailed brief with enable your architect to identify the most appropriate for your needs.

In preparing for your initial discussions and the formulation of the Brief, draw up a list of priorities and ask yourself a number of


  • What do you want to achieve with this project? Why do you want to extend or renovate?
  • Describe your current home. What do you like about it? What’s missing? What don’t you like? Do you want to change the space you have?
  • What do you envisage in your extended or renovated home that your present home lacks? What functions / activities will be housed in a new space?
  • What is your lifestyle and what kind of spaces do you need? For example, are you at home a great deal? Do you work at home? Do you entertain often?
  • How much time do you spend in the living areas, bedroom, kitchen, study, utility space, garden?
  • How much time and energy are you willing to invest to maintain your home?
  • Do you have strong ideas about design and materials? What do you think the extension or renovation should look like?
  • How much can you realistically afford to spend?
  • How much disruption in your life can you tolerate to extend or renovate your home?
  • How soon would you like to be settled into your new home or extension? Are there rigid time restraints?
  • Is there anyone in the family with a disability or do you envisage staying in the house for a long time so that the mobility problems of aging may need to be addressed?
  • Energy efficiency is considered an integral part of any extension and refurbishment. Do you have any specific requests, for example for using energy from renewable sources (solar hot water, wood pellets etc)?
  • Do you want to pursue options, and establish the additional inputs required, to optimize your buildings performance to achieve zero energy inputs, healthy materials, or other sustainable goals?


The architect will analyse your brief requirements and present initial design proposals. To develop an initial design, your architect will draw up a measured survey and make an appraisal of your house and its architectural possibilities. The design may still change at this stage or your architect may provide you with a number of alternative proposals in form of drawings and sketch designs. You and your architect are likely to have several discussions about these proposals. Drawings can be sometimes difficult to understand but this is an important stage in the design and a two-way process into which you must feed your concerns and requirements. You should establish in principle any additional work that has evolved from the design and its impact on future stages.

Stage Payment: 25% of fee

Developed Design (including Planning)

Having translated your brief into a design, your architect will develop the initial proposal into a more developed design. At the developed design stage, your architect will need to finalise the layout of spaces, the materials for construction and incorporate the work of any specialist consultants, such as a structural engineer who will advise on the structure. You will also need to decide on the optimum renewable energy sources, their impact on the design and future management of the building and if you wish to exceed regulatory requirements.  Your architect will present the developed design to you and discuss its implications, for example on timescale and project cost. If planning permission is required for the project, your architect will prepare the drawings and make the application on your behalf.

Stage Payment: 25% of fee

Detailed Design

Once you have instructed your architect to proceed with the developed design, they will produce full construction drawings, including site works and specification finishes. A technical and quality specification also forms part of the detailed design to ensure that the project requirements are clearly formulated for the contractor. The detailed design will have to incorporate any changes as required under a Grant of Planning Permission. Your architect will also liaise closely with specialist consultants, such as the structural engineer, to incorporate their designs contributions. As the design is now developed a check on Building Regulation compliance should be carried out at this stage and any necessary modifications incorporated.


The architect will prepare Forms of Tender for main and specialist contractors. It is advisable to have at least three contractors submit costings (tenders) for a project. As each contractor will base their costing on the same information, tenders can be compared and analysed and the best price found. You and your architect should be satisfied, however, that each of the contractors is competent to carry out the work. For example, you should ask a contractor to see samples of previous work and speak to previous clients.  In relation to the future performance of the building envelope and energy loss, quality control on site is paramount. The successful tender may not necessarily be the lowest one. If a tender is very low, the contractor may have missed something. In some cases, an architect and client may agree to negotiate a tender price with just one contractor.

Your architect, and your QS (if applicable), will use their expertise to help you evaluate the tenders received. Your architect will also advise on the most appropriate RIAI Form of Building Contract for your project as well as on insurance during construction.


For the client, the construction stage is often the most daunting as your home is being altered and considerable expenditure is involved.


During construction, your architect will act on your behalf as an independent advisor, inspecting the building work at intervals to ensure that it is being carried out generally in accordance with the contract documents. Your architect will administer the contract and advise you on stage payments during the projects. They will not certify payment unless work complies with the specifications. It is best that you do not give instructions directly to the contractor, because what can seem a simple change may have cost and time implications. Discuss your changes with your architect to make sure that they are necessary and so that an additional cost can be established and controlled. Remember that the architect is not the builder and does not supervise work – that is the builder’s job. The architect administers the building contract as your agent and is legally required to act fairly between you and the contractor.

Stage Payment: 25% of fee


The architect’s work continues until after the building work. Part of the payment due to the builder – the retention – is held back for up to twelve months and is only paid out on the architect’s instruction, after any defects have been rectified by the contractor. Remember that the architect’s Opinion on Compliance with Planning and Building Regulations is subject to work not being changed during construction.