Architectural fees in 2022 – WOLF Architects Melbourne

Why is there such a big range from one architect to another and what do we get when we spend more?

Being ranked on the first page of Google means that we receive regular phone calls from people researching good architects. Most of the time people are just shopping around trying to understand costs and processes.

The first big cost is for the actual building itself. Most people are inexperienced when it comes to what a high-end luxury home should cost.
The second cost is in regards to architects’ fees, for which there seems to be a very large range and an assortment of services. Both costs are highly complex and can take a while to understand. This article will focus on what architects in Australia are charging and how to understand the value of different fees and fee structures.

For a very long time, it has been assumed that architects’ fees are tied to the construction budget at an average of 10%. Certainly, that is a good guide for the expertise of a registered architect, although 10% of what, and what is included leaves much to interpretation.

If we could use the example of a 70 Square, 6-bedroom house. With swimming pool, home theatre, basement garage, it’s a sizeable house appointed with luxury components. Such homes typically start at $3Million + GST, as most people don’t realize that there are many variables that are rarely inclusive in the budget. Such variables include:

  • Level of technology- How smart do you want the home to operate?
  • Level of sustainability- Do you want a green home that is completely off-grid?
  • Detail in joinery- Do you want a space for everything down to your cufflinks?
  • Level of landscaping- which can extend well into lighting details, fences and mailboxes.
  • Maintenance factors- from self-cleaning glass and paints to durable fingerprint-proof surfaces.

All of the above are “extras”, and for those who refuse to compromise our example $3 Million home can suddenly be more like $5 Million +GST. Sure, you might find a builder to do it for less, but unless the owner is a builder (willing to do things at cost), there will be compromises.

From our experience clients want to make everything bigger and better whenever the opportunity presents itself. Just another cupboard here, and an extra meter there, an imported designer pendant please? It all adds up and before you know it that 70Square home is well over 100squares. This phenomenon is known as “Scope Creep”, and raises the question of who’s responsible for the budget? Is it the client’s role to be disciplined and firm on costs, or is it the architect’s role to police the job and literally say “No, you just can’t have that!” Generally, it is a little of both but the point here is that architects have the challenge of offering services and fees to a moving target, which in luxury homes is usually in every instance. That is why a percentage-based fee can be quite fair.

Percentages however can seem very arbitrary and unnecessary to many who believe architects shouldn’t expect more just because the client wants bigger or better finishes. After all a bigger house just means larger rooms, and not another kitchen or bathroom. So too with finishes, drawing marble versus laminate takes the same amount of ink. Unfortunately for the client, that’s not exactly how it works.

Stretching for more space requires adjustment and consideration to all other areas, in order to maintain design intent and proportion. Without an architect’s sensitivity to the design, you could end up with a fat box wearing a fancy mask.
Large houses are more complex to achieve energy ratings and permits within res-code for example.
Quality materials require knowledge and research in detailing how the components are assembled. Without such experience, an expensive finish can quickly look cheap.

Having said that, a larger home would often have other specialists and consultants involved and this can spread the workload. Any percentage-based fee might therefore scale down as the projects get larger. Essentially, it’s all about physical man-hours and the value of the intellectual property per hour. What an experienced architect can achieve within an hour might take another 10, even just to come close.

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