If there’s one thing that causes tension amongst both architects and their clients, it is the topic of fees. Clients often complain about architects charging too much while architecture firms generally complain that they are constantly making losses on projects because they aren’t able to charge high enough fees to justify the time and resources being put into the project. Client’s can also find it confusing that when they request architectural quotes, they are likely to receive prices that vary widely, making it seem as if some firms are far too expensive or far too cheap in relation to others.
There are a number of important aspects to consider when thinking about architectural fees and for the sake of simplicity, these topics will all be covered individually in other posts on this website. Possibly the most important single factor that can greatly affect the price is the level of skill of the architectural professional, which is explored in greater detail in our entry about “Architects VS Draughtspeople” (https://www.xeno-urban.com/post/architects-vs-draughtspeople-1). The second is the structure of the architectural services which can vary widely to include anything from only the most basic services to achieve municipal planning approval, to a complete service that includes many aspects not legally required such as constant quality control during construction. The inclusion or exclusion of certain services can have a massive impact on the price of services and on the quality of the end product. Only when all the above factors are well understood or equal can prices for architectural services be properly compared.
Purely in terms of pricing, there are some rules of thumb and recommended fee structures which are useful for comparison, but it is important to note that these generally assume a fully competent registered architectural professional providing a complete architectural service, the scope of which includes extensive involvement throughout the construction of a project. The most basic international rule of thumb is that architectural services should generally amount to 10% of the total cost of construction, but in truth this is woefully inadequate to account for the unique conditions of each project, with the fees on small projects sometimes exceeding 10% while on some larger project they may amount to considerably less, all depending on the agreed scope of services.
Most architectural firms rely on SACAP’s recommended fee guideline as a starting point in determining their fees. In South Africa, all architectural professionals must be registered with the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP). If you want to know more about this, be sure to read our article titled “The Legal Requirements”( https://www.xeno-urban.com/post/the-legal-requirements). SACAP regularly publishes a guideline of recommended architectural fees based on research conducted to determine fair compensation in relation to the time and resources needed to deliver a complete and adequate quality architectural service. Drastic differences from these recommended fees would thus have an equally drastic effect on the scope or quality of service provided. It is important to note that these fee structures are only recommended, so firms can provide discount or calculate their fees completely differently and there are a number of good reasons to do so, but as the most common basis in the industry, the SACAP recommended fees are a good point of comparison when considering an architectural quote.
At the time of writing, the latest fee guideline was published on 7 August 2020 as Board Notice 91 of the government gazette. The recommended calculation of fees can get quite technical and relies on categorising a project based on complexity, but the vast majority of projects, residential included, are categorised as medium complexity. The fees rely on a fixed base fee plus a percentage of construction cost, both dependent on the total construction value of the project and are provided by SACAP in reference tables. An important principle to understand is that the percentage of construction cost goes down as the construction value increases. The actual values depend on the latest published fee guideline, but the following table of examples shows construction values and the accompanying recommended architectural fees alongside, based on the latest published guideline for a typical medium complexity project, rounded off for simplicity.
Depending on what a particular client has in mind when it comes to architectural services, the above fees may seem shockingly high to them, but these fees are based on SACAP’s definition of a “standard” architectural service which includes many aspects that not all clients need such as architectural involvement throughout construction and the role of “Principal Agent” which involves the architect administering the construction contract on behalf of the client. For this reason, many architecture firms including Xeno-Urban Architects offer multiple different service packages at different price points by excluding certain aspects of the full service. We will cover these different aspects in a future entry. Most architectural firms, ourselves included, are also likely to offer small percentage discounts on the recommended fees.
Importantly though, sizeable discounts always imply a reduction in either the scope or the quality of service. It is therefore very important, when assessing any architectural quote, to understand in what way the SACAP recommended standard services have been reduced if the quoted price is substantially lower than the SACAP recommended fees as exemplified in the table above. A clearly understood reduction in the scope of architectural services may be acceptable for the project in question, but a greatly reduced price without an equally large reduction in the scope of services is something to be weary of as it points to the likelihood of the quality of service being very poor. The most important aspect of negotiating architectural fees is thus to reach a mutual understanding of the exact nature and scope of architectural services a client wants and is willing to pay for.
Projects that need a high level of creative or detailed design require drastically more time from an architectural professional than projects which don’t, so unless the quality of design work is inconsequential to the project in question, the fees should not be the only or even the most important factor in appointing an architectural professional. Other factors, like how well their specific service package, along with their knowledge, style and professionalism suits the unique needs of your project should be considered with equal importance as these will ultimately have a greater impact with regards to the total investment value of the project which dwarfs the cost of the architectural fees.
This entry only scratches the surface of the topic of architectural fees, so be sure to check out our future entries which will elaborate on other important aspects not covered here. If you need more specific advice, feel free to contact Xeno-Urban Architects.