Choosing an architect is a huge decision when it comes to building your own home.

An architect can play a pivotal role in turning the vision for your dream house into reality, from creating the design, to navigating the planning process, to overseeing the entire build through to completion.

Once you’ve done your initial research and made a list of potential architects, it’s time to get down to the tough job of choosing. When you first contact an architect they’ll ask lots of questions so they can understand your requirements, but if you’ve prepared your own queries too, you’ll be in a strong position to decide if they’re the right fit. Here’s our cheat sheet to bring along to your meeting.

Are you a registered architect?

It may sound like a basic question, but it is crucial. “Architect” is a legally protected title, so only fully qualified architects can use it in business or practice. In the UK, this means being registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB). You can search the register on the ARB website.

“Choosing a registered architect means you know they are fully trained and qualified, and that they will comply with certain responsibilities, such as having professional indemnity (PI) insurance cover,” says James Carvell of Carvell Associates in North East England. “You also have the ability to lodge a complaint with the ARB if your architect isn’t serving you properly.”

Dalgety Bay selfbuild with VELUX roof windows and views to the Forth

What is your experience in working with self build clients?

It’s essential to choose an architect with a solid background in self build projects.

“You need an architect that provides a very thorough design,” says Iacopo Sassi, Director of Square One Architects based in Hampton, South West London. “Ultimately you want to minimise the number of problems encountered during the construction process. That comes down to planning and design, so you need to start with very precise drawings and specifications.”

self-build blueprint plans

What services do you offer?

While you may be thinking of just hiring an architect for design and blueprints, most offer a wider range of services to take you through the entire process of building your own home. This can include project management, helping to appoint contractors, securing planning permission and building regulation approval, carrying out site inspections throughout the build, and making design adjustments. Be sure to get clear costs for these services and know which are part of your contract and which would be added extras.

What will your services cost?

An architect is a big investment for your self build project, so get clarity around pricing so you can manage your budget.

“Find out how they arrange their fees, how and when they invoice, and when payments will be due,” says Jonathan Hetreed, Director of Hetreed Ross Architects from Bath, Somerset. Architects usually charge a percentage of the total project cost, depending on the services provided and the complexity of the project.

Can I see examples of your work?

While you will have checked out the architect’s work in their online portfolio, seeing a property in person allows you to truly experience the architect’s design quality and style. Ask if you can visit the homes of previous clients, particularly those of a similar style or project scope to that you have in mind.

What is your track record with planning?

Find out about the architect’s experience and success rate in getting planning applications approved. Ask them what they know about your local authority’s planning policy and procedures. Before you hire them, ensure they confirm in writing that they have a full understanding of local planning permission and building regulations.

architect drawing plans on tabletop

How would we communicate throughout the process?

Ask how many queries or revisions you can make to the design before it is signed off. Once the design is agreed and building begins, ask who your day-to-day contact will be, how you can get in touch with them, and what response time can you expect.

Bonus: An important question for you

“As the client, you need to ask yourself if you like the architect you’re considering,” says James Carvell. “If there’s an affinity between you, things tend to work better and you get a better result. The client-architect relationship is a bit like a marriage. You’ve got to understand one another and sometimes make compromises.”

Nikki Ritchie of Hyve Architects in Aberdeenshire agrees: “It’s important to have a rapport because your architect will be with you for a long time through this process. You have to find somebody that you can trust and get along with; that you know will fight your corner and look after you as best they possibly can.”

 

Ready for more?  Here’s our guide on questions to ask a main contractor.