Don’t use your architect or building designer to advise on project cost

Your architect or building designer is not the best source of project cost information.

If you want to deliver your home on budget, then read on.

A while ago, I was a panel member on a presentation hosted by Architeam, a membership organisation for Australian architects.

The subject of the presentation was Cost Planning, and the panel included an architect (Nicola Dovey), a Quantity Surveyor (Holly Phillips), builder Duayne Pearce (DPearce Constructions and my business partner in Live Life Build), and me!

It was a chunky discussion – three hours in total – and it could have gone on for longer.

I wanted to share my main take-away with you, and probably not something I’ve said this bluntly before.

If you want to deliver your new home or renovation on budget, you need a costing professional from the beginning on your project – and that is unlikely to be your designer or your architect.

Most homeowners enter their project journey thinking “I want to get the house I want for the budget I want to spend on it”.

Time can be linked in there too – so, that same sentence, with “by this date”, put at the end of it.

However, the money part – the cost – it’s always front and centre.

You’ll hear people in the industry asking you to not make it all about the money. Don’t choose the lowest quote you get. Don’t choose a designer or builder based on price alone.

But … when it’s your mortgage, or life savings, it’s very hard for it to not be all about the money. And that’s very, very understandable.

This is why cost should be, and often is, part of the project discussion so early.

It’s why professionals ask you straight away “what is your budget?”

And it’s why I share so much information about setting and sticking to your budget, so you keep it part of the conversation the whole way through.

The big challenge here is that homeowners are often looking in the wrong place for this cost information.

It’s essential for you, as a homeowner, to get assistance from a costing professional that helps you understand cost from the outset. And then enables you to manage your expectations, your decisions, and your direction, within a framework of realistic cost input.

And that is unlikely to be your designer or your architect.

Why doesn’t your designer understand cost? Isn’t that part of their job?

Well, some do. If they’ve been designing and building homes like yours, for several years, and have been collecting data on those projects to establish what is driving the finished costs, then they’ll definitely be in a better position to help you at the start.

However, there is so much that goes into the cost of building and renovating, that unless that architect is physically purchasing the items and paying for the labour required to make your home a reality, it will be very difficult for them to know accurately.

The best a designer or architect can usually give is a square metre rate suggestion.

However, it’s important that you interrogate how their square metre rate has been established, how recently it’s been updated, and what level of finish it relates to.

If you’re confident that it can be relied upon, then use it to set the maximum floor area / footprint of the home at early concept design stage.

(And remember what that maximum area is, and know that if you’re exceeding it, you’re most likely exceeding your budget too.)

Then, get better, more informed help. Get a costing professional involved.

This can be a Quantity Surveyor (QS), Building Estimator (BE), or Builder.

Someone who is regularly involved in the pricing and process of residential construction – either through collection of industry data (such as a QS or BE) or physically doing the work themselves (such as a builder).

Which Costing Professional should you choose? Well, it depends on the type of input you want.

Do you just want someone to tell you the cost of the drawings and specifications you have?

And reprice it once, or at different stages of the project?

Or do you want someone to tell you the cost, plus tell you how you can save money and what you need to change?

Your architect or designer may be able to help to a point, depending on their level of experience.

However, they’ll probably be speaking more generally about it (as in, “this could be cheaper” or “based on square metre rates, you’ll save $30,000 by eliminating that room”). 

If your architect or designer is also someone who works collaboratively with other professionals right from the start (such as builders and structural engineers), they may be able to tap into that help early to assist with identifying general cost savings.

A QS will be able to do this, but it will also relate to how they work.

QS’s are great with data, and can often help you understand what projects of different standards in your area are costing, and they can get involved very early on to drive some decisions around home size, material selections and other specifications, etc. 

And then they can be involved throughout the design phase to provide confirmation of that information as you go, providing cost reports at milestones, for example. 

However, because they’re not builders or designers, their suggestions for cost savings are often related to alternate selections (materials, fixtures etc), or changes to overall area.

A builder will definitely be able to do this, especially when working with you and your designer collaboratively.

And they’ll be able to assist with identifying areas you can target to make cost savings, construction methodologies to use to save time or money, redesign that can be done in structure, material selections, roof design, services infrastructure, site access, etc, to help with managing your budget.

If you haven’t listened to the recent podcast episodes on the PAC Process, or Paid As Consultant Process, I really encourage you to do so. 

They’ll take you through the collaborative process of paying a builder to come on board, as a consultant, during your design phase, where they can provide input on cost and buildability.

By the way, you can find those episodes here:

Episode 201 | The WHY of the PAC ProcessEpisode 202 | The WHAT of the PAC ProcessEpisode 203 | PAC Process: The DesignerEpisode 204 | PAC Process: The BuilderEpisode 205 | PAC Process: The Client

Most homeowners wait too long to get accurate cost feedback on their future home.

‘Value management’ at that point is limited, because you have sunk costs in the drawings, professional fees, and it can be demoralising once you’ve become attached emotionally to the future home you’ve been creating. 

Making change is reduced to reselections of finishes and fixtures, which usually only achieves small savings. 

Bigger changes can involve redesign, which can be expensive and time consuming.

Instead, get value management happening earlier. 

And then involve a costing professional who is at the coalface of residential construction costs, to assist you from the start.

Don’t want to do the PAC Process, or hire a QS early in your project?

Then, at the very least, get a QS or Building Estimator report done before you go to tender to a selection of builders.

A QS report can cost around $2,000 – $3,000, which may seem like a chunk of money before you’re about to get a bunch of free quotes from builders.

However, using a QS will give you a detailed scope of your project, and help with identifying potential budget overruns (before you waste a lot of builders’ time).

It can also highlight where you need to resolve things more fully in your selections (because their costing has had to make assumptions), and what might be sucking money in your project (because they can discuss how it compares to projects like yours).

Don’t solely rely on your designer or architect to be your costing professional throughout your project.

And don’t solely rely on competing, tendering builders who are seeing your drawings for the very first time, to tell you what your project will cost.

Build in a better safety net with the right expertise, so you can get more certainty about cost along the way.

I hope you found that helpful

If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that. 

It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE

And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you. 

You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN

If you’d like to learn how to choose the right builder, and learn how the specific checks to do, and questions to ask, when interviewing builders for your project >>> CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER

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