Home technology is becoming ever more sophisticated, as are building techniques and materials. At the same time, the laws and regulations surrounding building projects have grown more complex.
The specialists needed on a project can be a long list, and this can seem daunting when you embark.
Aside from architects and interior designers, it is not unusual for 10 or more different kinds of specialist or ‘consultants’ to work at different times on a project: planning consultants, heritage consultants, ecological consultants, mechanical and electrical consultants, services consultants, mechanical and electrical engineers, lighting designers and so on.
Which consultants are essential to your project, what they do, and exactly when you need them? This Guide will help you navigate through these points.
Start with the creative brains
The very first step in any project is to decide what you want to do to your property and how you want it to look.
So the best place to start is by choosing your designer.
This often means engaging an architect as your ‘lead’ consultant, with an interior designer working under them. In London, where the scope for changing the exterior of buildings can be very restricted, an interior designer may be better to lead your creative team, with an architect working beneath.
It’s a good idea to decide at the outset who you wish to be the project lead. It creates clarity for all involved and may avoid friction later.
If you are simply refurbishing and redecorating a house or flat, again an interior designer with experience of this type of work is likely in many cases to be the best person to lead your team.
Soon after that you will want to start applying for any permission you need to make the changes—such as planning permission, listed-building consent or agreement from your freeholder.
So the next two members of your team will be a quantity surveyor or ‘cost consultant’, and then a planning consultant.
TOP TIP: RedBook specialises in advising clients on the ideal team for their projects, and how best to launch their project.
And the advice we always give, based on dozens and dozens of projects in London and the country is this. As soon as you have appointed your ‘lead’ design consultant, move on right away to choosing the rest of your design team.
So if your lead consultant is an architect, then choose and appoint your interior designer as soon as you comfortably can. The same goes for the garden designer, too.
There are huge advantages in this.
Very often an architect and interior designer need to share ideas and information between themselves when they are developing designs to ensure their ideas align. This is most obviously the case in relation to the interiors, where the interior designer’s furniture layout and lighting design will impact directly on the architect’s spatial scheme and placement of windows, for example. But outside the house, too, architects’ ideas on ground levels and drainage need to fit with the garden designer’s plans for planting schemes and lawns.
We also find again and again that architects, interior designers and garden designers on a team improve their respective ideas greatly through collaboration and challenging each other.
Time, money and frustrating mistakes are also likely to be saved by having architects and interior designers—and garden designers, if you need them—working together for you from the start.
How much? The quantity surveyor has the answer.
Before you start your project you will want to know how much it is going to cost.
‘Quantity surveyors’ are specialists who estimate the cost of building projects. They also ensure that bills submitted during the project by builders or anyone else are accurate and fair. So a quantity surveyor, or ‘QS’ for short, acts like an accountant dedicated to your project.
At the very start, the QS will take your architect’s (and interior designer’s) initial ideas or concept designs and work out for you how much they are likely to cost to create. This not only enables you to work out whether your project falls within your budget, but also to adjust the design at an early point so that it becomes more affordable.
This initial costing exercise is called a ‘feasibility study’. It cannot be 100% accurate because many of the design details that affect cost, such as the exact type of floor material in each room, will still need to be decided. So a feasibility study often comes with a plus/minus 10% – 20% allowance for variance. But it still very useful to have this information, otherwise you are entirely in the dark on costs.
The QS is likely to produce another and more accurate cost estimate once you have gained planning consent, and the architect has completed detailed construction drawings. This is called a ‘pre-tender estimate’ and typically has greater accuracy—a 5%-10% allowance for variance.
When you or your team ask builders to bid for the work on your project, known as ‘tendering’, the QS will examine all the builders’ bids closely and work out if their figures are realistic and reliable. You can then make a more confident choice about which builder to choose.
We advise our clients that a quantity surveyor is essential if their project is on any scale. We also recommend engaging a quantity surveyor at a very early stage of a project and certainly well before a spade goes in the ground.
Quantity surveyors have different ways of charging for their services. Hourly rates or monthly retainers are common. Alternatively, they charge they base their fee on an estimate of the final construction budget and charge a small percentage of that.
For a fixed fee they should agree to produce a feasibility study for you as a stand-alone piece of work. You can then decide at the end of that stage whether you are sufficiently impressed with their work to retain them for the rest of your project.
TOP TIP: The best quantity surveyor for your project will be one who has advised on many projects similar to yours. That means someone who is familiar with your part of London or of the country, as building costs vary greatly according to area. It also means one who deals often with the quality of house and size of budget that you have. Otherwise, the data they have at their fingertips when advising you on the likely cost of your project will be unreliable.
The other specialist you are likely to need at a very early stage is a planning consultant. At RedBook, we often introduce a carefully chosen planning consultant to clients even before they buy a property so that the clients can get a good picture of whether they are likely to be able make the kind of changes to the property they want, and on the scale they have in mind.
Getting permission to alter a property or build a new one is often a technical and legalistic challenge since building projects are governed by layer upon layer of national legislation and local regulation. Having an experienced planning consultant advise you is often essential. If your property is listed, this brings an additional level of complexity. See our RedBook Guide on navigating through this minefield.
By taking a well-thought out series of strategic steps, planning consultants are sometimes able to gain permission for much bigger buildings or changes than seem possible at first sight.
And if the impossible cannot be achieved it is better to know this at the outset by getting a planning consultant’s advice than it is to pursue doomed dreams with all the cost and heartbreak that entails.
While architects on their own can be skilled and successful in gaining planning permission, it is seldom their principal skill or interest. They are usually more than glad to have the expert help of a planning consultant to focus for them and their clients on this challenging and time consuming part of a project.
Planning consultants can be paid by the hour or by fixed fee for agreed stages of work. Sometimes they will agree to a lower than normal initial fee if they are offered a bonus on gaining consent for a project.
TOP TIP: There is a myriad of planning consultants to choose from.
Some are small, independent and local. Others are part of big national firms. Local planning consultants tend to know the local planning authority and individual council officers personally, which can be an advantage. But national firms have experience of a much wider range of projects and can use precedents, strategies and experience gained in other areas of the country that are unfamiliar to local planning consultants and local authorities.
It is often a good idea to meet a local planning consultant, and a national one, so you can compare their approach and fees.
Above all, it is vital to use a planning consultant who specialises in your kind of project, such as making changes to a listed building or gaining permission for a new house in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Not every property project calls for a project manager. But an experienced project manager is almost a life saver on large and complex projects. Even on smaller projects, a good project manager increases the chances of finishing your project on time and on budget.
A project manager will drive the project forward. Employing someone with this sole purpose helps to ensure crucial information is given on time to each team member, no one slips behind in their work schedule and you—the client—are given advanced notice of critical decisions needing to be made so that you do not hold up the process inadvertently.
A project manager also acts as a crucial filter: thousands of emails flow to and fro between the various consultants on a project, all of them needing answers large and small, urgent or not so urgent. These can be overwhelming for clients, especially those living a long way from their project, in a different time zone, or unfamiliar with building projects.
Architects can be ambivalent about the value of having a project manager, and will often offer to manage the project themselves. Some architects are very good at this, while others are wonderfully creative in their designs but much less skilled in coordinating and driving forward the many moving parts of a project.
TOP TIP: Managing projects is astonishingly time consuming and demanding. That is why the profession of project manager came to exist. And although it can be very tempting to manage a project yourself because the idea of managing your own project appeals, or in order to avoid the cost of employing a project manager, the task is far bigger than it seems at first to most people.
If you have not managed a project before you like the one you are starting then you are at particular risk of being swamped by the work load, and bamboozled by the technical intricacies of building contracts, overlapping timelines and supply chains. This is no fun. The relatively small cost of engaging a project manager may well be worth considering.
How much is the team going to cost?
If you are refurbishing a large property, or building a new house, and need a full team of consultants you can reckon on their combined fees amounting to 20% – 25% of the construction budget, as a rough ballpark figure.
So if the building works are set to cost £1 million, then the team’s combined professional fees are likely to come to £200,000 – £250,000. And don’t forget that VAT is payable on professional fees, so the total bill for the works and the team’s fees together would be in the region of £1.24 – £1.3 million. For further guidance on costs, read our Guide on ‘How Much Will My Property Project Cost?’
The idea of employing a single firm to design, build and manage a project—instead of putting together a whole team of different experts for your particular project—is very appealing. In fact, put like that, why wouldn’t you use a ‘one-stop shop’?
There are many firms offering this service.
But the ‘one-stop-shop’ can have two big drawbacks. First, the best designers rarely if ever want to work for firms like this, preferring to work with pure design teams or under their own flag. Secondly, the profit margins of one-stop shops can be opaque and extremely high.
So a project can end up being more expensive than necessary, and producing a finished product that is lower quality than you can achieve with a bespoke team. And ‘one-stop shops’, especially those that also build houses as developers, typically offer a limited range of choices when it comes to design, fittings and materials.
Who can put the best team together for you?
Please forgive us a little self-promotion here. RedBook’s role is to help clients choose the principal members of their team, giving clients and informed calibrated choice of the best and most suitable experts for their project, all of whom we know intimately. This includes architects, interior designers, garden designers, project managers, quantity surveyors and planning consultants—or any one of them alone.
The next layer of consultants, including all the technical specialists such as mechanical and electrical consultants or structural engineers, are sourced by the lead design consultant (architect or interior designer) or by the project manager based on their experience.
Responsibilities and overlaps
There is a risk when building a design team of their responsibilities overlapping, or indeed of gaps being left by accident between the various designers’ scope of work.
For instance, an architect or an interior designer can be responsible for designing things like fitted cupboards or the architraves around doors. (These kind of design elements are known as ‘interior architecture’.)
Similarly, it is a question where exactly the architect’s role ends and the garden designer’s begins. Does the architect’s responsibility stop at the step from the house into the garden, or include the levels and design of any terracing touching the house, for instance?
Although there are questions and risks here, they are easily and best managed by addressing them as soon as you choose your architects, interior designers and garden designers. Precise areas of responsibility are often defined and recorded by the project manager using a simple ‘responsibility matrix’.
RedBook is a specialist consultancy that helps client and their advisers select the perfect creative and technical team for significant property projects.
For further information, please contact us on 0207 060 6222. Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org