Architectural Fees – What is Appropriate?

norske-pengerI was at a social gathering one night and the conversation turned to prices for architectural services, of all things…

An acquaintance told me (slightly upset) that he had paid more than 60,000 NOK (approx. 8000 EUR) in architectural fees even before he put the shovel in the ground! After interrogating him about what kind of services the architect had done I had to disagree that this was an exorbitant price.

For this price, the architect had measured the house, made digital drawings, designed a two story extension as well as making adjustments to the existing house, and subsequently taken responsibility for the application and all the paperwork.

This conversation made me realize that people without experience from the construction industry cannot be expected to know what is a reasonable price for architectural services. Nor do they have any grounds for considering whether it is worth the investment. Therefore, I think it is appropriate with a few words on the subject.

Is it (too) expensive to use an architect?

There is a widespread prejudice that architectural services are too pricy but the architect’s fee should be seen in a more overall perspective. A construction project undergoes a planning phase, followed by a building phase, ending up in a phase of usage. A good process will take its time in all of these three phases. It is actually important to know how the building will look and function before the shovel is put in the ground. It is also important to plan the construction process in advance – in order to ensure that, for instance, windows and doors are at the site on time.

An architect offers his or her expertise first and foremost in the planning phase. The design, functionality, layout, and concept brought forth by the architect can be crucial to a good usage phase. But the architect can also help plan and structure the construction process.

In larger projects, it is common for other disciplines to be involved in the design process, because there’s a need for special advisers such as consulting engineers for construction, fire consultants, electricians, and ventilation specialists. It is usually the same firm that both designs and constructs for disciplines such as electricity and ventilation, a fact that will tend to make the cost of the design phase “invisible”.

A new building, extension or refurbishment project has a total cost ranging from half a million NOK and up to several million NOK (65.000 to several hundred thousand Euro) depending on the size, standard and complexity of the project. In the scope of total cost, if the costs is between 800,000 – and 2 million NOK (100.000 – 250.000 Euro) , as in the example I mentioned at the beginning of this post, perhaps it isn’t unreasonable that the architect’s fee is between 50 and 100K (6.000 – 13.000 Euro) . What you pay for is an expertise that is essential for a successful outcome.

How much should it cost to use an architect?

A good rule of thumb is that architectural services are worth approximately 5% of the construction cost, which includes the total cost of the project from the early planning stages to the finished building. That means if the construction cost of a project is 2 million NOK the architect’s fee is 100.000 NOK of this. The hourly rate for architects should be between 600 – and 1200 NOK (70 – 150 Euro) plus VAT depending on experience, seniority, and where you are located.

If you choose to use a prefab company, or a contractor, you can expect that these costs are included in the price or that the quality is significantly lower.

When you hire an architect the investment comes at a very early stage and is associated with some uncertainty. We do not know in advance whether it will be approved by the municipality, what the neighbors will say, what the price ultimately will be, etc. These things are clarified during the process, and preferably at an early stage of the planning phase.

Is it worth the investment to use an architect?

Now, I can not claim my impartiality in this matter (which admittedly has a certain rhetorical undertone), so no surprise my answer is yes! Of course there are architects that overprice their services, or do poor work, but generally speaking it is a good investment to use an architect for your building project. A skilled architect will be able to guide a one-time builder through uncharted waters until the project is completed. And in the end it is the result that counts.
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