Selfbuilding offers a wide spectrum of owner involvement, the extent of which largely depends on you and your individual circumstances.
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Many self-builders like to have a high level of input into the design of their new home, while others give an architect full creative control or pick a house design from a portfolio of standard designs. Even standard designs can be modified internally to allow extra bedrooms or an office.
At the build stage too, many take on the role of project manager - buying building materials, hiring the workforce and overseeing the build. If this is not an option, then the job can be given to a builder or architect to do. Helping with the physical labour of the build can also save money, but if this just isn't for you many package companies offer a completely hands-off turn-key service. Selfbuild project management can give you a "buzz". You can actually build a house, ok not the physical building, but you can manage it.
How to find the best selfbuild house designer
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Choosing a house designer who can interpret your ideas while keeping to budget is a key stage in the build of your new home. Take the following steps to help you get the designer who is right for your project.
Contact The Royal Institute of British Architects. The RIBA (tel. 020 75805533) has a computer database of architectural practices across the UK, and can put you in touch with a practice near you. If you have a particular interest, like green building for example, be prepared to look further afield to find an architect who specialises in this area. A visit to the RIBA library and bookshop is recommended.
Look at previous work. Contact two or three architects and invite each one to visit you to talk about previous work and the service they could offer you. Ask for names and addresses of three recent clients and contact them to find out how satisfied they were with the work done. My experience with architects has not been good. They have wanted to design without taking my considerations into account.
Talk about budget and design ideas. Before commissioning an architect, there are two areas that you will need to discuss. Firstly, state your budget and quiz them about their willingness to stick to it. Secondly, ask them how flexible they are when it comes to making changes to their own drawings to incorporate your design ideas.
Confirm fee. Many architects will charge you a fee, which represents an agreed percentage of the total construction cost. If this is the case, clarify what is and what isn't included in their definition of construction cost. If you plan to convert an old existing building, the percentage charged is likely to be greater to reflect the complexity of the job.
Payment. When you pay your selfbuild house designer will largely depend on the size of your project. With smaller jobs, one payment upon completion will usually be acceptable, but with large selfbuilds payment in instalments is standard practice. It is important to agree payment times in advance.
Consider an architectural technologist. If you want to convert an old existing building, you may prefer to employ an architectural technologist. Whereas an architect receives arts training, an architectural technologist has a science background and can work out complex structural calculations. Contact the British Institute of Architectural Technologists (tel. 020 72782206) for further information.
Architect as project manager. As well as producing house plans, your selfbuild house designer will also be able to project manage the selfbuild if you want. Keep in mind that costs can be reduced considerably if you project manage the build of your new home yourself.
Entering a contract. The RIBA publish two forms that can be used when drawing up a contract with your selfbuild house designer. The Standard Form of Agreement for the Appointment of an Architect can be used on a wide range of projects. To keep things simple, The Conditions of Engagement for the Appointment of an Architect can be used with either a Memorandum of Agreement or a Letter of Appointment from your architect.
Check insurance. Make sure that your architect has his or her own Professional Indemnity Insurance, which exists to protect them against clients who sue in the event of the selfbuilding project going wrong.
As an alternative to a structural warranty, an architect can issue you with certificates to confirm that key stages of the selfbuild have been completed to standard. These can be presented to your mortgage lender for release of funds given in instalments. Check first that your lender will accept an architect's certificate. If not, then talk to your house designer about the possibility of them working with the NHBC or Zurich to obtain their warranty.