WCPGW: Limits and boundaries and fee proposals

A member has written in to What Could Possibly Go Wrong? asking about charging extra fees when a client has changed their mind on the sketch design.

Dear What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I’ve been through a number of options for concepts and sketch designs for a client, who perhaps in hindsight was always been a bit hopeful with their budget. Of these we developed and presented two of the options – one, a very low budget single storey and two, a simple two storey option which gave them the greater space they wanted. They said go ahead with option 2. I finalised the plans in detail and had it costed, the client then said it was about two and half times what they could afford so now they want to go back to the first option. Should I charge a fee for both sketch proposals, I have already done a lot of work for no extra charge.

Dear ArchiTeam member,

As architects it is incumbent upon us to set a clear direction in the process, our services can never be open ended. The direction can be outlined in a fee proposal showing the general sequential order of tasks, including importantly, the number of meetings that have been allowed for within the fee. This order and balance will allow us to bring control to the process; also the client can understand what will be done and how they will be looked after to produce a great outcome for them.

The fee proposal will set boundaries within the scope of your services and limits to their extent. The client must understand what they are paying for and what they are not getting. They are consumers and we are governed by consumer legislation, make sure you understand what your obligations are.

An aspirational budget and brief can be agreed to in the initial interview process to define the project for all involved. If you consider that there is a contradiction in being able to realise a successful outcome your first task in the fee proposal is to establish the viability of the brief and budget. This will answer the question – does the client have a project?

The challenge initially is to exercise control without killing the creative spirit but then this skill is one of the many reasons why the client is paying for your highly educated services.

The fee proposal for each project will be different but for a sketch design phase for an addition to a residence with a heritage overlay, the process outlined in the fee proposal could include something like the following –

  1. Client to provide copy of title
  2. Preparation of a detailed written brief
  3. Confirm client aspirational budget
  4. Measured survey of existing buildings
  5. Confirmation of adequacy of site services
  6. Initiate negotiations with RA Planning department
  7. Initiate negotiations with the RA Heritage Advisor
  8. Prepare a Functional Relationships Diagram
  9. Present design proposal and amend for future presentation
  10. Initiate discussions with building surveyor re building permit considerations
  11. Obtain quotes / instruct the quantity surveyor for a Cost plan B report
  12. Co-ordinate and collate the above information into a report

A project program could be a simple outline to complete the above such as –

Meeting 1
Meet with client to take the detailed brief and confirm the aspirational budget including critical path for project delivery.

Meeting 2
Present measured survey plans of existing
Discuss site services
Present Functional relationships diagram
Summarise RA planning and heritage
Present Sketch design proposal

Meeting 3
Present amended sketch plans
Discuss building surveyor opinion on permit
Present prelim QS report

Meeting 4
Present final sketch plans
Present final QS report for sketch design
Discuss project delivery phases and timing

A note can be added that if further services are required from those noted above then a separate fee will apply. The client will be advised of the scope, extent and the fee of further services for approval prior to them being carried out.

Information should be provided re Architect Fees, Consultants Fees, Quantity Surveyor suggested allowance, Building Surveyor suggested allowance.

Advise the client about disbursements – Items not forming part of the proposed fee include, payment of fees to authorities, payment of specialist consultant fees.

Also your terms should be stated such as – payment terms are proposed as 14 days from date of invoice.

A Goods and services tax – all fees quoted are subject to a gst of 10%

The fee proposal is an addition to the generic CAA which more formally sets out the general agreement, your proposal allows you to set out the specifics of your services.

You are a business delivering a quality service and you must make a profit, you cannot be in a position where design sketches are produced and meetings held without your costs being met. Most clients can focus more clearly when they understand that a change in decision making will add to their costs. It is about putting limits and boundaries to your services. Overservicing and underpayment will not help your client or you.

These thoughts are very much a beginning to setting up a practice fee proposal policy, it is important that you consider your terms and services, a decisive architect is of most benefit to the client. It is your responsibility to control the process.

Peter Finn, ArchiTeam director.


Disclaimer – ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ is not an advice column, it is only general comment from ArchiTeam who are not aware of your circumstances with any issue that you may have. You cannot rely on these general comments, each member must make their own decisions about any action they should take and seek independent advice of their own if they are unsure.