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Renovating for profit? Why good design adds value

Using an architect might seem like a luxury, but if you’re renovating or building from scratch an architect could actually add value to your property and save you money – and potentially a lot of heartache – along the way.

We spoke to Paul Berkemeier, National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, about what architects do and why everyone should consider one.

What do architects do?

Paul Berkemeier says that while everyone knows about architects’ design skills, they actually bring a whole lot more to the table. Like expertise in coordination and project management, knowledge of building precedents and independent and expert advice that brings a different perspective to a builder’s.

“The architect can act as an impartial advisor, so it’s a benefit for many homeowners,” Paul says.

According to Archicentre, the advisory service of the Australian Institute of Architects, architects can add value at four stages in the building process.

Firstly with the schematic design: the what and how to build. Secondly with design development, or what building materials to use and why. Thirdly with contract documentation, plans and instructions to make sure the building meets yours and the local building authority’s requirements. And fourthly with contract administration, and recommending builders and tradesmen who do quality work.

Why use an architect?

Architects can present options you might not have considered, give your building style and design it to work efficiently and solve problems of space and function. Using an architect also means you get something that is tailored to your specific needs, so that you can plan for the long term.

“Initially a client might not have all the money they need but an architect can help them master plan something that can grow over time,” says Paul. “An architect can also get something of higher quality, so you get a value-add in terms of quality”.

And of course architects are creative, and good at problem solving, which is particularly handy with a renovation.

“Renovations often require inventiveness to get the best out of an existing building so you get a benefit there, and you also get design judgement, which is recognised in the outcome and the way a building feels,” Paul says.

An architect can also help you in all sorts of other ways. In NSW for instance all new houses and alterations have to pass BASIX.

“Anything that goes through council or a private certifier has to have a BASIX certificate. It is improving the standards of all housing stock,” says Paul. An architect can be invaluable in helping you through this maze of sustainability, insulation and energy performance, and also has knowledge of the design elements of orientation, which can add so much to a building’s functionality and liveability.

The bottom line

The words “architect designed” are often used to imply luxury and high-end design. But in reality, an architect can actually help you no matter what your budget, by helping you achieve the best design for the available money, and avoiding costly mistakes. The cost of an architect will vary depending on who you choose and the level of service you need.

The typical full service process which covers everything from initial design, through to post occupancy could be 10-15% of the full construction cost depending on the size of the project.

But you might just like just some ideas of what the property could be transformed into, or a little help along the way, so most architects are open to negotiating a partial service, where they offer guidance at certain stages of the project.

So is it worth it? Paul believes that clients will almost always recoup the amount they spend on an architect.

“Often we have a tendency just to assess a project’s value by the quantity we get for the money,” says Paul. He credits this mentality as leading to the McMansion phenomenon of large houses on small blocks.

Working with an architect you’re looking for quality, he says, and while the end result might be the same cost, the investment is usually returned in quality, liveability and other things like environmental factors. Using an architect can maximise your budget and open up new possibilities. Paul argues that it can in fact add value:“Building is expensive so you want to get the best value you can for the investment.”

Can ordinary people benefit from an architect?

While the benefits of architect designed homes are available on most budgets, not all home are designed by architects. But they can be.

“Clearly most houses are not designed by architects,” says Paul, “Project homes for instance. But what is really interesting is the real advances in project home building came from the use of architects, like Pettit and Sevitt for instance in the 1960s-70. So you got the benefit of an architect designed home but the economies of scale of a project home”. These houses retained their value well and many are still advertised as Pettit and Sevitt when they come up for resale. In fact, the demand for architect designed project homes has led the Pettit and Sevitt name to come out of retirement.

If you’re buying an apartment in a larger block you’re probably already benefiting from architect designed quality. Paul highlights NSW legislation, called SEPP 65, which requires buildings above 3 stories high to be designed by registered architects. The legislation has been in place for over a decade and is credited with improved standards in apartment living.

“The public gets the benefit of the better design standards,” he argues.

No job too small

Paul says it’s surprising what value an architect can bring, particularly if they’re called on for advice early in the project. He’d recommend an architect for any situation and says that an architect’s eye can be useful, even on the smallest project. “I’ll often get called by someone who is thinking of buying a new house, just with a quick look at a house and a chat I can give them an idea of whether it’s good or not,” Paul says. “I’ve often talked people out of doing something that’s too ambitious”. If you’re thinking of using an architect or just want to know more about what they can offer, Archicentre can be a good introductory service.

Source: Emma Sorensen written for,

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