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Should I use builders plans, a building designer or an architect?

Building a home can be confusing.  One of the most common things people stress over is whether or not they should use builders plans, a building designer or an architect.  The struggle is real.  When you don't know a lot about the process it can be a tough decision.  Sure, you want the home of your dreams, but you don't want to waste thousands in design fees unnecessarily.   We're going to share four options to getting the best floorplan so you can compare what's the best option for you. This gives you a better understanding of whether or not you're best suited to using builders plans, a building designer (draftsperson) or an architect.

Using Pre-Designed Custom Builders Floorplans

Custom Builders often have their own range of floorplans that they can share with you and they offer the added bonus of being able to 'customise' or adapt them to suit. Often (but not always) there's no sales consultant involved.  It's just you and the builder working together to find something that suits and then taking that to a draftsperson or building designer to turn something you like into something you love.  Rather than visit display homes, the custom builder may take you to existing jobs or past jobs where you can have a realistic expectation of their style and quality.

You might choose to use custom builders plans if:

  • You'd like to work directly with the builder rather than a sales rep.
  • You'd like to adapt a floorplan to suit you.
  • You want the option to make improvisations during construction if required without being penalised financially for the privilege.
  • You have a sloping or semi-sloping block and you'd like to use the natural fall of the land to enhance the design of your home.

When you choose to work with a custom builder, you'll use the services of a building designer regardless. It's just a matter of who you engage first; the builder or the building designer.  And, whether or not you engage them personally, or whether your builder does so on your behalf.

There's big advantages to having your plans designed independently on your own.  That way you have the flexibility to have them quoted by any builder.  If you start with the builder they may possibly over-quote you knowing they have you locked in.  By this stage you've invested your heart and soul into that floorplan design which they know makes it very hard for you to walk away. You won't be able to take their plan and have it built by anyone else because they own it.  That's why The Building Home Masterclass Series teaches you the option of how to own your own plans.  Whilst you may pay more upfront, it could save you in the long run.

An exception to this rule is when you approach your builder with a dead set budget and they are clear that they are making recommendations and working with you based on that key figure.

In the Building Home Masterclass Series we share real life case studies that reveal the insider secrets of working with a Custom Builder.

Using Pre-Designed Project/Volume Builders Floorplans

Volume builders offer hundreds of pre-designed floorplans that cater for all budgets and the cost is incorporated into your overall costs.  The sales consultant who works with you on behalf of the volume building company will help you choose a floorplan and also help you plot your preferred floorplan on a block. The volume builder has systemised the entire process and are have sale targets to meet making it a highly competitive industry.

Volume Builders eliminate the need for you to have to ‘design’ your home. You simply pick the floorplan that you feel will work best for your family and one that comes in within your budget. The work you’ve already done during the previous stages of the five-step Building Home Masterclass system makes this process even easier. Having already defined your budget, wants, needs and desires narrows down your options considerably.  However there's some risks here that you really need to be made aware of which we talk more about in Step 5 of the Building Home Masterclass Series Choosing Your Builder.

You might choose to use existing builders plans if:

  • You'd rather not be involved in designing your home.
  • You aren't interested in amending or changing a floorplan.
  • You won't want to make improvisations to anything at all including colours once you've signed your contract.
  • You will be building on a flat block.
  • You have time to do the research to know what's not being included in your quote.
  • You understand that your home may not look anything like the display homes you've visited.

In the Building Home Masterclass Series we share real life case studies that reveal the insider secrets of working with a Volume Builder.

Using a Building Designer or Draftsperson for your floorplans

When you work with a building designer you will not be using an existing set of plans, as you would with a volume builder, but working with them to create a unique design. Or you may have found a floorplan that you like but that needs work to make it one you love.

Building designers often work under architects or engineers to transform their ideas into detailed technical drawings, but they can also transform your ideas into a complete set of working drawings.

Drafting is the process of creating technical drawings that include the full specifications of the components and elements required to build a home. Drawings will show all dimensions and elevations and include detailed systems of the house such as ducting, plumbing and electrical. A full set of ‘working drawings’ or ‘building plans’ make up the document that communicates the requirements of the home to the builders and tradies.

Today, drafting is undertaken using computer-aided design software, making it possible to make changes and alterations instantaneously.

Costs associated with engaging the services of a building designer depend on the scope of the work required.

This might include:

  • Preliminary sketches
  • Detailed sketches
  • Alterations
  • Planning permit application
  • Structural engineering
  • Energy rating report
  • Structure plans for electrical, plumbing and ducting
  • Schedule of construction materials
  • Full specification schedule

As a general guide, for the process of going from conceptual sketches to finished working drawings, you could be looking at paying anywhere between $2,500 and $10,000. Costs may vary between metropolitan and regional areas and may take the form of an hourly fee, a fixed price or a percentage of project costs.

You might choose to engage drafting services when you:

  • Want to design your home using your own simple ideas
  • Have an existing sketch or plan that you want to alter to suit your needs
  • Want to plot an existing plan onto your block
  • Need to prepare sketches for a planning application
  • Need to create working drawings from a plan for a builder

NOTE: It's vital for your success that you choose a building designer that has a good understanding of building costs.  Otherwise you run the risk of them designing a home that you can't afford to build.  However should this happen you do have options which we discuss in our real life case study in Module 2 of the Building Home Masterclass Series.

Using an architect to design your home

Architects are degree-qualified design professionals and generally have the highest level of expertise among your three options. Their professional standards are monitored by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA). You can expect them to be the most expensive option, but they are full-service professionals whose fee can cover design, and/or complete project management.

Architects may have expertise that other building design professionals do not, which makes them good choices for complex or unusual designs. You’re also likely to get a higher degree of creative input from an architect.

The cost of hiring an architect can vary widely depending on the scope of works required and the level of experience and reputation of the architect. While architects can charge a set fee or an hourly rate, it’s common for them to charge a percentage fee. As a rough guide, architects can change between eight and eighteen per cent of the total project fees. The lower percentage might be appropriate when you require more conceptual services such as sketches for planning permit applications, and the higher percentage more appropriate for full design and project management services.

You can view a real life example of a fee proposal I received from an architect for a recent project in the Building Home Masterclass Series.

You might want to engage the services of an architect when you:

  • Want preliminary sketches to explore the viability of a project
  • Want someone who will manage as much or as little of the entire design and construction process as you wish
  • Want a more environmentally sustainable, energy-efficient home
  • Need a solution to a complex residential need; for example. when building on a steep slope that utilises the fall of the land in the design of the home
  • Are building in an estate with a covenant that requires you to build an architecturally designed home that adheres to specific building guidelines
  • Want architectural landscape design that’s sympathetic to your home design, climate and natural environment

When you work with an architect you can expect that they will:

  • Assess the potential design solutions for your site.
  • Help you set a realistic and viable budget.
  • Guide you through the town planning process.
  • Obtain quotes for the work to be done.
  • Manage consultants who may be required during the architectural process, such as surveyors and engineers.
  • Manage the construction contract with the builders and tradespeople.
  • Ensure that you get the quality of work and standard of finishes that you expect.

Architects may also provide an estimate of the costs of the works involved.  View a Real Life Cost Estimate Example from a recent project of ours in the Building Home Masterclass Series.

Building Home Masterclass Series