Given that the majority of home renovations require town planning and development approval (let’s assume that yours will too) it is very wise to engage the services of a professional who can guide you through the various stages of the project.

However, depending on your budget and how confident you are about what you want, you can choose a Building Designer or an Architect. Both should be sufficiently skilled to improve the appearance and functionality of your home. A good architect can see the big picture and should be able to identify and create what you want to build. So too can an accomplished, experienced Building Designer. Both should be able to help and you guide you through the town planning process, as well as manage the construction (if you wish) including managing external consultants such as engineers, hiring builders, and managing materials and labour costs.

I have always had a reasonably clear vision of my project outcomes in terms of design, finishes and the budget and I have used the services of both architects and building designers. Those decisions came down to referrals, research, the project itself, and most importantly, interpersonal chemistry. In each case I was pleased with the outcome.
The real differences between the two professions relates to their formal qualifications and their fees.

An architect will have undertaken five or more years of university training and a registration exam before becoming qualified, and will probably be a member of the Australian Institute of Architects. A good architect can bring exciting, original ideas to the table including inside and outside spaces that define you and how you would like to live, arguably creating a more desirable “architecturally designed” product. The talent to create something distinctive and individual does come with a price which is normally set as a percentage of the build cost – anywhere from 10% to 15%. So if for example your renovation budget is $300,000, your architect’s fees could be an additional $30,000 to $45,000.

The mandatory training requirements for a building designer are far less exacting. Most will have completed a tertiary course such as a Diploma in Building Design and should be a registered member of the Building Designers Association. Without doubt, a well-chosen experienced building designer can help bring about an innovative and inventive project. They too can produce inspired, creative solutions. They typically charge at an hourly rate and will be more affordable for some. As a guide, their fees generally come in at less than one third of the cost of an architect.

Both architects and building designers are capable of undertaking on your behalf all of the following – preliminary design brief and preparation, site analysis, design development, recommendations on internal and external finishes, working within the parameters of heritage and residential character zones, planning applications, development of working drawings, tendering and negotiation of contracts, regular site visits, contract administration, and so on.

You can choose which, if not all, of these services you need.

So it’s up to you, but here are some questions that you should ask irrespective of your preference – How many design options will be prepared, presented and revised before additional charges kick in? Are we on the same page with the design ideals? Are planning and development fees included in the price? What about extraordinary council/arbitration negotiations – who would handle those and at what cost? Who will select the finishes? Is the building tendering process included in the price? Who will monitor and administer the construction process? Am I getting good value for my money? Do I feel an immediate personal chemistry with this professional?

This last question is extremely important. You are going to be in this for the long haul, so you must be able to work well together with a synergy of like-minded of ideas. Maybe you want to be intimately involved with the project? If so, you need to feel sure that your architect or building designer will allow and encourage you to regularly engage.

Designing and building an addition to your home can be extraordinarily complex. It will be a sizeable expenditure, so arriving at the right design and operating processes will be very important. Get it wrong and you could be living with your mistakes for a long time! Get it right and it could be the most satisfying experience of your life! Your choice of a professional to work with must come from up front, well-founded, referrals and research, plus as many face to face interviews and meetings as required.

Happy renovating!