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How to select your home extension designer

Most home extension designers are referred to as 'architects' which is usually incorrect.  So, who are these people completing home extension plans?

The term architect is protected and only those on the RIBA's registration board can use the term.  However, not all architects offer professional design services to the ordinary home owner.

Also, many people who are already experienced home extension  designers are not Architects at all but usually belong to another professional qualifying body such as CIAT, IOB or RICS as the main ones.  And then of course there are the awful unqualified 'plan drawers' or CAD jockey's that just do a bare bones work.

As with all professions they sub-divide into specialist areas such as commercial design, Landscape, Historic Buildings, Local Authority work,  civil engineering and some may specialise in good old residential development from new housing to altering and extending a home. 

Therefore, if a relative or friend recommends someone who is 'an architect??', always ask if they actually specialise and actually complete regular design work for residential development and home extensions in particular. 

You would be amazed at those so called Architects that 'dabble' in the residential field thinking that as its the 'low level' end of the design profession consider that it is therefore easy to prepare a scheme design for someone's house. 

These 'dablers'  and other unqualified design service providers can create a lot of wasted time and costs for the frustrated homeowner.

Residential development for domestic dwellings needs an understanding of human needs, relevant planning policy, and neighbour psychology.  Someone without at least 5 years experience in residential development will be cutting their teeth on your project and learning on the job.

So what are the qualities you should be expecting from your home extension designer?  How do you test their skills and know if you are obtaining value for money or added value if they are more expensive than your 'plan drawer?

Here is our recommend list of designer attributes they should have and questions you should be asking:-

1 - EXPERIENCE:- 5 years minimum in residential design is a must no matter what qualifications they have.  An experienced 'plan drawer' will probably be of more use and value to you than a chartered architect fresh out of University.

2 - QUALIFICATIONS:- belonging to some form of recognised design professional body is a good start with the experience.  RIBA, CIAT RICS & IOB are a good start as each requires the professional designer to follow a code of conduct & to hold professional indemnity insurance.

3 - FULL TIME WORK:- Make sure they are not dabbling in private work while working for a full time other employer.  This is because you will obtain a very limited service and often you will need them to visit site at a 'drop of a hat' during the normal working week - many part-timers cannot do this.  Most part-timers will NOT carry PI insurance either.

4 - BEING PROACTIVE IN DESIGN ADVICE AND ALTERNATIVE SUGGESTIONS:- Most 'plan drawers' will do exactly what you want without any added value with regard to advice.  Most home owners need advice and the consideration of options or alternatives if they are to obtain the best design for their budget.  Simply agreeing to compile a plan for a two storey flat roofed rear bolt on extension is not good enough.

5 - THEY MUST ACT AS YOUR DESIGN AGENT THROUGH THE COUNCIL APPLICATION PROCESS:- Any home extension designer not willing to add their name to the council records as your Agent needs to be avoided.  They are either evading tax for their fees or they are ashamed of their work.  It is also part of the normal service for  home extension designer to act as your agent for the preparation of all forms & negotiating with the council on your behalf.  Avoid anyone that simply gives you the drawings for you to action & submit through the council yourself.

6 - CAN THEY OFFER A FULL SERVICE IF REQUIRED:-  Residential home extension  design is not just about preparing design plans with good design advise.  Many clients require you to obtain tender prices  from builder, preparation of the contract documents and contract administration services during the works.  Even if you do not require this level of full service it is still a test to ensure that it is at least offered.

7 - CAN THEY DO THE CONSTRUCTION SCHEME DESIGN FOR THE BUILDING REGULATIONS AND YOUR BUILDER:- The latest scam in the residential home extension design field is so called designers or architects only completing the 'pretty bare bones design' work for planning and then suddenly going ill or too busy to take your home extension scheme to the next stage - detailed construction drawings and specifications. 

Why? - This is probably the most demanding piece of any home extension design scheme with a high level of liability to the client - physically breaking the home extension down into precise details and instructions and making it work for the Building Regulations and the builder to construct on site. Many fail to do this and duck out of this responsibility.  Always double check that they are, in fact, a one stop shop and do not outsource this most important element of the design process.





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