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Clearly setting out fees for clients

Transparent fee schedules prompt the right payment at the right time

08 August 2019

How to set out fees for your client is an enduring challenge for practices. Without clarity between client and practice over what an architect is agreeing to provide, when they will provide it and how much it will cost, disagreements over fees and their payment are sure to arise.

Barbara Kaucky, Director of Erect Architecture and Chair of the RIBA Small Practice Group, maintains that it is essential to draw up a schedule of fees that is completely transparent for the client. She has found that the RIBA’s Professional Services Contracts (PSCs) can help. These contracts were updated at the end of 2018. Their new design was intended to make the payment of fees simple and clear.

"You can very clearly set out the scope of your role, including how many meetings you are going to have at each work stage, and how many meetings on site," Kaucky explains. "You can link it to a programme. The contract supports the architect in creating a very clear picture for the client."

Setting out exactly what the architect is going to do in a project right at the start, and how much each stage of work will cost, is a professional imperative. Scheduling and programming projects are activities that practices can get better at by building up their own data on timing and time sheets, productivity, and profitability.

"The result is that you are able to bid for projects with the information clearly broken down at each stage, using resource schedules."

Kaucky recently took part in a RIBA video panel discussion, How do you set out fees?, hosted by Jane Duncan, Past President of the RIBA.

Duncan, who runs her own medium sized practice, agrees with Kaucky that architects need to take the time to prepare a proper fees schedule.

"In our practice, we carry out resource planning for the stages of work," she reveals. "So we have done quite a lot of work in the office before we go to the client with a fee proposal. We know we can fully justify what we are doing in how we have set out the fees."

An open and honest fee schedule lets the client know from the start exactly what each stage should cost and why.

Openness and honesty are key. Practices should not be apologetic about stating the time and costs that specific activities will incur.

"We give clients a resource plan and are very open about it, particularly for construction drawings," Duncan explains. "We will provide a list of construction drawings and tell them we need x number of meetings, x amount of time for checking and recording, and so on. If the client is unhappy and wants a lower fee, we might ask them which service they don’t want rather than lower the fee. We are very transparent."

Kaucky is similarly resolute when it comes to the question of clients asking for design variations. This can be a source of stress if a client regards provision of a variation as being merely fine-tuning - part of the architect’s service that should not incur a fee. Kaucky maintains it needs to be made clear to clients that revisions and variations are design work that takes staff time and therefore should have a cost attached.

Client Liaison Group chair Nigel Ostime says that clients want to see professionalism from architects and ultimately want to understand costs, so comprehensive and candid explanations about the scope of work is a good thing.

Ostime recommends using the RIBA Briefing Template, which is designed to work with RIBA contracts and encourages architects and clients to discuss the scope of services and their costs. It also ensures that all incidental costs such as VAT, planning and building regulations, and other statutory costs are not overlooked and are accounted for properly.

Thanks to Barbara Kaucky. Director, Erect Architecture; Jane Duncan, Director, Jane Duncan Architects + Interiors; Nigel Ostime, Delivery Director, Hawkins\Brown.

Stephen Brookhouse, will be speaking about fees on CPD day at the Guerrilla Tactics on Wednesday 6 November 2019 at the RIBA; 66 Portland Place, London W1B 1AD.

Tickets are now on sale, with discounted early bird rates available until 1 September 2019.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Business, clients and services.
As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

Posted on 8 August 2019.

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