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Publishing fee schedules upfront? You bet

Publishing fee schedules upfront? You bet

Advertising a schedule of fees upfront may appear anathema for many architects. But for small practice founder Clare Nash it is proving effective for project acquisition and helps support an image of honesty and transparency.

Her practice, Clare Nash Architecture, offers fee illustrations on their website for their main project typologies – barn conversions, eco homes and café conversions.

It is the most popular page on the site, generating around 750 hits a month, although Nash suspects that quite a few of the visitors are other architects and students checking out the fee rates.

‘Every architect I have ever spoken to about publicising fees makes the same comment every time, that you can’t possibly price a job before you have gone on site and looked at it. But why? The fees are not written in stone, but they will form part of the proposal package that I will present at a first client meeting,’ Nash says.

An energy-efficient (close to Passivhaus standard) barn-style eco house by Clare Nash Architecture. Photo (Luke Stevens) © Clare Nash Architecture Ltd.

The five-strong practice in rural Northamptonshire is unconventional in other ways. All of Nash’s team are part-time and work remotely, meeting up on site or in cafés once a week. Nevertheless, they are all directly employed, apart from the freelance ‘virtual’ office assistant who has some additional clients of her own. There is no dedicated practice office, instead they use the cloud-based team collaboration software Slack and back up files on Google Drive.

Responding to first enquiries starts with the same set of questions put to every potential client by the office assistant. Based on the information provided Nash then decides if the project might be a fit and worth a personal visit. Complementary internet-based research using Google Earth/Street View and property sites such as Rightmove helps to establish which pricing package is most suitable.

Nash typically prepares two copies of the package with an outline of fees ahead of the first meeting.

‘This is not set in stone and I frequently amend it slightly in front of the clients after finding out more about what they want. Clients like that I can do that in front of them and it is clear and understandable,’ Nash explains.

Both parties mark up their own copies and a digital confirmation version will be sent via email after the meeting.

‘Unless an absent spouse needs to be consulted, or if we are in competition with other architects, I usually walk away with a decision on the same day and put it straight into our cash flow forecast,’ Nash adds.

The practice has recently added a new advisory service, offering options appraisals on domestic alterations, extensions or replacement; as well as purchase appraisal for barns to be converted or plots of land. The client gets a research package and project report for a one-off fee.

Before offering this development consultancy service, Nash got legal advice on the potential pitfalls and made sure the terms were clear that the practice cannot be held responsible for unforeseen obstacles to works progressing.

Where projects proceed beyond the consultancy stage, fee proposals can be reduced to reflect the initial research already done. This makes clients see the value of the services more clearly, Nash points out.

So far, no client of Clare Nash Architecture has challenged their agreement on the basis that it does not align with the fees published upfront on the practice website. Nash says that it is simply not an issue. Rather, she thinks that making fees public helps to foster an image of honesty and trustworthiness for the practice that puts it one step ahead of her secretive professional rivals.

Clare Nash will be speaking about her unconventional practice at Guerrilla Tactics 2017: The Power of Small, the RIBA’s flagship professional event for small-to-medium-sized practices that takes place on 14 to 15 November 2017.

Her new book, 'Contemporary Vernacular Design: How British Housing Can Rediscover its Soul', was published by RIBA Publishing in November 2016.

Thanks to Clare Nash, director, Clare Nash Architecture Ltd.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a ‘Practice News’ post edited by the RIBA Practice team. The team would like to hear your feedback and ideas for Practice News: practice@riba.org

Posted on 26 October 2017.

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