Why do some self builders ask their architect or designer how much their build will cost and then use this build cost advice as a ‘cast in stone’ budget? Architects are not building estimators or quantity surveyors. You wouldn’t ask your bricklayer for advice on boilers, or your carpenter about LED lighting.

Many projects never move beyond the costing phase because the design would bring the project in over budget. Some self builders and renovators go back to their architect to revise or completely downscale the scheme to suit affordability, and some take it no further.

Budgets always seem to get stretched and we see it all the time on TV programmes. How many times have we seen participants max out credit cards, take out additional loans and still see the job stopped part-way through because they ran out of money?

We find self builders are given poor advice by some architects about build costs and a few even give outdated square metre rates just to be awarded a fee to draft a scheme. My advice is not to take pricing advice from architects.

Get an accurate, bespoke build cost estimate

Nevertheless, the vast majority of architects and designers provide exemplary services. The goal is to find one that specialises in your type of project, and can sticks to the brief by designing a new home or extension which can be built within your budget — a budget you should specify right at the beginning of the process.

How to Design a Home to Budget

Ensure your architect earns their fee. Long before you see the first draft, a good architect will design a scheme to your brief and then check the cost by using an estimating service like Estimators Limited. Architects should, if required, revise the scheme as part of the design process. Architects can easily absorb estimating fees and even provide the self builder with a detailed estimate as evidence of affordability.

Having completed over 40,000 self build estimates, I was recently asked what advice I could offer self builders? It’s simple really: affordability is affordability — stick to what you can afford. If design is unaffordable, you have defeated the object of self building. Provide your architect with a strict brief to design a scheme that meets your budget. Never stretch the purse strings; steadfastly stick to a number and you will be surprised what you can achieve.

Most unaffordable projects start at the design stage. Architects play a key role here —  and meeting the design brief for a home that fits the client’s budget is an art. Self builders should demand that the designer provides quantified evidence of affordability as part of the brief.

  • Ben Lee

    Great blog Steve, I’m an architect and we get asked all the time for building estimates to which we’re not trained to provide that’s why we suggest a QS as a core part of the design team to help us manage costs from the outset. Although it seems like an additional cost for a design team member, it usually pays off in the long term as the project is designed with costs carefully considered.

    Ben Lee

  • Ian King

    Always use a QS if you want to keep a tight control on you project.
    Projects that have overspent have done so for a number of reasons, the design has not been adequately prepared or detailed to enable the contractor price the works proposed, unforeseen works, or the client changing the brief.

  • Helen Marriott

    That all makes perfect sense but what is your advice on putting together a budget before committing to a project. Whenever I have asked a builder to quote – even ball park, they say they need drawings. But without a ball park budget we can’t know if the project is affordable and would not commission drawings. Where is the best place ti get that initial ball park quote?

  • Lindsey profile picture
    Lindsey Davis

    Hi Helen,

    A bit of research will give you a good idea of what is doable, especially if you can find projects which are similar to what you plan to do. The big variable is regional differences (both for costs and labour).

    If you want a bit of a hand, we do have a free Build Cost Calculator on this site: https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/calculator/

    You can put your postcode in so it will factor in the regional labour costs. It doesn’t include plot costs however so you will need to find some nearby to see.


  • Post a comment
    You must be logged in to comment. Log in