Engaging An Architect in France
Tuesday 02 August 2011
Engaging an architect should bring substantial additional added value to your building project, provided you set about the process with care.
It is clear from the e mails we get from you that most of you rely on a builder to lead your construction or restoration project, rather than engaging an architect or project manager.
No doubt there are many cases where such an approach is suitable, but given the large number of complaints we also receive about builders in France, it is clear that this is not always the most prudent choice.
By engaging an architect or project manager you are likely to find that the quality of the final build will be a lot better (including the choice of materials), the budget of the project should be controlled more effectively, and the works are more likely to proceed to programme.
Of course, one of the biggest deterents to the use of an architect is the level of fees that are payable.
Although architects fees in France are freely negotiable, do not be surprised if total project management sets you back around 10% of the construction or restoration cost.
If all you require is preparation of a planning application, then it should cost less than half of this amount.None of that may seem very cheap, but a good architect should be able to recover (at least part of) their fees in the competitive tendering process.
In practice, there are also different ways by which the fee can be determined:
- Lump sum (forfait),
- Percentage of construction costs (pourcentage du coût des travaux), or
- Hourly or day rate (vacation horaire)
Just which fee basis to use is going to depend on the nature of the project in which you are involved, as well as your own negotiating skills.
In negotiating the fee remember that you need to add VAT (19.6% or 5.5% depending on type of project and level of engagement) to the basic charge.
Of perhaps greater importance than the fee is making sure you choose the right architect.
It is their experience and interest in working on the type of project in which you are engaged that is the fundamental prerequisite to successful engagement. Their knowledge of suitable builders is also very important, as is frequently their knowlege of the local political and administrative process. It is not just their architectural skills you are buying! Doing some research on them before you take them on is likely to pay dividends in the final decision.
In particular, if you are to use the architect to supervise the building works, rather than merely design and planning, check out their experience in this role. French architects may well have very good design skills but frequently lack practical experience of on-site supervision of building works.
Although there are good British architects in France, avoid the temptation to choose on the basis of language alone. Most French architects have a basic understanding of the English language and most British architects in France are bi-lingual, so language should not normally be an issue. However, do carefully check the qualifications of anyone you do propose to engage.
Use the Page Jaunes to find several professionals to meet and discuss your project. The selection process also happens to be a great way of getting a proper understanding of your project and the alternative approaches that may be taken. Nothing beats listening to alternative design and build solutions, whatever may be your own preconceptions.
If you are restoring an older property of character, try contacting the Foundation du Patrimoine in your department, who may able to supply you with the names of suitable architects.
Once you have found an architect, then do not leave the terms of engagement to an exchange of e-mails, or worse, a verbal agreement.
You should enter into a formal written contract with the architect, which clearly sets out the extent of their work, their obligations and the fee arrangements.
These contracts can be amended to suit your own particular requirements, so do not feel you are obliged to accept them without amendment.
One other critical element in all of this is making sure your architect has the requisite professional indemnity insurance that guarantees their work for up to ten years – the assurance décennale.
This insurance is expensive, so it does bump up the level of the fees (particularly for site supervision), but in the event of difficulties the level of your exposure is considerably increased if they do not have it.
Ask for a copy of an up-to-date insurance policy, which should be annexed to the terms of engagement. If an architect does not carry a ten year insurance policy, beware.
Do not confuse the assurance décennale with public liability insurance - responsibilité civile. The latter is merely designed to cover third party claims against their business.
Remember also that the employment of an architect in France is obligatory for the submission of a planning application if the proposed net habitable surface area of the new building is greater than 170m², or where an extension to an existing property generates a surface area that exceeds this threshold.