The conundrum of the 'Initial Consultation'

I think i’m going to have to make a list of these ‘Architect Conundrums’, here’s a cracker – The Initial Consultation.

In order for an architect to get appointed the client needs to choose him/her. They’d like to meet, discuss the project and see if they think they can get on.

All good so far.

But what if the client just wants to get a heap of ideas from different architects and then choose none of them? (I’m not joking)

What if the client just likes talking about their project (that they’ve been discussing for the last ten years)? (again no jokes)

When I first started working in Ireland I offered a ‘free consultation’ at your site. It became increasingly obvious that travelling across 6,868 square miles (for this is what Connacht is and I work beyond this) was economically unfeasible.

Recently I’ve been providing initial consultations which are effectively feasibility studies on the viability of the client’s project from both a planning and financial aspect. This was intended to offer ‘broad-strokes’ of a design approach but was not intended to be a fully-fledged design with a full set of design drawings. This was costed at €400 + VAT. The problem was that many understood the level of typical fees an architect would charge but there were those who did not and were expecting a full set of drawings for a planning application at that price!

So, where am I now? After a lot of deliberation I’m opting for an approach that seems popular with other architects too; an initial consultation to see the project, have a chat with no expectations of a design (hopefully); the charge for this will be on a project by project basis and depends on travel distance.

I’m still very tempted however to provide an ‘initial ideas’ consultation but the problem is that this is the architects most valuable knowledge. It is this that separates the architects from the ‘plan-drawers’ and should not be given away or sold too cheaply.

I’d love some feedback on this from both clients as well as architects as both a concept and the pricing…

ps. I was meeting a solicitor recently (regarding maps and not as defendant I hasten to add) and there’s a large notice ‘An initial consultation costs €100’ and as the solicitor succinctly explained that it separated those that were serious from those that were not.

9 thoughts on “The conundrum of the 'Initial Consultation'

  1. Your second paragraph applies to one I’ve just looked at… First hint was when a planner said the site looked familiar to him at a meeting… second one was when a consultant I brought on board realised his company had looked at the site before and then found an outstanding payment for work they’d done on a very similar idea on the same site for the same client years before. After the first few meetings I put a fee quote together… no response so far… A waste of time? Time will tell!

    I offer a free consultation within a couple of post code areas on my website, in reality I often go further field as well… Most clients or potential clients respect what you do, even respond when they decide not to go ahead. That’s polite, after all, isn’t it? But some. a minority I’m pleased to say, just disappear once the fee quote is sent out… A thanks but no thanks would be appreciated… perhaps not as much as a thanks and yes please is though…

    1. Well said Clive. I did a free consultation a while back and nearly ended up doing some sketch ideas too (thank god I came to senses); property was for sale this week – no contact, no thank-you’s, nothing, utter silence!

      I think I need to do a post on politeness.


  2. Mark,
    This is always a problem, especially when there is not a lot of work around but many unemployed architects as well as non-architects around looking for “nixers”! In the “boom” times, I used to charge about €150, but in more recent years this just led to not getting called back at all. Also, giving a figure when someone rings-up looking to find out “how much would it cost for a set of plans” is usually the end of that inquiry. And if you send out an actual fee proposal, well that usually sends punters of the local “plans” guy!

    However, maybe the amendments to the BCR’s will mean that clients will have to use registered architects (that is, if the builders don’t find a way of providing this service!)….: echoes of clients-in-trouble saying “but the builder gave me a cert for that” still ring in my ear!

    Eugene Raeside

  3. The silver lining (for people like us) of our impossible-to-navigate planning system in San Francisco is that it’s nearly impossible to get many projects through the system without hiring an architect. I’ve had a small amount of luck with getting fees for doing initial schematic plans for people who want to discuss pricing with contractors before they decide if they want to move ahead with the project, and those jobs have fallen somewhere between an initial consultation and a planning application set as far as fee and level of detail goes. Most often the early initial consultations seem to be by phone or email these days.

    Your 150 Euro fee sounds reasonable for separating out the people who want free ideas from the people who are serious about their project – it’s not an amount of money that binds them to hiring you for the whole job but it’s still enough to make them think. I would assume you are very up-front about exactly what they are getting so there is no expectation of having you draw plans for that amount?

    1. Cheers Mark. From March 1st only Architects, Chartered engineers & surveyors can certify designs & building as compliant. Secretly I’m looking forward although a lot aren’t


      ps Yes I’ll need to make it explicit what the €150 gives, cheers

  4. HI Mark,
    I think you already know my feelings and policy on this. I am delighted you have started charging for initial consultations. I think it is an important step as it helps clients understand that your time is important. Every hour you spend with a client costs you cash. You have to be profitable in order to be able to give clients a proper service and they should support this. The ability to formulate an initial proposal by an architect is the result of years of training, skill, intuition and experience and one of the unique talents we bring to the process! This cannot be done by an engineer, a quantity surveyor cannot do this without a design, whereas we can read between the lines of a clients aspirations, and an assessment of site conditions to immediately project an outline solution and cost projection. You have to charge adequately for this. No client ever respects advice that is given freely, in fact I used to find that most did not even bring a pen and paper and take notes. In one ear, out the other.
    Similarly, any potential client whose first question is ‘what are your fees’ is never going to hire you. Particularly if you have a detailed website (which you do) which shows your particular skills and experience, and they either have not studied it, or do not start by saying, ‘I really like what you do, how you work and want to know more’. These clients will pay you a fee for your time, and expect to pay a reasonable fee for your work.
    By charging for an initial consultation, you get rid of ‘tire-kickers’ who have no intention of paying for services, but want a free design to give to a builder. The greatest value of charging for initial consultations is not the revenue it brings in, but the lost revenue you eliminate from your turnover which all of us have been misguidedly enduring for too long!
    Keep up the great work and keep the debate rolling!

    Paul McNally MRIAI

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