Have you been a victim of online architectural services?
The world turns based on relationships and trust and nothing beat seeing the “whites of the eyes”. But flying in the face of all of these old adages is the online architect; faceless, nebulous and often somewhere behind an annoyingly persistent salesperson, the online architect promises you much, though rarely in person!
I hope that paragraph doesn’t give too much away too early on as to what our own position is regarding cheap online architects (if the title didn’t already) because we’d like you to read on and understand our objective stance on the matter; it’s actually in your best interests if you are thinking of engaging the services of an architect.
1. Hidden Costs of Online Architect Services
Hidden costs are something that nobody likes; they leave a really bad taste in the mouth primarily because they generally represent a serious lack of transparency.
It’s like when you find that perfect holiday online at what seems like a bargain price, but when you get right to the end you get hit with baggage charges, seat booking fees and management charges. Or when you find a great deal on eBay only to find the vendor is making their money on an exorbitant delivery charge.
Unfortunately, hidden (and sometimes downright omitted) architect costs are a frequent complaint associated with so-called cheap online architects. It’s all too common a story that customers are offered an amazing deal at the point of the quote being developed then, despite clearly outlining the work required, trusting customers are faced with further bills for “work that was not included in the original quote”.
Often this happens at the planning application stage and particularly if planning permission requires any changes to your proposed works, i.e. your extension plans. There are horror stories on review sites (Trustpilot and Google Reviews) of customers being charged up to 25% extra for the most minor of adjustments. So think again before you consider getting planning drawings online.
And all of this after claiming and quoting a fixed price (a fixed price is a selling point most online architects use). It’s understandable when customers feel misled in instances such as this.
In addition to all of this it’s normal for online architectural designers to not include costs associated with approved inspectors, party wall inspectors and structural engineers. So if the deal looks too good to be true that will be why!
2. Unclear Scope of Works for Projects
This is linked to the issue of hidden costs, but one thing that you have to absolutely get crystal clear with online architects in the scope of the works and this can be difficult.
It’s difficult, because they make their money from extras and you deal with a sales team; it’s in that sales team’s interest to sell more extras and the best way to do that is to leave crucial pieces of work out of the original scope of work and change extra for them. It shouldn’t happen, but it does unfortunately.
As a lay person you need to be able to rely on your architect to help and guide you through the process; they know more than you and you should feel comfortable with this fact, not fearful of missing something and then being charged over the odds for it.
This is why it’s important to deal face to face with your architect and communication directly with them; you can’t put a price on trust in this business.
3. Lack of Communication With Customers
People buy from people don’t they?
Nothing beats being able to sit down with your architect to discuss your project and the same goes for visiting sites and just about any other type of interaction. You can get so much more business done face to face dealing with the same person who you will grow to trust and get to know.
If you go down the online architectural designer route be prepared to speak to lots of faceless people over the phone. Quality human interaction isn’t really part of the online architect’s make up; part of how they squeeze as much profit as possible out of job is saving on things like office space and travel time.
Adrian Dobson, the executive director of professional services at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), told to DailyMail:
“A house is likely to be the single biggest asset people own in their lives so it is silly to cut corners. Clients should ensure they commission qualified architects who will sit down and discuss with them how their lifestyle and needs will benefit from the building work. They also need to assess whether the project will sufficiently enhance the value of the property to cover its cost. You need an architect with knowledge of the local market to estimate that.”
So don’t bank on building up a level of trust here; you just can’t get that with an online architect.
4. Poor Interaction with Customers
Another regular complaint about online architects is the frequency and timeliness of their communication.
Review sites (Trustpilot and Google Reviews) are littered with frustrated customers venting their anger at the sporadic, unreliable nature of attempting to communicate with online architectural designers mostly for their extension plans online. Often it’s just a struggle to get hold of anyone and sometimes that can be over the phone or over email.
From sales departments to design teams getting in touch with and speaking to the same person can be a real chore with online architects; simple questions take days on end to answer and then often, because the communication is so patchy, you don’t quite get the answer to the question that you were asking anyway.
Online architects extol the virtues of new ways of communicating via messenger apps for example, in a bit to seem credible and forward thinking, but the truth of the matter is that no app beats being able to meet, get to know and build a trusting relationship with your chosen architect. Use of tech like this is just smoke and mirrors.
5. Low-grade Online Architecture Drawings
With an online architect you’re going to speak to different people. Sales teams, customer service teams, maybe even an architect once or twice if you’re very fortunate and if your project has not been outsourced to India!
All of this leads to one thing: too many fingers in the pie and too many links in the communication chain and all of this leads to errors.
If you can’t clearly get your message across to your architect it’s a sure fire route to drawings having errors. And whether they are minor errors or major ones, the one thing that you know for sure that will happen is that the process will be held up…
There is also another trend going on with online architects who just get their sales agents to sell you on the idea of cheap and fast online architecture drawings, and then they outsource it to CAD drafting companies in India.
Here is an email excerpt from an Indian drafting company outreaching to other architecture firms by referencing the works they carry out for an online architecture firm in the UK:
“We are working with [company name hidden] in the UK for planning application drawings, with a weekly volume of around 50 drawings.”
The bottom line is that you’ll rarely, if ever, know whether your drawings will be made in Britain or not. You’ll not get to communicate directly with your architect if you go down the online route; there’ll always be a buffer between you in the form of a sales or customer service team and that is no good for any project.
So ask yourself: If you work with online architects and they fail, what would that cost you?
The cost of not getting planning permission the first time or trying to build a home or an extension that is structurally unsound by getting planning drawings online can be much higher than working with the regulated chartered architects.
6. Inappropriate Responses in Public Forums
How would you like payment details to be discussed online? How about how much you paid? Maybe a casual breach of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)?
You would like that at all would you?!
Of course not.
However complaints such as this are commonplace when it comes to online architectural designers.
As with so many of the problems with using online architects, this comes back to the involvement and interface with sales and customer service teams. Because of the function of these teams, they sell in a particular way which can generate complaints online and poor reviews on review sites (Trustpilot and Google Reviews).
And because of their “speciality” i.e. sales and customer service, they find themselves duty bound to respond to said complaints. And this is where it tends to go wrong for them.
You sort of expect that you might experience something like this when dealing with customer services online. But full data breaches?
Nobody should experience that; it’s an absolute disgrace.
7. Lack of Accountability and Ownership
That’s a question that many customers who deal with online architects end up asking themselves.
We’ve already talked about the faceless sales and customer service teams, but what about the architectural professionals?
What about the surveyors, technicians and architects?
How involved are they in the process?
Do they just turn up, do their bit and what they’ve been asked to do and then leave it?
Or are they truly invested in making your project a success?
Feedback from customers tells us that it’s often the latter I’m afraid.
The fact of the matter is that you will probably never speak to anyone with technical knowledge to any great degree save perhaps the surveyor who will visit the property if you’re there at the same time.
And if you know nothing about them how can you check to see if they are competent and how can you even check to see if they are qualified to do the job at hand?
You absolutely cannot and that should be of serious concern to anyone embarking on any sort of building project.
Review sites (Trustpilot and Google Reviews) often focus on the experience of dealing with surveyors via online architects. To work on behalf of a middle man like an online architect you clearly aren’t able to generate enough of your own private work. Sometimes there is a reason for this and they are borne out in the themes coming through from online reviews: “lateness”, “scruffy/dishevelled”, “no social skills”, “inaccurate”. Nothing that inspires a great deal of confidence.
8. Disconnection Between Their Online Architect Teams
With online architects, the actual design team isn’t really a team at all; they are a disparate, unconnected group of people who have little to no contact with each other.
Your architect probably won’t even visit the property at any stage and they’ll just rely on the work of the surveyor without actually ever meeting them. Customers have found that proposed changes or alteration from the architects are often completely unfeasible which smacks of not properly communicating with the surveyor who has, at least, been on site once.
It’s also clear from online reviews that the building regulations side of things often leaves an awful lot to be desired. There are horror stories of customers being wholeheartedly assured that their designs would comply and low and behold upon submission they fail the most basic of tests.
And by basic test we mean basic fire safety rules; so not only are they basic, but they are absolutely fundamental from a safety perspective. Who in their right mind would take unnecessary risks with their life and the lives of their loved ones?
9. Mercenary Business Culture of Online Architectural Drawings
I guarantee that you have never dealt with a finance department quite like the finance department of an online architect. If you’ve struggled to get a straight answer out of the sales team or even a response from the customer service team you’ll be amazed at the timeliness and frequency of calls that you’ll get from their finance department.
Generally payment is made in milestones when work is complete, but even if the work is not complete if that milestone time has passed get ready to be chased up by the finance department. These departments have been described as “militant” in their approach and all because, for an online architectural designer, it really is all about the money.
Online architects may seem like a good idea; they may seem like a cheaper, one stop shop but this really could not be further from the truth. It’s likely that you’ll end up paying more for hidden extras and correcting errors and your project is almost definitely going to take longer too.
You won’t have a relationship with an online architect and as such you won’t build trust; trust is what you need when you are embarking on such an important piece of work.
It is therefore vital that when choosing an architect to work with, check their credentials. Ideally you need to be using a Chartered Architect or a Chartered Practice – these will be highly trained and regulated, carry professional indemnity insurance and have the following letters after their name: RIBA. If an individual is without this credential then they may be operating unregulated, providing you with no guarantees of their ability to deliver the service you require.
Unfortunately, anyone, architect or not, can legally provide architectural services in the UK. However, RIBA credentials can be used by someone who is on the RIBA Register. The intent here is to ensure you can make an informed choice about who to hire for your building project and safeguard the health and welfare of the public. For example, a residential block with major design flaws poses an obvious risk to the people inside, as does an unsound or barely habitable house or its extension.
Numerous amounts of the serious cases like the ones we mentioned above and other matters such as construction errors or negligent advice for planning applications chartered architects try to rectify are by online architects not under the umbrella of a professional body. As these firms and their online architectural drawings are unregulated and often have no professional indemnity insurance there is often no re-compensation.
We have a strict criteria for the architects that we feature in our platform, ensuring that they are RIBA Chartered, have professional indemnity insurance and have an effective quality management system. This means that they can provide you with guarantees of their ability to deliver the service you require. So if you are on the fence about hiring an architect for your project, take the first step and find a local architect near you.