Why is it so hard to find a reliable and reasonable architect?!

We bought our house a year ago and have wasted all this time trying to find an architect. After a recommendation from a friend of a friend, we held out for one architect, who seemed perfect - reasonably cheap, half English, half French and had done similar work to ours (traditional Landaise farmhouse renovation) but never came up with any plans, despite promising us for six months(!).

We have had quotes from a couple of other architects who advertise on ex-pat sites, but their quotes came in at over €9000. Is this normal?

Interesting as in the past year we have had about 6 meetings about 2-3 hours long. Of these meetings I wrote up minutes and actions afterwards as I felt from the first couple of meetings that our requests were being lost. This did help but there were months which passed between each meeting (not through us not asking for meetings I must add) and then suddenly the next step was launched to go out to tender before we'd approved (or seen!!!) the plans following the structural engineers drawings being revised. Anyway that is history - next job is getting devis in. The fun now begins as we juggle builders availabilities with actually getting them to quote.

Despite the time and cost factor of working on individual renovation projects, we have had enormous satisfaction working with private clients, we like the building up of the personal relationship and all the attention to detail etc. Of course some clients can be a nightmare (see David's post below!) but on the whole we have been rather sad when some projects have ended, you get to know each other pretty well, not to mention the incredible detailed knowledge one has of the house itself by the end.

We try and minimise client changes by pointing out really early that clients should finalise their choices and try and stick to them, and that changes will often involve extra costs and (not to be forgotten) delays. But of course, as it's your home, emotions can become a factor and that's why a personal relationship between architect and client is so important. (Interesting that there is no real translation into French for the word "home").

i always insisted on trying to have a good and indeed close relationship with the client. I was always very uncomfortable if just meeting the husband or the wife as there were frequently very different agendas and |I didn't want to be the focus of that. That's why we used to do minutes of every meeting and circulate those as decisions/action etc. Lots don't do that now because the fees are so low. Every hour spent before the job starts on site is well rewarded. I remember one job where a client couldn't make up her mind about among other things just one window and we drew 16 different versions of that. Every weekly meeting turned out into a six hour marathon when she just would not commit. We warned her lots of times and in writing. She appointed a builder on a time basis as no other builder as would touch her having met her and from the day the job started on site she paid us not one penny. She insisted on buying a jacuzzi for the garden after I warned her in writing she could not afford it and then after she ran out of money she tried to sue me!!!!!! Her lawyer advised her not to proceed after I showed him all the correspondence. Believe me I tried to help that lady but she became impossible. It's not just clients who need protection! In fact she like Dorian Grey changed physically during the whole process. Her face dissolved into a sea of fissures broken only by the deep holes of reddening eyes and parched lips. It was quite extraordinary. I saw photos of her as a young and beautiful woman but the process of a divorce had finished her off. There were a few other cases where we were exposed to wars between partners in marriages or relationships which ended during or shortly after projects which seemed to focus the problems between them.

David - I too thought that the recommendation would be a good reason to keep the client happy. Indeed after terminating the architect has now given us a small rebais commercial which I think is a gesture of goodwill. If I have a good service I will always recommend someone, I suppose I am disappointed it didn't work out. I will accept that we have (as a result of costs) changed the drawings which obviously affects the bottom line as they pay their team to update everything on an hourly basis whereas our fee is on a % basis. The more work involved the more it costs them. I get that. I also get that cotisations are expensive (as per Sean's point below). I guess the thing is for us the thing we are renovating is our personal home, its one of the most expensive undertakings we will ever do. We want it to be right, we don't want too much negative equity by over-renovating but at the same time it's our family home so it has to be comfortable. Therein is the problem, private clients are difficult, we're passionate, we want to spend time getting it right, but for an architect there is lots of work for what appears to be a small return (after tax) if the hours invested are many. For us the architect fees at 10% plus all the extras for other professionals constitute a large sum of money - we wish we could have continued but it could only have happened if the relationship was better - we didn't have a good relationship, we felt the way things progressed wasn't efficient and hence led to disagreements, delays and us being unhappy. Shame - but we move on. I think it would be far simpler to do a new build and IF we ever did do another project it would be new build - no doubt there and of course we would use an architect BUT I would research them better and make sure there was a better fit.

Suzanne-there is in fact a very strong incentive for a good architect to keep costs down and that is getting the next job from the same client or by recommendation. In addition many architects are on fixed fees these days but often subject to additional time basis fees if the client keeps on changing their minds- and that happens all the time! Many of our domestic jobs were on this basis. One client I did five houses for in a row over about I think 20 years. I did 15 jobs for another client. people also need to note that with interior designers and decorators one often has to be careful. Items are suggested and then the client is told a price (usually a discount is referred to). The goods are obtained. What the client doesn't know is that the interior designer is getting a payment from the supplier as well and that is on top of what the designer is being paid by the client as a fee. I'm afraid I've seen that happen frequently, especially with overseas clients with lots of money. I've never known architects take such payments and if they did they would rightly be chucked out of the profession.

Totally agree with you Sean. Small applications can be dealt with by non architects in France. In the UK even large applications can be dealt with by non architects. There's the issue of proper insurance as well. In the UK many funding institutions insist on qualified professional certification of the works on site. It's mostly done by architects but sometimes done by surveyors. We always asked that engineers also inspect structural works phases (we worked happily with many engineers and recommended engineers but not one rude ones obviously). Bear in mind that actual building control by the authorities seems to be practically non existent in France. In the UK local authorities do inspect and these days issue certificates of satisfaction at the end of a project. In addition drains need testing, electrical and gas works need to be certified and on larger jobs air tightness needs testing. Never heard of the latter in France! However doing all these things takes time. As architects we used to undertake very detailed snagging lists before would even consider the issue of Certificates of Practical Completion. Some clients have the compensation culture very much in mind so as architect you have to be very careful. I had a client who sued me once because he discovered years after the project was handed over that a plumber (not one of my own employees) had not connected a cistern overflow within an enclosed duct. I was advised to settle out of court which I did although I felt it unfair. Using short cuts Joe Public can be left very exposed.

Stephen Davies is not registered with the Ordre des Architectes in France. How did he submit your planning which he advertises on his website he can do?

"Architectural Services", which many people advertise, can cover a wide range of things, but in my experience in France submitting a dossier de demande de permis construire with full professional insurance covering both the design and the construction is not one of them unless you are a registered architect.

Joining this discussion rather late, but I totally agree with everything David Rosemont says. We have lots of experience doing private renovations in France, they can be very complex and time-consuming, which is why the architect's fees may seem high. Plus, on an average year, we calculate 40% or more of our turnover (i.e. fees) goes on running costs, cotisations, insurance etc, and that's before income tax, I believe this is fairly standard.

Cat who started this post, you actually contacted us in April 2012 and we replied suggesting a visit, but never heard back. Maybe we were one of the too expensive firms you have not followed through, but if 18 months later you still have got nowhere please do come back to us. Your cheaper architect who has done nothing for 6 months seems to be a case of you get what you pay for!

I would also like to point out to the group that since January 2013 planning dossiers also have to include a complex "attestation" of energy use, calculations of insulation etc, conforming to the new RT 2012 norms.

Someone posted that the fact architectural fees are on a % basis discourages the architect from driving down costs, I would like to refute this: a) this is professional misconduct and no serious RIBA or Ordre des Architectes member would do either (I am a member of both) and b) a client who feels he is being ripped off is an unhappy client which is bad news for everyone. We have actually managed to get substantial discounts for clients (as well as grants from the French government to help restore historic buildings). We also carefully check work done against the devis /invoice to prevent overcharging, draw up watertight contracts with the builders etc.

Someone queried the measuring process : An architect in France takes detailed measurements, for the planning and design of the building, and to give the contractor along with a detailed specification (in French, obviously) to quote on, but the contractor who is buying the materials and doing the building work usually also takes his own.

A final note on architect's fees in France: some British architects working here such as myself can offer a bi-lingual service - we are happy to do this but it is a lot of extra work; we find most clients are happy to pay for it. So many British house-owners have come a cropper because even speaking reasonable French they have cannot cope with the technical complexities in French and don't understand fully how the building trade works here. THey end up losing a lot of money.

If you want to try us again Cat, do contact us on info@archietctesud.fr tel 05 63 56 39 11 or www.archietctesud.fr. We'd be happy to help you or anyone else in a similar position.

I do remember that one was advised in the RN that "comic opera facial adornments" were prohibited. As for pink bungalows!!!!!!


Delighted and I will return! Like MacArthur- but on that subject I'm in the middle of running a fund raiser for the Philippines as my wife is from the island of Leyte. In fact we had our Lune de Miel at Tacloban which was devastated. The fund raiser is at Typhon Leyte Berrien on FB and I will concentrate on that until next week!!!!

Cat if it makes you feel better we bought our house mid 2011 so we've been in planning for 2 years. One thing that surprised us was that the French Architect didn't do his own measuring to create the 'as is' picture, we had to pay a geometre 1500 euro to do that plus 500 euro for the garden. Then the architect charged 2000 euro to write a very simple report about the existing condition of the house with a few photos. We thought this investigation phase was to determine what level of foundations existed (as the house is on a slope and we wanted to excavate to put stairs in) but we had a false start with a builder of architect which failed to answer the questions so we then employed a structural engineer (recommended by architect) 7500 euro who said he needed a structural survey 'sondage' done by a geotechnician...this was a further 2000 euro. This has taken nearly 2 years and finally once we got the structural plans from the engineer we then got the cost impact of all this from the economist of the architect and it blew our budget. So many thousands of euros lighter - we find our house does indeed have the necessary foundations to do what we want, our plans are well laid out but the architect's economists estimates for the work to a final finished state are beyond our budget so we've halted the work and are now seeking our own estimates which I believe should come in lower and mean we can actually do the work.

Fingers crossed - hopefully soon we'll know when the gros oeuvre estimates come in...

Re scale fees. Grahame Carpenter wrote :- "there is a scale of professional fees for engineers [civil, structural, mechanical & electrical] in the UK" Fair enough but who set the scale fees? Could it have been the (let me think).... professional engineers [civil, structural, mechanical & electrical] ? I was a contracting building services engineer as well qualified & as good if not a damned sight better than any "professional" engineer who's "designs" I had to tender against. It always narked me that these "golden boys " could make cock up after cock up & it was me & my ilk who were obliged by dint of our "lower" status to cover up for this lot whose scale fees were enhanced when the contract sum escalated to pay for their cock ups. I never met a "professional engineer who could hold a candle to a good commercial contracting engineer!!!

I agree that it was completely inappropriate and it quickly became a very strange thread in the middle of good and interesting conversation. So I ask that we bring it back round to the topic of finding good and reasonably priced architects to which I am sure you have some further good contributions to share.

like :) If only everyone was as honest as you David. To be fair though it happens in all professions not just the building trade.

If you copy me an email address Cat, I can send you a long article which I wrote about building over here which I never bothered to publish, it might be of some help, its too long to post up here - and maybe a bit too direct in its/my views -I've been in the building trade for 45 years as a designer, main contractor, Senior Project Engineer and Structural Engineer, and have built lots of different projects in the UK and here for the last 8 years. I'm retired and certain not seeking work but don't mind talking to you about your plans, my video game is Autocad, so if you want your plans reviewed I'd happy to help for free. my email address is jaroenter@gmail.com and I live near Limoux.

That helps a lot, thank you very much for your response.

Could you send me their details please?

Good tip, thank you. I'm sorry to hear you've had such a bad experience.