Property development guide part 13 – Working with your architect

In this article, Bryce Yardney, Property Development Specialist at Metropole, explains the role of the Architect and how to work with them on your development project.

Astute investors and property developers know that in order to be successful they can’t do it all on their own.

They surround themselves with qualified and experienced professionals who can provide invaluable support and assistance throughout their investment journey – their “A” team.

Property development involves many varied aspects and as such, requires a good support network that consists of a designer/architect, engineers, surveyors and a strong leader to pull the whole thing together – the project manager. The role of the Architect

Then of course there’s the builder and tradespeople.

All of these industry professionals will help you to make your development dream a reality and avoid too many nightmares along the way.

In this installment of our series on property development, I will examine the important roles the architect plays and exactly how they can ensure your development gets off the ground and becomes a real money spinner.

Keep in mind though that the buck always stops with you.

It is your responsibility to lead your “A” team to the pot of gold at the end of the development rainbow.

What does the architect do?

Most people would naturally and quite rightly say, “Architects designs buildings”.

But a good architect does much more than that.

A good architect can co-ordinate all of the design consultants, assist with the town planning process and even supervise the construction phase of your project.

In fact it is likely that when working on your project they will be involved with;

• Site selectionWorking on your project
• Feasibility studies
• Designing and planning
• Managing the building budget
• Selecting and managing the project team
• Interior design
• Landscape design

Not all architects will undertake this type of full project management; however there are some who will be willing and able to manage your entire project from start to finish.

Ultimately your needs will be best met if you take it upon yourself to learn all the necessary skills to run your projects or alternatively and perhaps more appropriately, employ the services of a project manager rather than an architect to drive the development.

Project mangers tend to be more practical and budget driven, while architects are more, lets say…“creative.”

Additionally, a reliable project manager will free up your time so that you can focus on finding the next best property investment or development for your portfolio.

Working with an architect

A good architect will add considerable value to your project by designing a product that will be appealing to your target market and appropriate for your end goals, whether you intend to tenant or on-sell the completed development.

Some beginning developers try to save money at this stage and enlist the cheaper services of drafts people.Beginning developers

You should realise though that investing a little more at the important design stage of your project means you have a better chance of ending up with a development that has good street appeal and a proposal which should work its way through council and the permit application process much quicker.

As I have already cautioned, tread carefully when it comes to handing over complete control of your project to your architect.

Although they will be a critical part of your team and lend necessary creative vision to the development, many architects do not take into account important factors such as the final cost or complexity of construction.

That is why you, the developer and the rest of your “A team” should have strong input into the design phase without limiting the architect’s options or treading on their toes too much.

This will ensure that the whole team comes up with a financially viable project.

The role of the architect or designer in your project involves 3 distinct aspects;

  1. Town Planning, including drawing up an initial concept scheme and completing detailed town planning drawings for submission to council.
  2. Preparing comprehensive working drawings and coordinating necessary consultants such as geotechnical, structural and civil engineers.
  3. Administration of the building contract and supervision of the construction process in some instances.

Selecting an architect

Word of mouth recommendations from previous, satisfied clients are one of the best ways to source a good architect for your project. 

how to get started in property development

Alternatively, you may have seen a development designed by a particular architect that you admired and thus decided they would be a critical part of your “A” team.

Once you know which architect you want to employ, arrange a meeting with them to discuss your specific requirements.

Explain the services you want them to undertake and be sure to enquire about the fees you will have to pay.

Bear in mind that they will only be able to give you a cost estimate at this stage as the project parameters have not yet been determined.

Make sure you feel comfortable with the architect and the responses they provide to your enquiries, because you will be working with them for a year or more.

Ask them to provide you with a list of their recently completed projects for you to look at as well as the names of some past clients to contact for a professional reference.

Finally, ensure the architect is a member of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects  so you know they are fully qualified industry professionals.

The Architectural Brief

After selecting your architect, the next step is to provide them with a brief.

The brief should give them an indication of the nature of the project you want, its general shape and the number of dwellings to be built, together with some broad design elements such as the materials you’d like to use.

After analysing your design brief the architect will then visit the site, clarify the town planning zoning for your property, assess its conditions and constraints and determArchitectural Briefine the best location and orientation for your project.

If necessary they will also consult with the council’s town planners to gain complete familiarity with the local authority’s planning requirements.

After completing these initial steps, the architect should then develop a rough concept sketch to illustrate the number and type of dwellings the site can accommodate.

They then submit these concept design drawings, which usually include a rough floor plan plus one elevation, for your perusal and comments.

These preliminary drawings will allow you to do a more detailed feasibility study as you will have a better idea of what you may eventually be able to build on your site.

Once you have approved the concept designs, the architect will engage a surveyor to draw up a feature survey of the property and its surroundings, which allows them to complete the town planning drawings.

At this stage you may need to nominate building materials and finishes.

Once you have an approved development application or planning permit the architect will then draft working drawings which, when combined with the engineering, structural and civil engineering drawings, enable you to obtain a building permit and all important construction quotes.

These drawings are very detailed, illustrating all dimensions, levels, ceiling heights, window and door locations, material finishes, plumbing, fireplaces where required aPlanning guidelinesnd the exact location of the hot water service and heating and cooling systems.

Your builder will use these working drawings to help establish his cost estimates.

Before your architect designs your proposed project, remember that it is essential to understand the requirements for development in your municipality as these will impact on your plans.

As discussed in part six of our development series, planning guidelines vary from council to council and from state to state.

It’s easy to obtain of a copy of your local council’s development specifications and you should carefully read through them before forking out for any design work to ensure it will meet their requirements and be appropriate for the area your development is in.

Your architect must take all of the council’s regulations into account when assessing the site, allowing for any unusual shapes or obstructions which may restrict your development.

When putting pen to paper to set out your project, the architect will usually start with the front setback from the street, which is regulated by the planning code and influenced by your adjoining neighbours’ setbacks.

They then allow room for driveways, garages and turning circles and ensure that vehicles can exit the site in a forward motion.

Next, they will allocate the appropriate amount of private open space for each dwelling, which varies from council to council.

After all of these aspects have been accounted for, they can determine the footprint for your dwellings.

Design traps to avoid

While you may have a specific vision for your development in mind, it is important to remain objective when planning the style and design for your project.

Many budding developers get caught up in their own likes and dislikes and fail to plan appropriately for their target market and according to local planning guidelines.

Here are a few design traps you should try to avoid at all costs;Design traps

  • Many would-be developers think that because other developments have been built in the street it sets some type of precedent to allow them to build similar projects. This is not necessarily so as planning rules change over time and it is possible that today you would not be allowed to build a two-unit development right next door to a two-unit development that was approved by the council only a few years ago.
  • Ensure you have enough land on your site to allow for the proposed development including all open spaces, garages, turning circles and driveways. Be cautious of sites with irregular boundaries or unusual setback requirements as this could affect the number of dwellings you can get on the site. Where possible choose a level site, as steep slopes can cause considerable expense in excavations and footing design.
  • If you can, choose an area where neighbours will cheer the fact that you are demolishing the property and improving the street scape. New developers should avoid areas where local residents have a reputation for opposing proposed developments.

Paying your architect

Architect fees are usually fixed at the beginning of the project and are often based on a percentage of the total cost.

Their fee scale is generally established by the Institute of Architects. Paying your architect

As with anything, when it comes to architectural services you will usually get the standard of service you pay for.

The architect usually requires their payments to be made in installments over the life of the project, with the initial installment occurring at concept plan, a further payment on submission of the town planning/development application drawings to council and an additional payment for drafting the working drawings.

Sometimes the architect charges another fee for any amendments required by council.

In the Part 14 of our small development series, I’ll will take a closer look at the role of the engineers in a property development project.

If you enjoyed reading this article and want to know about working with an architect, check out the article in the Team Series.

If you want to learn more about the property development process you may be interested in How To Get Started in Property Development

You may also be interested in reading our Team Series or check out our graphic guide to the Property Development Process.


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Bryce Yardney


Bryce is a property development specialist, having successfully sourced, project managed and completed hundreds of development projects for Metropole’s clients, helping them create substantial wealth.Visit

'Property development guide part 13 – Working with your architect' have 8 comments


    December 5, 2018 Junior N

    I’m very interested in property development so I’m looking for more information. Let’s assume I develop a residential property of 20-unit. My very first basic question is as I developer, if I sell every unit of my property, would I still be considered as the owner of the property? If yes, what would be my income stream?

    Best regards


      Michael Yardney

      December 5, 2018 Michael Yardney

      Junior – no if you sold your development you would not be the owner – some one else (the purchaser) would be



    October 15, 2017 Rod Neil

    Thanks for your article Micheal. As an Architect, I can say we are not allowed to use the word ‘supervise’ when administering a building contract. It gets us into trouble as it implies a higher level over oversite than a weekly site visit. Also one other note: Architects don’t use fee scales, they are illegal. My understanding is that they were abolished in the late 90’s as anti-competitive under the Kennett government. I have known of architects still using the institute fee scale but it’s not legit.



    October 15, 2013 Craig Taylor

    A good article covering most aspects of an architects role. In NSW, any residential projects over 3 stories and four or more dwellings is required by law to be designed by a ‘registered’ architect. The article mentions that it is good to use an architect who is a member of the Australian Institute of Architects, however a fully qualified architect must be registered with the NSW Architects Registration Board ( to call themselves an architect. Other states have similar boards and requirements. The website has a search facility so you can check to see if your architect is registered. Registered architects must carry professional indemnity insurance and must abide by a professional set of guidelines. You can be a member of the AIA without being registered.
    Architects can be engaged for as much service as the developer requires, from sketch design through to council approval or from site selection and feasibility through to contract administration. The developer needs to determine what extent of service they require and then seek out an architect who can best deliver that service.
    During documentation, architects can also select all of the fittings, finishes and fixtures for the project. These selections, like all design decisions should be prepared by the architect (following the client’s briefing) and then the developer and architect should meet and agree on the selections/design. These selections would be documented in specifications and schedules that form part of the construction documentation.
    The architect is usually the lead consultant and ‘runs’ the other consultants. Ultimately it is the architect who has to put the building puzzle together, bringing all of the other consultant information/designs together to create the final building. It can be a maze to coordinate mechanical services, hydraulic pipes, electrical cabling and structural beams whilst ensuring that the building is still code compliant. It is the architect that pulls all those pieces together.
    Architects can also organise building firms for tendering and run the tendering process and report on the outcome of the tendering so the developer can select a suitable builder.
    During construction, architects can be a third party to the building contract between the developer and the builder acting on behalf of the developer to inspect the works are in accordance with the documentation, assess builder claims and variations, certify progress payments, review shop drawings, compile defect lists and issue practical completion.
    Some architects are able to take on more of a project management role, not all. It depends on their experience and whether they want to be ‘that’ involved in the building process.



    November 9, 2012 Leo

    I think you have given some fresh tips but i reckon some information are misleading too.

    1, architect Don’t do supervision, that’s builder job
    2, all architects do co-ordinate with consultants, not “good architect” as such.

    I guess get review from the Institute of Architect to ascertain what’s posted is not misleading.



      Michael Yardney

      November 10, 2012 Michael Yardney

      You are incorrect Leo – often architects take on a project management role



        November 19, 2018 Ben Loveday

        Michael- As you probably know, I’m a property development manager. There’s been a lot of changes in the architectural profession over the last few decades, not just in terminology, but many associated professions have not kept abreast of these changes. The roles of “contract administration” has been changed to “contract superintendence” (not “supervision”) in the vast majority of standard building contracts. However in most commercial projects this role is now the job of “client side project managers”, who work as consultants to or employees of the proprietor (note I have not called the proprietor the client). The term “project manager” (without the “client side” attached) is the replacement term for a manager employed by the builder who manages only the construction process- that pm sits over the site supervisor (an employee of the builder who supervises the subcontractors (trades and suppliers) of the builder .. Now: Many client side project managers, who typically only manage the planning and design and construction phases of a project, have expanded their role to manage the site acquisition process, marketing/ sales of the developed product and retitling and brokerage processes of a development, as well as coordinating their work with financiers and cost managers- these client side pms typically call themselves “property development managers”. Many architects, to confuse the issue are also employed by builders in what we call “design and construct” contracts of various forms, which of course puts the architect on the other side of the building contract, and necessitates the proprietor’s employment of a client side pm or a property development manager- if they can’t do this work themselves. All these changes have been necessitated by legal issues over the years associated with the meaning of the various titles.


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