Do I need a builder, an architect or a designer?

The first step in the renovation or building process is to decide on a budget and try to stick to it. Make a list of priorities based on your current and future lifestyle needs to guide you with decision making. Magazines and newspapers provide a good source of ideas that you can clip and keep in a reference file. Take photos of other peoples renovations or building works and use these together with your reference file to brief a builder, designer or architect.

Who to talk to

A good design will take into consideration your budget, lifestyle and personal preferences. You may want the design of your new upper storey to include the most appealing features of your existing home or you may want an entirely new look for your home. A building designer, architect or specialist builder can help you with the design and construction, but be sure to talk to more than one.


Engage a designer, architect or builder to draw plans and supervise construction.

Contract an architect or designer to draw the plans and a builder to supervise construction.

Obtain an owner/builder’s permit and supervise (that is sub-contract) tradespeople to do the work.

Building designers and architects

Chartered architects are university qualified and registered in each state. They are legally required to have professional indemnity insurance. A building designer is not required to have a degree qualification. However they usually have extensive on the job training or have experience in architectural drafting.

After briefing a designer or architect, a concept is developed. Working drawings show the size and style for the home or addition, and give an indication of cost. The costs should be verified by a builder before proceeding to the next stage which is the writing of specifications or construction documentation. Fees are usually paid at the end of each stage according to the complexity of the work. Additional fees are payable if further involvement is required to modify the design or supervise the construction of the work.

The Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) and the Building Designers Association (BDA) are bodies that establish and maintain professional standards for architects and building designers.

Specialist builders

Specialist building companies usually offer in house design and building services. They normally charge a small fee or no fee to provide a design concept and building quote. The builder usually retains ownership of the plans and design drawings. Should you proceed, the builder completes working drawings, secures council approvals and builds the new home or addition. Professional associations such as the Housing Industry Association (HIA) and Master Builders Association (MBA) help establish and maintain professional standards for the building industry.

Final selection

Before engaging anyone, engage at least three designers, architects or builders and ask for photos of past work and the contact numbers for former clients to establish their credentials.

The selection of someone who is easy to talk to and professional in approach is critical to the success of your project. Asking for recommendations from neighbours, relatives and friends is often a good way to start the search for the right people or companies.