Love It Or List It Australia

Do I need an architect, builder or project manager for my renovation?

Renovations can be an administration and excel spreadsheet minefield for the DIY novices amongst us, and – because employing professional help can come at such a cost – it’s tempting to try and manage the process ourselves.

On Love It Or List It Australia, the team use plenty of renovation professionals to help get the job done quickly, professionally and properly - but not everyone has the money to hire qualified staff to manage their project.

Our experts share their advice on whether to facilitate renovations solo or hand control over to an architect, builder or project manager - and what the difference between each actually is.


If it's just a cosmetic renovation you're working on, you won't need an architect, as they're only usually required when you're making structural changes to your house, Cherie Barber, Renovation Educator for Renovating for Profit, explains.

"Cosmetic renovations are more suited to lower-valued properties, where you don't have the scope or the budget to engage an architect," she says. "So, if you buy a property and demolish half of the house or all of it, that's classified as a new development rather than a renovation, using the official classification."

In this case, you'll need the help of a professional, especially if demolition is involved. Cherie suggests choosing between two types of design professionals; a draftsperson or an architect.

"Typically, draftspeople are less expensive than architects and for any property costing less than $1 million, they are likely a better option and could be about half the cost of an architect's fee," Cherie advises. "However, if your home is worth over $1 million and you think you can get an even higher resale, then you should be engaging an architect, as they tend to give you more 'wow factor'."

Cherie estimates that an architect could cost about $12,000 to $30,000, while a draftsperson about $5,000 to $10,000.

"During stage one, the architect will come out and do a site visit and preliminary assessment, looking at the orientation of the house," Cherie says.

After this, they'll have some initial ideas and put together a preliminary development application (DA) assessment, which looks at council controls, the local environment plan (LEP) and development control plan (DCP), which will stipulate what you can and can't do - right down to how high your building can be.

The next step is schematic drawings, which are your initial design plans in digital format, and then 3D visual renders. Your design plan is then finalised and lodged to the relevant local council - the professionals you employ will make sure your application is right before you lodge it, to avoid lengthy delays in the approval process.

A good architect will help you get your plan right the first time, as it's very expensive to make changes after your plans have been approved. You need to be happy with windows, doors and the size of rooms, because even an amendment to your colour choice can trigger the need to relodge your DA, costing you thousands of dollars.


"In the construction industry, the builder is the kingpin because they sign off on all works," says Cherie. "Once the architectural plans are approved by council or through a private certifier, a builder will then execute the plans according to what's been approved."

Your builder won't be able to change the plans: legally, they have to do what has been approved. It's the builder's job to establish the site, including erecting temporary fencing, hanging site safety signage and installing the portaloo. This must all be done before any demolition work happens.

"There's a misconception that builders build, but that's not actually their job," Cherie says. "Their job is to coordinate and delegate everything, overseeing the works of the individual tradespeople and subcontractors, including carpenters, plumbers and electricians."

Builders also make sure all individual trades’ work is up to safety and quality standards and act as the single point of contact for homeowners. If something goes wrong, they are liable and control the site entirely.

"If you're looking for a builder, try to find someone local," Cherie suggests. "An experienced builder from the nearby area will understand the local environmental factors, restrictions and are likely to be familiar with building the style of home you want."

You put a lot of trust in your builder, so if you want to be sure you've got the right person for the job, ask to speak to clients they've worked with previously and always check out their credentials online.

Project Manager

"A project manager's job is to coordinate trade, so they act like a builder, but - by law - they are unable to offer home warranty insurance, which you need for structural renovations," Cherie explains. "A project manager could be warranted if you're doing a cosmetic renovation, but because they typically work better on lower-valued properties, you could lose half your profit margin by taking one on."

"With the wealth of information that’s out there now, I think most people should be able to manage their own renovation," says Neale Whitaker, Love It Or List It Australia's chief interior designer. "If your renovation is massively complex or you have no experience, then it could be a good idea to employ someone to manage it properly for you, but this can usually be substituted by developing an honest relationship with your builder."

While the team on Love It Or List It Australia use a project manager to help Neale oversee different renovations in different cities at the same time, Cherie and Neale agree that a project manager is - in many cases - unnecessary. It's also important to note that project managers aren't accountable for problems with the build, so if they make a mistake, the homeowner is still responsible. 

Love It Or List It Australia continues Wednesdays, 8.30pm, or watch it your way on Foxtel GO.

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