All about plans – BuildAdvisor

Three scrolls of house plans

Three scrolls of house plans

All about plans – BuildAdvisor

What are plans and why do you need them?  Do you need to hire a professional?  How much do they cost?  What are the plan stages?  Read on to discover all about getting your plans.

Why do I need plans?

Plans are documents you use to communicate the project to all the stakeholders.  Stakeholders can include the council, the neighbours, the building surveyor, the builder, the tradies, the kitchen company and anyone who needs to know what is being built.

Most importantly, you need accurate plans to get your building permit.  Also, if your property is in any kind of planning overlay area then you will need additional plans to get your council planning permit, which forms part of your building permit (read our article on ‘Town planning’ (coming soon) to find out more).

Do I need to hire a professional?

You need to hire either a registered architect or a registered building designer to create the plans for you.  To understand the differences between the two, read our article ‘Architect or building designer?’.

What are the plan stages?

Architects and designers divide the work into stages.  If you don’t need a council permit, there are four stages.

  1. Concept design (sometimes called sketch design)
  2. Design development
  3. Documentation (sometimes called working drawing or construction plans)
  4. Contract administration (only if you hire an architect)

However, if you need a council planning permit then you add another stage, the town planning stage.  Town planning is usually done after concept design.  If the architect or designer is confident the council planning permit will be granted, then they usually continue on with design development while applying for the permit to prevent the project from stalling.

Minimum documentation to get your building permit

What is the minimum documentation you need to get your building permit?  If your project is simple,you might need only basic documentation to get your building permit.  The building surveyor, who issues your building permit, is interested in how safe the building is, not how it looks (how many coats of paint you will use or the colour of your taps etc).  If your project is simple, you might be able to get your building permit using:

  • Structural engineering drawings and computations
  • One A1 drawing that shows:
  • Site plan
  • Floor plan
  • Elevations
  • Roof plan
  • A section plan
  • General notes on the A1 drawing referring to all the items that need to comply with the National Construction code.

Minimum documentation to start building

What is the minimum documentation you need to start building?  If your project is simple and you’re not concerned about the finish (the type of doors, window, taps, painting etc) then you might need only basic documentation to start building.  After you get your building permit, you might be able to build using:

  • Structural engineering drawings and computations
  • One A1 drawing that shows:
  • Site plan
  • Floor plan
  • Elevations
  • Roof plan
  • A section plan
  • General notes on the A1 drawing referring to all the items that need to comply with the National Construction code.
  • A basic scope of work, describing in words the builder’s tasks (such as “Demolish the section as shown on the drawing’ or ‘Rebuild the kitchen in the location shown on the drawing’, or ‘Remove and replace the entire roof as shown on the drawing’ etc).

You would need to work with the builders on the details (like the kitchen design) and finishes.

Who oversees the builder?

When construction starts, the builder will need oversight to stay on track.  There are several options:

  • The architect (the contract administration)
  • An independent building consultant
  • You

If you’ve hired an architect to oversee the builder, architects call this ‘contract administration’.

You may be able to oversee the builder’s work yourself if you have training or experience in construction, or you may choose to hire an independent building consultant to assist you.  However, we don’t recommend overseeing the builder’s work if you have no construction training or experience because:

You won’t be able to assess the work

During construction, work needs to be checked and assessed.  Unless you have construction training or experience, you won’t know how to properly assess the work.  For example, you need to check if work has been completed, assess the quality of that work, manage payment claims, assess defects, variations and claims for extension of time.

You may waste the builder’s time

If you don’t have training or experience in construction, you might expect the builder to explain the work in detail to you.  This will take the builder away from their work during construction.  Let’s face it, your builder is not obliged to educate you.  Also, the builder who works alone or the volume builder might have very little interest in spending time to explain things to you.  That’s because they know that you’ll probably never build again or hire them again.  Your value to them is limited, and your influence over their future work is limited, and so they might not want to waste their time.

You create a power imbalance

Your builder has training and experience but you’re the boss.  This is highly unusual and unique to this situation.  The builder might not feel comfortable arguing with you if you have no technical knowledge, or discussing variations.  Or they might tell you the technical details about the variations but how are you going to know when they are being genuine or taking advantage of you?  You might unwittingly allow the builder to get away with things that normally an experienced building consultant wouldn’t allow.

You won’t fully understand your rights and responsibilities

A building project involves large sums of money and if you have no technical experience, you may have gaps in your knowledge that make you legally vulnerable.

The contract doesn’t prioritise you

Without an architect, you’ll have to use a building association contract (an HIA, MBA, or a volume builder contract).  Building association contracts tend to favour the builder as they have no retention.  Also, the defects, variation, and extension of time clauses are designed to make it easier for the builder to dispute any defects, to claim variations, and to extend the time.  So the contract doesn’t make it easy for you, and you might find yourself paying more if things don’t go as you expected (see ‘The building contract’ in our article ‘Documentation’ coming soon).

Overseeing construction is stressful

You will sink a lot of money into your construction project and managing it yourself can become stressful.  You’ll need to learn on the job and there’s a lot to learn.  And as construction projects tend to go on for a while, you might find the stress of overseeing your project affects your health and relationships.

You may be led astray by a false sense of saving

You may think you’ll save money, but considering the cost of your time and the financial risk you run if things go wrong, you may end up paying more to oversee your own project.  Hiring a qualified professional will likely save you money.

How much do plans cost?

The architect or building designer will give you a fee proposal, outlining each stage of the project and detailing the separate fee for each stage of the job (see our example of an architect’s fee proposal, and example of a designer’s fee proposal, coming soon).  You must sign the fee proposal otherwise their professional indemnity insurance won’t cover your job.  Depending on what type of project it is, the architecture or building designer may organise their fee proposal in the following ways:

Hourly rate

An architect or building designer might charge an hourly rate, particularly if it’s a small job.  If you prefer to know the end cost you could ask them to estimate the number of hours they think it will take, then agree on a fee cap.

Fixed fee (lump sum)

Some architects and building designers charge a fixed fee for each or all plan stages.  Typically, building designers charge a fixed price for the project.

Percentage cost

Most architects charge a percentage of the total building cost (either of the contract price or the finished project cost).  Most designers do not charge by percentage, unless they are working with a developer.  Unfortunately, there are no industry association recommended fees for percentage cost.  Fees typically range from 9% to 10%.  There is a downside to percentage cost, that there is no incentive to lower the contract price or the finished project cost.

Free concept design

Some high-volume designers will give you the concept design for free.  This is often a basic drawing.  Designers may give you this for free in the hope it will secure the job.  Bear in mind, nothing in life is free and this cost will likely be incorporated down the line in some way.


Architects generally don’t ask for a deposit.  Building designers may ask for a deposit.

Application fees

The architect or designer’s fee proposal does not include application fees, such as the town planning and building permit application fees or consultants’ fees (see our ‘other costs and fees’ spreadsheet, coming soon).  Application and consultants’ fees are extra and are paid by you.

Further tips

Look out for false savings

If you choose a building designer because they are cheaper than an architect, you may end up paying more as you’ll also need to engage consultants such as an energy consultant, and if needed a town planner, an interior designer, and a landscape designer.  An architect may be able to cover all these roles.

Extra costs

If you have a set fee agreement, be aware that if you finalise and sign off on the plan stage (such as the concept design) any changes after that point will cost you extra.


If you do not pay the architect or building designer for a stage or all stages of the plans that you’ve agreed to pay, be aware they may not give you those plans and you may not have the copyright to use them.


It’s important to get along with the architect or building designer you choose as you’ll be spending a lot of time with them.  If you’re building a new home or an extensive renovation, they’ll be in your life for up to a year.  It’s also important to be compatible to make it easier, and cheaper, to resolve issues or differences of opinion.  If you start with an architect or designer and then don’t get along, it’s best to end the relationship quickly and find another.

Listening is key

Some architects push their ideas onto their clients.  They can sometimes forget they are building a house for their client and not for themselves.  If your architect is pushing their own agenda, speak up. Otherwise, it’s best to end the relationship quickly and find another architect.

Disclaimer:  The information in this article is general advice only, and should be used as a general guide only, and not relied on for decision making purposes.  Every building and renovation project is different, so before acting on the information in this article you should consider its appropriateness to your specific project.  For guidance around your specific building or renovation project, seek assistance from a building consultant such as a qualified architect or building designer.