Written by Richard Potter of RPA architects, an award-winning RIBA chartered practice.

IT'S a new decade and, as architects, we have noticed a distinct change of mood: people are feeling decidedly more optimistic about their future.

This is translating into a marked increase in enquiries as they seek to turn their aspirations into a built reality.

But how do you do that, and how do you avoid all of the home improvement pitfalls we see people suffer on TV?

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There are so many potential difficulties for the unwary or ill-advised, from failed attempts to gain planning permission to building defects and of course costs spiralling out of control.

Sound professional help can more than justify the cost which is involved, and the first steps with any project must be an appraisal of your wishlist, an assessment of your options and an indication of feasibility.

An architect is trained and experienced in these disciplines - ask for a preliminary meeting and expect a detailed written proposal and terms of appointment.

You are about to embark on a relationship which will last for many months so it’s also important that your architect gives you confidence in their abilities and that you feel sure you will get along!

The process thereafter will include a measured survey, the preparation of concept designs to show you alternative ideas and then more developed proposals to accompany an application for planning permission or listed building consent as may be required.

Your architect should be able to give you planning advice, and once necessary consents have been secured they will coordinate the technical design needed to obtain Building Regulations approval.

At the same time a thorough understanding of sustainable design, how to reduce dependence on non-renewable resources and achieve a healthy built environment is increasingly important.

With necessary consents in place your architect can produce a detailed specification which will set down your choice of finishes, fixtures and fittings.

Some will also help with interior design and the composition of external areas is important – a successful connection between inside and outside areas sets a well-designed home apart from the rest.

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Your architect’s ability to help you through the decision-making process and a thorough approach to tendering is key to controlling costs.

Only with the right information clearly-defined can contractors tender in true competition with one another, avoiding grey areas and cost uncertainty.

You can also instruct your architect to administer a suitable form of building contract on your behalf, providing regular inspections and progress meetings, monitoring quality, keeping track of costs and certifying when payments are due.

Turning dreams into reality, introducing exciting options and bringing technical knowhow and financial control to your project are the skills which a qualified and experienced architect can bring.

Minimising stress and – in effect – holding your hand throughout the process, they can make what may well be a once in a lifetime experience for you into a pleasurable and rewarding process!