Why Are Kitchen Designers’ Fees Horribly Scary? 5 F-A-Qs
We Can’t Afford To Pay A Kitchen Designers’ Fees!
Kitchen Designers’ fees can be frightening. “Sticker shock” is not uncommon for homeowners. So I’ve answered five frequently asked questions about how much a kitchen designer may charge you for their services and how they calculate their fee.
Has This Happened To You?
You do a Google search for “Kitchen Designer Near Me.” You get a list and call designers to help you with your kitchen remodeling. They tell you their fee is “X” amount per hour, but you don’t know how much you will pay them in total.
They may say that their fee starts at $2,500 and goes up. Or they’ll let you know their fee is a percentage of your investment. It’s confusing and frustrating.
Ask how much they typically charge to design a kitchen like yours. If they can’t answer, or if their fee will be a high percentage of your investment, they’re not the right one for you. If you’re thinking of spending only $20,000 to remodel your kitchen, you probably won’t be able to find someone to help you.
The first question will help you decide how you want to proceed with your project.
#1: “Do I Need Someone To Help Me Design My Kitchen?”
You may not need a kitchen designer if you’re:
- Thinking about freshening up with a new color scheme
- Painting your existing cabinets
- Installing a new countertop and backsplash
- Installing new flooring
A contractor can accomplish these types of projects without a designer. But they cannot advise you about the color and style, other than their personal preferences. So you’re on your own to make these decisions. Or you’ll have to hire a decorator.
The second question is a good follow-up:
#2: “Can I Hire A Decorator To Help Me?”
Not necessarily. Unfortunately, most homeowners (and many contractors) don’t understand the difference between:
- Decorators: People who can help with colors, furniture, window treatments, and accessories. They do not have the education, training, and experience with building systems to draft plans and specifications. They need specific technical knowledge to make the best recommendations for you and your budget.
- Designers: People who have education, training, and experience. They can draft plans for a project. But they may not have the specific knowledge of products and codes to prepare detailed plans and specifications for your remodeling project.
- Kitchen-Bath Designers: People with education, specific training, and experience related to remodeling. They can draft detailed plans and prepare contractors’ estimates, permits, and specifications. Some kitchen-bath design specialists have become certified to prove their knowledge and dedication to helping you. Get more information about these designers at the National Kitchen & Bath Association website.
#3: “When Do I Need A Kitchen Designer?”
You should hire a professional kitchen designer if you want to:
- Do more than freshen up — new cabinets, appliances, plumbing fixtures, etc.
- Change the layout within the same footprint.
- Enlarge your kitchen.
It’s reasonable to pay a kitchen designer to help you if your target budget for a completely remodeled kitchen is $45,000 or more. Why? You’re going to need someone to:
- Help you select the right products for your budget and lifestyle.
- Create detailed plans that follow building codes. Design plans should show all your decisions.
- Create specifications for all the products you’ve selected.
- Refer you to qualified contractors and suppliers.
The fourth question will help you refine who to hire.
#4: “Okay,” you say, “I get it. But what is a kitchen designer going to cost me?”
People ask the fourth question most frequently. It’s frustrating because there isn’t much specific information about fees. But keep reading! You will need more information to understand how designers calculate their fees. There are three basic systems that designers use:
- Hourly rate
- Flat fee
- Percentage of the project cost
$ Hourly Rate
Jill Geisdorf of Chic on the Cheap was quoted on houzz.com, “No two projects are the same, and no two designers charge the same.” Bob Vila says, “Most independent kitchen designers charge by the hour with rates ranging from $65 to $250 an hour, and $125 to $150 is typical. If your designer charges by the hour, you’ll want an estimate of how many hours the designer expects your project will require.”
$ Flat Fee
This system gives designers the most flexibility because they can charge whatever they want for every project. You must know:
- When the designer will expect payments.
- What percentage of the fee they’ll expect you to pay for each interval.
$ Percentage Of The Project Total
The percentage system is a percentage of your total investment. The problem with this fee structure is that it’s in the designer’s best interest to increase your investment. Who’s going to be your advocate? Unfortunately, it will be you.
There May Be A Hidden “Gotcha.”
Some decorators, designers, and kitchen-bath designers may charge a lower fee. But they’ll want to sell products to you so they can mark up how much you pay for those products. Also, they may receive referral or finder’s fees from contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers. Selling products and receiving finders’ fees increase their bottom-line income.
You have a right to know how much the designer makes on products and referral fees. Of course, you should get a written agreement that states:
- What services they do include for the fee they charge.
- What services they don’t include for the fee they charge.
- Describe how they calculate their fee for what they do.
- Show their maximum-not-to-exceed total fee.
- How they will invoice you for the services they’ll provide.
Now, the fifth question:
#5: “Why Are Kitchen Designers’ Fees So Secretive?”
I understand your dilemma. Everyone cites a range, but no one publicly wants to be locked into a specific fee. I hear your frustration. But there are two reasons for the secrecy:
- Kitchen Designers do not want their competition to know what they charge homeowners.
- Months or years after submitting a proposal, someone may demand that fee, creating a potential dispute.
Call candidates to gather information, including how much they charge so that you can make an informed decision. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what and how they charge and be able to write it down on a comparison list? I will give you a free chapter from my award-winning book to help you! You can get a copy of the chapter immediately by simply filling out the request form below. Filling out the form will also subscribe you to my informative Newsletter filled with remodeling hints, tips, and special offers.
Variables That Will Drive Up Your Kitchen Remodeling Investment
How much you invest in your kitchen and pay a kitchen designer depends on the complexity of the project. Here are some examples:
- Non-standard cabinets loaded with storage accessories.
- Imported appliances, plumbing fixtures, and tile.
- Custom backsplashes and tile layouts.
- Unique architectural features include a vaulted or barrel-vault ceiling, angled walls, or non-standard windows and doors.
- Change your mind after the designer has finalized your plans.
Up-front, honest communication about expectations is the best way to prevent problems. For example, if a kitchen designer has quoted a maximum fee based on what you’ve told them, you may have to re-negotiate their price if your project becomes more complex during the design phase.
You Ask For Total Honesty and Transparency. Here It Is!
Here are the guarantees you get when I work with you. I will:
- Never sell products. Never! My responsibility is to help you find the best value for your products.
- Help you select all the products for your remodeling project.
- Never receive or pay referral fees.
- Be transparent about what you’re paying for my services and provide a detailed written proposal immediately after meeting with you.
- Recommend contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers to you who I know are honest and ethical.
- Be available to you every day during the process! Yes, from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., I’ll be available to answer questions and reassure you. Yes, we always answer the phone — unless we both happen to be in the middle of a call already.
- Reply to your email within 30 hours.
- Provide detailed plans and specifications that include all of your decisions.
- Create Virtual-reality “photographs” of your finished project starting early in the design process, so you can make informed decisions about how it looks, feels, and functions.
- Send detailed invoices every four to six weeks, calculating my fee to the nearest 15 minutes. You’ll pay only for the time I devote to your project. My total fee remains the same unless you request more services or change the scope of your project. My goal is to help you achieve your goals.
How do I calculate my fee? After seeing your home and talking with you, I derive my total fee from other similar projects I’ve had recently. My hourly fee is $125 multiplied by the number of hours your project will require. Here is a project that’s a great example:
A Kitchen that’s 250 square feet (15.5′ x 16′) with the following features:
- Minor changes to the layout
- New appliances (range, hood, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave oven)
- Quality plumbing fixtures
- New custom-painted cabinets loaded with storage accessories
- Stone countertops and custom tile backsplashes
- Dimmable LED lighting
- Ventilation that complies with current codes
- Wood flooring
My proposal stated a total maximum-not-to-exceed fee for all professional services of $4,875 at $125 an hour. By the end of the project, my clients paid a total of $3,750 for all the services I provided.
During the design, I provided homeowners with multiple virtual-reality perspectives to help them make informed decisions about the layout and cabinet details. See Before and After photos, and a project description in my portfolio.
Get information about how my creative design process can help you.
Call me today if you still have questions or want to talk with me about your project.
How much you pay a professional kitchen designer will be essential to your total investment. Their fee is only one aspect of your decision about who to hire. Your relationship with your designer will last from the day you meet until after finishing your project. The best collaborations include:
- Mutual trust and understanding.
- A common goal and a commitment to teamwork.
- Top-notch communication.
Call other designers and ask questions about how they work and charge for their services. Will you get truthful information? Maybe and maybe not. Do they understand (and care) about your situation? Maybe and maybe not. Will they have similar guarantees to reassure you that you’re getting the best value? Maybe and maybe not. So why take a chance? Call me today and discover the positive influence I will have in your home and your life!
Diane Plesset, CMKBD, C.A.P.S., NCIDQ is an Advocate who specializes in helping homeowners with remodeling and addition projects. She has been the principal of D. P. Design since April 1984. Diane is the author of the award-winning book “THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling,” the recipient of many design awards, and a regular contributor to Kitchen & Bath Design News (Planning & Design column).
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