Why are designers' fees so distressing?
 

We Can’t Afford To Pay Designers’ Fees!

Designers’ fees can be frightening. “Sticker shock” is not uncommon for homeowners. I’ve got answers to five frequently asked questions about how much a designer may charge you for their services, and how their fee is calculated.
 

Has This Happened To You?

You call a designer to help you with your kitchen or bathroom remodeling. They may say their fee is “X” amount per hour, but you really don’t know how much you’re going to pay that designer in total. They may tell you that their fee starts at $2,500 and goes up from there. Or they’ll tell you that their fee is a percentage of your investment. It’s confusing and frustrating.  If you’re thinking of spending only $10,000 in your bathroom or $20,000 in your kitchen, you don’t know how much you’ll need or want to pay for a designer to help you.
 
The first question is critical for helping you decide how you want to proceed with your project.
 

#1: “Do I Need Someone To Help Me?”

That’s a great question! You may not need a 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. 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: “When Do I Need A Designer?”

You should hire a professional designer if you want to:
  • Do more than freshen up — new cabinets, new appliances, etc..
  • Change the layout within the same footprint.
  • Enlarge your bathroom or kitchen.
It’s reasonable to pay a designer to help you if your target budget for a bathroom remodel is $20,000 or more, or if your budget for a completely remodeled kitchen is $35,000 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 codes and show all your decisions.
  • Refer you to qualified contractors and suppliers.

The third question will help you refine who to hire.

#3: “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 recommendations that are best 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 who have education, specific training, and experience related to remodeling. They can draft detailed plans and prepare specifications for contractors’ estimates and permits. Some kitchen-bath design specialists have become certified to prove their knowledge and dedication to help you. Get more information about these designers at the National Kitchen & Bath Association website.
  • Architects: People who have the most education but may lack the training and experience to help you with specific details for your kitchen or bathroom remodeling project.

#4: “Okay,” you say, “I get it. But what is a kitchen-bathroom designer going to cost me?”

 
The fourth question is asked most frequently. It’s frustrating because there isn’t a lot of specific information about fees. But keep reading! You will need more information to understand how fees are calculated. 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 recently 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 that can range 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 based on 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’s 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 is making on products and referral fees. Of course, you should get a written agreement that states what services are included, what services are not included, a breakdown of what they charge, and how they will invoice you for their services.
 
Now, the fifth question:
 

#5: “Why Are Designers So Secretive About Their Fees?”

 
I understand your dilemma. Everyone cites a range, but no one wants to be locked into a specific fee — publicly. I hear your frustration. But there are two reasons for the secrecy:
  • Designers do not want their competition to know what they charge homeowners.
  • Months or years after the fee is stated, someone may demand that fee, creating a potential dispute.

You’ll have to 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’m going to 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 friendly newsletter that’s filled with great information, remodeling hints and tips, and special offers.

Now I’m going to share my information with you because you deserve it. It’s one aspect of being a Homeowner Advocate.

 

You Ask For Total Honesty and Transparency. Here It Is!

I never sell products. Never!  My responsibility is to help you find the best value for the products you buy.  I have never received nor paid referral fees and never will, helping you get the results you want for the lowest possible investment. I am totally transparent about what you’re paying for my services.
 
Here is how I calculate my fee: After seeing your home and talking with you, I’ll tell you — in writing! — that my total fee is a calculated comparison with other similar projects I’ve had recently. Here are two projects that are good examples:
 

A Master Bathroom that was 168 square feet (11′ x 14′), with the following features:

Designer Fee for Master Bathroom in Vancouver was $3,645

  • Minor changes to the layout
  • A private toilet room
  • Two sinks
  • Storage for all personal-care items and linens
  • A whirlpool tub
  • A large, separate tiled shower with fixed and personal showerheads, a shampoo niche, and a bench
  • Dimmable LED lighting
  • Powerful, quiet exhaust fans
I devoted about 27 hours to that and similar projects. At $135 an hour, my total fee for all my professional services would be $3,645.
 

A Kitchen that was 250 square feet (15.5′ x 16′) with the following features:

Designer Fee for remodeled kitchen in Oregon City was $5,805
  • Minor changes to the layout
  • New appliances (range, hood, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave oven)
  • Quality plumbing fixtures
  • New custom cabinets
  • Stone countertops and custom backsplashes
  • Dimmable LED lighting
  • Ventilation that complies with current codes
  • Wood flooring
I devoted about 39 hours to that and similar projects. My total maximum-not-to-exceed fee for all my professional services would be $5,265 at $135 an hour.
 
Invoices are sent at least once a month and they’re calculated to the nearest 15 minutes. You’ll pay only for the time I devote to your project. My maximum fee remains the same unless the scope of your project changes or you request more services.  My goal is to help you achieve your goals. Get information about my creative design process, then call me today to chat about a project you’re planning.

In Conclusion

How much you pay a professional designer is going to be an essential part of your total investment. Their fee is only one aspect of your decision about who to hire. The relationship you have with your designer will last from the day you meet until after your project is finished. Therefore, it should be based on:

  • Mutual trust and understanding.
  • A common goal.
  • Stellar communication.

 

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Your comments are welcomed!

 
Diane Plesset, CMKBD, C.A.P.S., NCIDQ is a Homeowner 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” and many design awards.