Why are designers' fees so frightening?
 

We Can’t Afford To Pay Designers’ Fees!

Bath and 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 designer may charge you for their services and how they calculate their fee.

 

 

Has This Happened To You?

You call a designer to help you with your kitchen or bathroom remodeling. They tell you their fee is “X” amount per hour, but you 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 say to you that their fee is a percentage of your investment. It’s confusing and frustrating. If you’re thinking of spending only $10,000 to remodel your bathroom or $20,000 to remodel 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.

 

Do you need someone to help you design a bathroom or kitchen?#1: “Do I Need Someone To Help Me?”

That’s a great question! You may not need a bath and 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?”do I need a decorator or a bath-kitchen designer

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 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.

 

Kitchen plan created by a bath-kitchen designer#3: “When Do I Need A Designer?”

You should hire a professional bath and kitchen designer if you want to:
  • Do more than freshen up — new cabinets, new appliances, new plumbing fixtures, 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 $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.
  • Refer you to qualified contractors and suppliers.

The third question will help you refine who to hire.

 

What's a designer going to cost me?#4: “Okay,” you say, “I get it. But what is a kitchen-bathroom 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 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 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 are hidden gotchas with some designers' feesThere’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 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.
                • A description of how they calculate their fee.
                • Their maximum-not-to-exceed total fee.
                • How they will invoice you for their services.
 
Now, the fifth question:

 

Why are designers so secretive about their fee?#5: “Why Are Designers’ Fees So Secretive?”

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 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.

Variable Remodeling cost factorsVariables That Will Drive Up Your Investment

There’s one part of any remodeling project that will increase designers’ fees and the overall investment. It’s 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
  • Changing 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 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.

Ethics, Honesty, IntegrityYou Ask For Total Honesty and Transparency. Here It Is!

Now I’m going to share my information with you. You deserve it! Here are the guarantees you get when I work with you:

  • 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. You’ll get the results you want for the lowest possible investment. I am transparent about what you’re paying for my services and provide a detailed written proposal immediately after a meeting with you.
  • I’ll help you select all the products for your remodeling project.
  • I’ll recommend contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers to you who I know are honest and ethical.
  • I’ll 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.
  • I’ll reply to email within a 24-hour period.
  • I’ll provide detailed plans that include all of your decisions.
  • I’ll 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.
 
Here is how I calculate my fee: After seeing your home and talking with you, my total fee is calculated compared to other similar projects I’ve had recently at my hourly rate of $135 multiplied by the number of hours I estimate your project will require. Here are two projects that are great 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 was $3,645.
 

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

Why are designers' fees so frightening?
  • 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. So my total maximum-not-to-exceed fee for all my professional services was $5,265 at $135 an hour.
 
I send invoices at least once a month. I calculate my fee to the nearest 15 minutes. You’ll pay only for the time I devote to your project. My total price remains the same unless you request more services or the scope of your project changes. My goal is to help you achieve your goals. Get information about my creative design process.
I hope that what I’ve written in this article answers your questions. Call me today if you still have questions or want to talk with me about your project.

 

In Conclusion

How much you pay a professional designer will be an essential part of 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. Therefore, it should include:

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

You can call other designers and ask questions about how they work and how they charge for their services. Will you get honest 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 in your life!

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Photo of Diane Plesset, Bath-Kitchen DesignerDiane Plesset, CMKBD, CAPS, NCIDQ is a Homeowner Advocate specializing in helping homeowners with remodeling and addition projects. She has been the principal of D. P. Design since April 1984. Diane wrote the award-winning book “THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling” and has won many design awards.

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