Why Don’t People Hire Professional Designers?

I recently came across a posting by a somewhat mystified architect on an Internet bulletin board for home remodeling. He posed the question: “Why don’t more people hire architects for their remodelings?” (The question would apply equally for interior designers, as well.) The comments from the public were enlightening and generally as follows:

  1. Homeowners didn’t realize that architects did such “small” projects. Don’t they just design custom homes?
  2. Homeowners were afraid of hiring a professional designer because they felt the designer might not listen to them and force them to accept a design they didn’t like.
  3. The biggest response, by far: A number of homeowners expressed that they would dearly love to hire a professional designer, but their tight budget wouldn’t allow for one. An architect (or interior designer) was just too expensive.

Items one and two are easily addressed. First, there are many, many architects and interior designers eager to handle anything from a bathroom remodeling on up. Ask around.

Second, for the fearful, an extremely good tactic for dealing with an unresponsive or arrogant designer is the word “NO”. And then, if necessary, finding someone else.

The biggest concern, however, was the issue of cost. Many people are of the opinion that every dollar they spend on a design professional is a dollar that’s not available for the construction budget. And many people are hugely mistaken.

Let’s look at a typical real-life project of mine. The homeowner got three bids from a pool of carefully selected contractors, based on detailed plans and specifications from an independent design professional (me). The bids were: $101,172, $116,045, and $129,375 — a slightly wider spread than usual, perhaps, but still very typical.

The average of these three bids is $115,531, which is a probably a good estimate of the market value of the project, i.e.– what the homeowner should expect to pay. Because all of the bids were from responsible contractors, the homeowner went with the lowest bidder, and saved $14,000 over her expected cost. (And was very happy in the end, by the way.) So how much did her architect actually cost her in this case? (Answer: Zero. Nada.)

Competitive bids are not necessarily the best approach for every project, but an experienced design professional can help you save costs in many other ways: through comprehensive construction documents which reduce the number of unknowns so that there is a smaller “contingency fund” built into the contractor’s price, by suggesting sensible choices in materials (knowing good values in products), by suggesting appropriate contractors if you don’t already have one, and by visiting the job during construction to spot mistakes that could cost you a lot more later.

An excellent design increases the market value of your house, too. I would suggest that an $85K-$90K project designed by a top professional designer is almost always going to seem far more luxurious and wonderful than a $100K or even $120K project designed by an amateur.

So, I am encouraging you consider that in the same way that a good attorney or accountant can often save you more than the cost of their fee, a good professional designer doesn’t have to be an “expense” on top of your construction budget. Don’t be afraid to give one of us a call.

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