What Do I Provide as a Home Designer?

As a designer Over the course of the last several years, I have met with many who really do not understand just what it is I provide. Many think they can come to me and I will miraculously provide them with exactly what it is they have pictured in their head. Sadly, most of those who think this way are sadly mistaken.

Have You Purchased Property?

Unfortunately, it is impossible for me as a designer to get what your thoughts are through osmosis or any other simple process! I ask a lot of questions initially, to establish basic guidelines for your upcoming project. Questions like who is going to live there? How many adults? What type of lifestyle do you have? Have you purchased property? If so, do you have a plot plan?

What are your needs? Wants? Desires?

The questions go on and on, simply because I need to work within your needs, wants and desires. I also need to know what kind of a budget you are working with! Wouldn’t it be a shame if after the whole design process is over, you end up with a set of plans and you cannot afford to build the home? Seriously, it is very common!

Have You Established a Budget?

Believe me, I have seen it more than once during my career as a designer! Many times, when the budget question is asked, and I probe deeper, it is met with either I am not comfortable discussing our budget or outright shock when I give a preliminary estimate range. It isn’t because I am looking to exploit your budget, but you need to be aware of what the cost is going to be!

For instance, I recently had the budget discussion with a prospective client and my estimate of cost based on what they wanted was around 250K to build the house they were contemplating. The response was that they had X amount in the bank, and they would figure out where to get the rest. Responses like that, lead me to give scenarios which I have experienced.

Scenarios such as we get to the mid design phase and they have finally investigated financing and they panic and pull the plug on the project. Another case in point, they complete the entire design process and then go out and cannot afford to build the project. When the topic of cost comes up, you should be extremely honest with your designer!

Is Your Design Realistic For Your Budget?

Years ago, I had a client who had gone down the design road with a contractor who also drew plans. They designed a home they couldn’t afford and in the end were bitter with the designer/builder. They came to me and wanted me to draw up a project within their budget. I did so, but the rub was, after I had created the project, they weren’t happy!

They had created the dreams in their heads and kept telling themselves they deserved it! Well, they kept adding to the project until the budget was right back up where it had been when they couldn’t get financing. Every time they upgraded, I told them about the increase in construction cost. One person would say no more and the other would come back with still more upgrades.

This went on to the point that the husband in this case told me not to tell the wife about the increase in price. My response was that if both names are on my contract, both get equal treatment. When I wouldn’t lie to the other party of the contract, I was a bad guy and they went away. As a designer, I am not a marriage counselor!

Keep your dreams realistic! I am more than willing to let you know where your costs are and many times, I can provide you with a work around which gives you more for your dollar! My cost is for the most part fixed. My cost to you will not increase based on the cost of the home. My time is for the most part fixed whereas an Architect works on a percentage of the final building cost. I work off an hourly rate based mostly on the time it will take me to design your home.

What is Included in The Design?

For example, my estimate is presented as a scope of work. The scope of work gives the basic details of the projected project such as square foot, single or double story, garage, siding, covered porches, patio Etc. The final portion of my scope includes the cost, and the payment schedule.

The estimated cost of the project is based upon the time it will take me to not only draw the floor plan and elevations, but the stuff the layperson may not know anything about. The details and specifications required by the building official. Which leads me to an interesting perspective.

I Drew the Floor Plan, Why are You Charging So Much?

Over the years I have had many who drew their own plan set, but when they got down to presenting them to the county, they were rejected because other than a floor plan, they couldn’t show how the house was to be constructed. When they come to me, and want me to draw their plans, they feel they have done 90% of the work, while they have completed only around ten percent or less.

Don’t get me wrong, a floor plan is a good start, but it is only a start! There are many things involved in a floor plan which affect the entire structure! Many changes have taken place over the last twenty years which have made designing a home much more complicated. For example, here on the West coast, we have distinct seismic zones and wind zones.

What Affects the Design Cost?

The layout of the interior walls and placement of windows and doors directly affect if your plans will pass through your local building official’s scrutiny or not! Roof design is another problem area. Taking an existing floor plan, completely redesigning the roof, adding a covered front porch, large covered deck in the rear, large odd shaped garage and many other “little” things make designing a roof system complicated.

By complicated, I mean making them buildable while also making them functional and cost effective. Who knew? Knowing when to go with trusses as opposed to stick framing is just one of the major decisions a designer makes which also justifies paying them to do their job!

To be quite honest, many are shocked when they see the cost for my services. The bottom line is that I seldom complete a design without investing more hours in the project than I am getting payed for. That does not mean that I charge more, it means I usually make less than my projected wage.

What about Up Charges?

If a client sticks to the original plan, I stick to my original estimate. Remember earlier where I stated the square foot and number of stories? If you stick to that, I will stick to my estimate! Many times, I am way over my estimated hourly fee, but that is a cost of doing business in my opinion and I am very hesitant to pass that on to the customer!

In summary, there is a lot more to designing a home than drawing a floor plan. There are many rules and regulations which change yearly which regulate just how a home is designed. Changing an existing design, to encompass your ideas unless they are extremely minor involves a lot of work from my end. So, when you take a stock plan and redesign the floor plan, change the roof, add here and there or change that, don’t be shocked when it costs more than a stock plan off the internet.

You may also be interested in My Design Process or in My Contract process

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