1. Use a Renovation Company – Which provides both Design and Construction Services.
This scenario plays out similar to the following: You start off by seeing a member of the sales team who will meet you to gain an understanding of the scope of work. This meeting may occur at the office of the renovator or at your home. In any case the renovator will want to see your home at some point, before they can go further.
Once the renovator has seen your existing home and taken some basic measurements they may then provide you with a ballpark estimate for the scope of work in question. The benefit with this is that it will give you a general idea of the range you can expect to pay, however be aware that any estimates given at this stage are at best a guesstimate until further design work is done, regardless of the promises the renovator may make.
Once you have accepted the ballpark estimate you then may be requested to pay a nominal deposit which will secure the design phase of the work. At that point a designer will be assigned to your project and will work with you on the details of the scope of work – creating floor plans layouts, elevation drawings, and helping you make material selections. The duration of the design process may vary significantly depending on the renovator, and depending on how quickly you as the client can make decisions.
When the design and material selections have been made the budget will then be updated and you will be presented with an updated budget estimate which is much closer to what the actual costs will be. At that point, should you choose to proceed you will be pay the renovator a deposit on the construction process and sign an actual construction contract, which will explain in detail their terms and payment schedule etc.
Pros: It’s a one-stop shop, and you are dealing with the same team all the way through. In many cases, the renovator gives you a very good deal on the design services or offers other incentives because you are using them for the whole thing. If you like the company and click with all levels of their team then this is an excellent option. *see additional notes below at the end of this document.
Cons: With some design/construction companies you may find that if you don’t’ like the designer or the design they are coming up with that you don’t have another option, or conversely you may like the design but find their construction workmanship to be lacking. You then may feel stuck with a company which overall does not meet all your needs consistently. Also, in some cases this scenario forces you to build 'down to a budget' rather than 'up to a standard'. In other words, some renovators want to do your full scope of work but in order to complete it all within that budget they have to lower the standard of finishing.
2. Contract the Design separate from the construction
In this scenario you contract the services of a design professional first, prior to engaging any renovation company or independent contractor. Once design drawings have been done, you can then take them to a number of contractors/renovators to get comparison prices.
The designer will come out to your home to view it and get a general idea on the scope of work. At the same time the designer will want to understand a bit about you and you will want to assess whether you feel this is someone you could work closely with. You want to ensure the designer is listening to your needs and has understood both what you have said, and is also able to suggest other ideas which you may not have already thought of.
Before you meet with the designer, ask if the initial meeting is simply a meet and greet, or if they will be giving you advice. Some designers like simply to have an introductory meeting without talking specifics about the design, then if you decide to proceed, they will then talk design in subsequent meetings which they will charge you for. Some designers charge for the initial meeting, but many do not charge as long as you are not talking about design in detail.
A designer will usually not be able to quote you for a project simply from a phone conversation. At the most they may provide you with their typical hourly rate(s). If they do give you a figure for an entire project over the phone, question them to be as specific as possible about what that includes. Speaking as a designer I never give a client an estimate over the phone because there can be so many variables in a project that I simply cannot know from a phone conversation.
Once you are past the initial meeting stage, and the scope of the design work has been determined, the designer will put some sort of fee agreement in place. How fees are charged varies from one firm to another and also may depend on the extent of design work you require. Some firms will charge an hourly rate with no maximum. Other firms will charge an hourly rate for the initial concept design stage (in which basic floor plan layouts will be determined which helps the designer and you to clarify the scope of what they will actually be designing in more detail) and then provide an estimate for the development of the design and the material selections, and other designers will charge a fixed fee based on a clearly defined scope of work.
In most cases if the scope of work is exceeded either at your specific request or due a circumstance beyond the designers control *(see note immediately below) they will charge an hourly rate or fixed fee for the additional services.
*Unforeseen things that can add to the designers scope of work include but may not be limited to: A material that has been selected and then the supplier has not stock of – so the designer has to select another material, The client requests more changes to the design than the designer has reasonably allowed for, the clients contractor requiring more design supervision than the designer has budgeted for, and so on.
Pros: When approaching a contractor with your design, your designer becomes a more neutral party who is not tied directly to the contractor. In this way, the designer can help you ‘vet’ the contractors and help you make a decision. Also, when your designer is helping you make material selections, you can select from almost any supplier, versus working with a renovator who has limited choice of suppliers. You then have a wider selection within your budget range. Also, if you hire an independent designer you have a larger range of designers to select from, and a greater chance of finding someone who is best suited to you. You will pay more for the services of an independent designer, however if they are worth their salt the value-to-investment ratio wi
Cons: When constructing the project, should you use a renovation company rather than an independent contractor, be aware that some renovator companies prefer drawings and specifications to be prepared according to the format their in-house design team use, regardless of how professional your designers drawing and specification format is – in this situation you would have to have the renovator agree to use the drawings and specs provided regardless of the format or have them agree to at least take the specifications and ‘input’ them into their own procurement system, or as a last resort pay the designer an additional sum to revise the drawing/spec format to suit the renovators requirements. Having said that, there are many renovators and independent contractors who will work with any designers’ set of drawings and specifications as long as they are complete, and are easy to understand.
Another ‘con’ is that unless your designer has a good grasp of what things cost prior to starting the design process, you could be paying their fee for something which you cannot afford to build, and in so doing waste money that could have been invested elsewhere. In this regard I recommend engaging a designer who can explain budget ballpark ranges of typical costs to you prior to signing a contract with them. Also if they have an estimator they can go to during the early stages of design, it is an added bonus.
3. A Variant on #2 is to have your independent designer coordinate the construction.
This is where the designer would do all of the design as in #2, but would also then contract out the construction and oversee it. To charge for the construction work, some designers take a markup on the sub contractor’s prices, while other designers will charge a project management percentage fee.
In my own case, I will only engage in contracting a project if the client will allow me to use specific sub trades who I know and whom I have a track record of working with. The reason is because if the client wants my assurance of turning out a good quality end result, I need to be confident in the trades I am using.
This is in particular reference to the following trades: Demolition, framing, drywalling, painting, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, hardwood, tiling and finish carpentry. When it comes to other sub trades I will work with a wider variety of them, with a few exceptions. When it comes to suppliers of materials I also work with a wide variety of them with only a few exceptions.
The reason I make these caveats is because if I have to work with trades whom I do not know, or whose workmanship is below my standards of acceptance, it usually means that more time is incurred in resolving problems, which in turn costs you more money, which in turn adds more time to the project, and I have less control over the end result.
Pros: In this situation you again have a one stop shop and have one point of contact all the way through the job. Also, since your designer is in charge of construction they have much greater control over the quality of the construction work, and are more assured that the design intent will be retained by being closely involved with all on-site troubleshooting and resolutions.
Cons: If your designer is not strong in project management and scheduling a project, the timing of the project could extend unnecessarily. Also, if for any reason you had a disagreement with your designer early on in the project which was not mutually resolved, you could have a more challenging relationship through construction, but this can be avoided if it is clear up front that the design contract is totally separate to the construction. The other con is if the construction end of the contract is a cost-plus (markup) basis, the designer can use it to hide any losses they have sustained on the design side of the contract. My personal preference is to do a project management fee for the construction management side of things.
1. Regardless of the contractor or renovator you are considering, always ask them how busy they are and get them to quantify that. You want to ensure that the site manager assigned to your project is dealing with a manageable workload, has experience in managing your particular type of project, AND that the sub trades he has at his disposal are also available. As a general rule of thumb, if a site managers project load outside of a whole home renovation is any more than three to four projects it is a given that the level of proactivity and attention to detail on your project will decrease.
2. Always look for your contractor to schedule more time on a project rather than too little. When doing a renovation there is ALWAYS something unforeseen and you are better off with a contractor who will give you a rough time frame and then add an additional amount of time onto it for ‘unknowns’.
3. Question renovators or contractors who promise a firm completion date. In the renovation business there are so many variables and once walls and other surfaces are opened up there may be unforeseen items which will require upgrading, whcih of course will add time to the construction duration. Yes, they should e able to give you an approximate estimate of construction timelines, but if they say they will be finished by 'x' date you really need to question why they are saying that, given that there could be unforeseen variables.
4. Further to number 3, look for a contractor who budgets a contingency amount for unknowns, and clearly shows a line item in the budget indicating what contingency amount is being carried. A contingency should be somewhere between 8% to 20% of overall construction estimated costs. The variance is due to the size and/or complexity of the project. A small but complex project may require a higher contingency than a large but straightforward one for example.
5. Look for a contractor/renovator who is bonded and insured (obvious but important), and find out if they offer any warranties and if so what specifically do they cover.
6. Contractors/renovators charge differently. Some charge a mark up on all products and services and they do not disclose what that mark up is so there is less transparency in the pricing. Others charge a construction management fee and do not charge a mark up on the services and are very transparent with the costs of their subtrades. In addition, most contractors/renovators charge an additional fee for changes after the contract has been signed. Determine which method is the most comfortable for you.
7. If you are going to contract the design and construction separately, a scenario I recommend is to have your contractor/renovator already selected prior to – or very early on in – the design process. That way the designer can involve your contractor in the design process and have the contractor comment on the budget as the designer is developing the plans and selections. To do this, you would need to interview various contractors first to determine the one that best suits your needs. In this scenario my recommendation is to find a contractor who charges a project management fee and is transparent with the subcontractor pricing. In this way, both you and the designer can keep better tabs on budget while the design is being developed. The contractor may or may not start charging their fee during the design process.
Kevin Gray is a residential interiors specialist, who has more than 20 years experience in the interior and architectural design industry.