Mike Otto

Designers – What We Are Telling Our Clients Behind Your Backs

We just finished a complete higher end bathroom in Linden Hills for a very important client. This bathroom was completed from start to finish in two weeks – not an easy task by any means. Working on a project where even an hour of time made a huge difference in the schedule reinforced the very important concept of getting the details right – before you start.

When someone calls me up to look at a remodeling project they would like to have done and the conversation drifts toward what they want done and how much design costs, I share with them the story of how a remodeling project can go – both good and bad

The first story I share with them is from a woman who hired us to do her bathroom after she had a horrible experience with a kitchen remodel she did some years ago with another company. She called up a remodeling company who came out to the house and gave her a price for her kitchen. This company drew up a sketch of what the kitchen was supposed to look like and they gave her a price was in her budget do she decided to move forward with them. I can still see how her eyes flashed when she told me she learned what allowance, change order, and details meant.


Apparently this company had their “designer” sent her out to some stores to pick out some flooring, tile, plumbing fixtures, and lights while they demolished the kitchen. So she goes out one weekend to make all these selections and comes back – a bit overwhelmed by all the choices that were out there, but thought she was done.

She found out that after spending a Friday, Saturday, and part of a Sunday that she was over her allowance on the flooring and the plumbing fixtures. She tried very hard to keep her tile in budget and did but when she told her designer what she chose, she was told that the labor to install this kind of tile was more money to install.

She wanted to keep the remodeling project on track so she agreed to $6,500 in change orders.

Her kitchen remodel kept moving forward. She was always a little annoyed because the workers kept asking her where she wanted certain things to be. She told me how one morning at about 10:00 she got a phone call from the remodeling company to see if she could come home from work and show everyone where she wanted the kitchen lights to go. She had meetings that day and couldn’t make it so the project got delayed for a few days.

This kind of thing happened over and over. She told me that when it came time to install the tile, it had to be delayed because it was still being shipped. Apparently no one told her the tile she chose had a 5 week lead time.

Anyway, this remodeling process could have gone a lot smoother had the designer taken the time up front to figure out the details and the selections.  Had this remodelor taken the time to have his designer work with this woman to figure out the details of her job, they could have anticipated the extra costs or they could have taken the time to change the selections to fit the allowance. They could also have avoided last minute rushed decisions. They would have known the lead times for the choices that were made. They could also have had a much happier client in the end.

I am also willing to bet the contractor could have saved money if he had done all this up front work. I wonder if his electrician would have given him better pricing if he knew what he was doing when he showed up. I also wonder if the contractor could have gotten the project done earlier and made more money because he didn’t have to pay for extra weeks of management.

Too many times prospective clients are worried that the construction costs are too high and feel that the design costs really are not worth it.

We like to dispel this notion by telling people if they are willing to provide us with the following information in an easy to read spreadsheet, we will deduct 4% from the total cost of the project.

1)      Show us on a drawing where the lights and outlets should go and what kinds of lights they are

2)      Show us how the tile should be layed out and what kind of tile it is

3)      Show us where the accessories and hardware go and what kind it should be

4)      Show us where the flooring goes and kind it should be

5)      Show us cabinet layouts and countertop layouts and details

6)      Tell us what the appliances are and get us the specifications

7)       Show us what paint goes and what kind of paint it should be

8)      Show us the trim details and what the trim should be

9)      Show us the plumbing fixtures, the specifications, and the location of the plumbing

10)   Show us any job specific details that may be important to know before we start.

If we have these details we can get our subcontractors all the details they need. They will be able to give us accurate pricing and because they have all the details it will be their best pricing. If we know these details before the job starts or is final priced, we can spend a lot less time managing the project and have fewer headaches.

If we can be more efficient, we can pass the savings to our customers. Four percent is about $2,000 on a $50,000 project  or $4,000 on a $100,000 project. It adds up quickly.

For more ideas on how to make the remodeling process more efficient – seeDesigners – Are your projects not getting built because of budget?

I started my own contracting company in 1992. Over the years, I have developed a strong belief in good design and sustainable building methods and materials. I spend much of my time educating clients and the general public about the foundations of good design and sustainability with an emphasis on why they are essential to residential construction.

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