7 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Design Professional

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Drafting TableA design professional helps renovators establish the scope of work, define details, bring professional experience, creative ideas, and help with finish selections.  Selecting a design professional to work with can have a substantial impact on the success of the project and your enjoyment of the process.

Below are seven key question to ask of potential design professionals for your renovation project. You should decide on the relative priority of these issues before interviewing designers.

1.  What is your experience with my project type?

Design professionals that focus on new commercial development may not have the specific expertise to take on a historic renovation.  Over time, design professionals often develop a portfolio of work in specialized areas and sometimes specific design styles.

2.  References/Portfolio

As you put together a short list of potential design professionals, get referrals from people who have been through the process before.  These referrals are often a great “reference” and can provide you with information about the individual designer.  It is also worthwhile to ask the designer for a couple additional references from recent completed projects.

Most design professionals will have a “portfolio” of projects they have participated in – feel free to ask to see it.  This portfolio should show a depth of thought and experience in similar projects or scopes of work.  Ask probing questions about things you like (or don’t like) in the photos.

3.  What is the designer’s experience in your location?

Different neighborhoods have different building codes, historic codes, and covenants.  If a designer has not successfully completed projects in your neighborhood, ask how they will approach getting the information they need.

4.  Project cost and budget projections

Clients with unlimited budgets are few and far between.  Not all design professionals are capable of performing accurate budget projections during design.  Ask how your budget information is incorporated into the design process.  Determine who is responsible for adjustments if construction costs come in above the budget projections.

5.  Personality and working relationship

Do you get along with the designer, and how much involvement do you want in the project?  Some clients prefer to fully participate in the decision-making process and other desire a more hands-off approach.  Does the designer listen to your questions and respond effectively?

6.  Design sensibility

Look at the designer’s previous work and determine if your tastes align. How will the designer approach disagreements if you don’t like the concepts or selections?  How does the designer see his or her role in the process?

7.  Design fees

Fees for professional design services have a huge range. The methods of determining fees usually fall into two main groups: percentage of construction cost and hourly.

Designers whose fees are figured as a percentage of construction cost will typically fall in the 5% to 8% range. The problem with this type of fee structure is that there is a small, though not insignificant disincentive for the designer to promote cost effective design solutions. Though the architect will bill progressively through the project, it is unlikely that there will be a “refund” at the end of construction.

The hourly rate structure, however, provides little incentive for the architect to complete the drawings in a timely manner.

Some firms may use a hybrid fee structure called “hourly-not-to-exceed”. The designer estimates the amount of time it will take to complete the drawings and provides the client with a “cap” on the fees. This way the client has a good sense of how much design will cost, and is still protected from unexpected design fees.

A few design professionals who have significant experience in renovation projects will price design by the square foot as a general guide.