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  • Dawn Lavergne

The False Economy of Price Only

Updated: Nov 9, 2020



Shopping for a designer, like finding a great builder, can be quite daunting and even scary at times. It's hard to know who to put your trust in when starting into this process. The big determinant seems to be price, and often people are giving the largest purchase they will make in their lifetime to the company that comes in with the lowest price.


Designing and building a home is a complex process, and putting your trust in the person who comes back with the bargain-basement price is like paying for a 15-year-old Chevy Sprint and expecting that you're getting a brand new Rolls Royce. Below is an example of what I mean by this.


A few months ago, we were asked to provide a fee proposal for full custom home design services for this project. We track all hours spent working on projects; so we know quite accurately the required hours a project around 3200 square feet takes; our prices are based on that. The company, this client chose to go with, based their quote on 1/4 of the number of hours that would actually be needed. In fact, they were under 100 hours to get through design, development permit drawings and construction drawings. So, for $7500, this client thought they were getting the full package.


We reviewed the drawings because we had been brought in to do the interior design for this project. Less than 30 minutes into our first meeting, we found that they had used up 3/4 of the estimated hours and still did not have a design they were entirely happy with, or development permit drawings, let alone construction drawings. Sadly, after 4 months of carrying costs on their land, and still not submitted for a development permit, this client now realizes that the low price isn't low after all.


Essentially, these clients were designing their own home. The person they hired was a draftsperson who knows how to use a drafting program, not a designer. His ability to craft a home the client can live in, from a functional perspective, was non-existent because he lacks design education. Essentially, he was drawing what they were asking for. In our meeting, we were able to narrow down the issues they were having with the home and why things weren't feeling the way they wanted.


Long story short, we have now been brought in to 'fix' the design, both inside and out. Upon preliminary review of the exterior, we noticed how extremely complicated and ultimately costly the roofline of this home is. Additional unforeseen costs that an unknowing homeowner would have encountered when they started down the pricing and building path. On top of that, details were abundant all over this exterior façade, which can be great to enhance the home. In this case, they were being used to hide bad design elements, which the homeowner would not have caught, and would have added additional unnecessary cost for them.


These are just a few things we have caught in our review so far. Time delays; due to a lack of ability to understand the client's needs and design to meet those needs, compounded with an inability to value engineer the house; has already cost the clients a lot of additional money when they thought to pay $7500 was a saving. We estimate that they have incurred an additional $9k in carrying costs and would have incurred another $5-7k in complicated structure and details, which puts the client extremely close to what our design fee was. Plus, we have only looked at one part of this home design so far. So, during the remainder of our review, we are sure to find other costly issues.


The take away from this is; the drawings are what drive the entire project; from cost to buildability to the quality of the finished product. So, basing the design of your home solely on price is a bad idea and will cost you in the end. There is a great saying by Red Adair, "If you think the cost of hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur."

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