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Working With Casa Vilora Interiors – Part II – The Designer/Client Agreement

Welcome to part deux of this series I am doing here on the blog, that is meant to educate consumers and shed some light on some of the “behind the scenes” stuff here at Casa Vilora Interiors. Last week we discussed The Consultation and why we charge for it. Click here in case you missed it.

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Today we will be talking about the Designer/Client Agreement which is a very important step in the design process. The agreement protects both the client and the designer, and sets the tone for a successful outcome

During the initial 2 hour consultation, we set aside a few minutes to go over the Letter of Agreement with the client. This is a part of our commitment to transparency and setting expectations upfront. We go over “How we work” which is our mission statement and our 15 step process. It gives the client a step by step guide of what they can expect during the design process. It is also a great opportunity for them to ask any questions or express any concerns or apprehensions they may have. Sometimes clients are ready to get started and will sign off on the project at the first meeting.

In most cases, we email the client a proposal within 2-3 business days following the initial consultation. The proposal outlines the scope of work as we understood it from the consultation, the estimated number of hours it will take to complete the project, the design fee for completing the project, the estimated time frame, the budget estimate, the retainer required to get started, the payment and billing schedule, and of course the all important terms and conditions. We will explain these parts of the proposal in more detail below. Once we receive the signed proposal of acceptance and the required retainer, we move to the next step of the process “Trades Day” which will be part III in this series.

The Scope of work – In the proposal, we list every single detail of what is required to complete the project. There is a general scope of work which involves programming, measuring, preliminary drawings etc, and there is the specific scope which outlines the unique needs of the project from start to finish. If the project will involve engaging the services of an architect or building designer, or a general contractor, that is also outlined in the proposal. The client will sign a separate agreement with the general contractor, but we may act as the project manager, and our duties in this regard will be outlined in the proposal. The client can hire their own general contractor, or we will recommend a couple that we have a good relationship with, but we encourage our clients to interview them and make sure that they are comfortable with the way they work. Although we work with these trades people regularly, they are not employees of Casa Vilora Interiors and we therefore cannot be held responsible for the way they work. The client is also free to act as their own project manager for their project, but it requires a lot of time and knowledge about the design or remodeling process for it to be a successful decision. Most clients don’t have the time or desire to manage their project and will happily hire us for this role as well. Most people aren’t aware that the general contractor’s role is not necessarily to manage the project. Some do by default, but their role is to manage the trades people, order materials and focus on the construction aspect of the project. The project manager’s role is to manage the the integrity of the project; making sure that the project is progressing according to specifications. It is a checks and balance system where the client can be assured that their project is progressing nicely

The estimated number of hours – Estimating the number of hours that a project will take is actually very difficult to do. This is why we indicate in out proposal that it is an estimate to the best of our understanding, but the actual number of hours could be more or less. If the hours end up being less, we will credit back the client at the end of the project. If the hours are more, we will bill the extra hours at a slightly lower rate than our standard hourly fee (10% less). We pull from our vast experience with similar projects to closely estimate the number of hours for each project. It is very important to us to be able to give our clients a pretty good idea of their total design fee upfront instead of open billing, where they have no idea what their fee will be until the end. Hours can range from 20 hours for a small project to over 150 hours for a larger remodeling project, so it is important to give our clients a good idea of where their project falls in this large spectrum

The design fee – Obviously this is a very important aspect of the proposal. We feel that it is important to disclose this information upfront as best as we can. Our design fee is hourly and  is based on the estimated number of hours for the project, therefore our fee is also an estimate. Our proposal will actually breakdown how many hours each phase of the project is estimated to be and the fees associated with that phase. For the administrative phase, we actually charge 10% less than our standard design fee. At no time will our design fee be less than $2500 for a full scale decorating or remodeling project. (We have several design services such as eDesign, one day makeovers etc with lower, and even fixed fees – the above applies to full scale projects). We also charge a project management fee for remodeling projects (5% of remodeling budget). This fee is above and beyond the fee for our role as the Interior Designer. The project management fee includes additional services and working closely with the general contractor.

The retainer required – A retainer is required before any design work begins. It is payable once the proposal has been signed and accepted. The retainer is basically collecting a portion of our design fee upfront. It is typically either one third or half of the design fee estimated based on the size of the project.

The payment and billing schedule – This is where we outline all payments required and when they are due, as well as regular billing intervals

The estimated time frame – This is another item where we try our best to estimate upfront to give our clients a good idea of what to expect. No one wants a long drawn out project. Estimating the hours upfront keeps us accountable to our clients throughout the project, and we try hard to avoid delays. We pull from our experience and knowledge with similar projects, and factor in a few weeks of delays. Of course, there are things that will come up that are out of our control, but we are committed to communicating with our client throughout the process, so they are not in the dark about potential delays. Time frame can range from 4 weeks on a drapery project to 6-12 months in a major remodeling job. Giving our clients an idea of the time frame will help them better prepare for this process

The budget estimate – During the initial consultation, we discuss the budget for the project. Very often, the client isn’t sure what the project will cost, and will tell us they don’t know, or they will throw out a number that is often too low for what they are wanting to accomplish. A part of our job is to help our clients develop a reasonable budget for their project. We have several exercises that we use to help our clients come up with a reasonable ballpark number for their budget. We often include an estimated budget breakdown for each phase of the project in our proposal. We also recommend that our clients set aside a contingency budget for unforeseen expenses, especially when it is a remodeling project on an older home. The exact budget will be later defined after we get estimates back from trades, and materials and furnishings are selected for the project. We work very closely with our clients to get this right. When the budget is determined for the project, a 75% deposit minimum (sometimes the full amount) is required as deposit to procure items for the project

The terms and conditions – This is the legal stuff that protects both our clients and ourselves. We make it very clear what our role is in the project and even what is not included in our services. The terms and conditions includes:

  1. Additional services – any services performed during the project that is not included in the original scope of work. For example, we include the number of site visits we expect to make for the project. If we are asked to make more site visits than we included in the proposal, then we do charge for additional services

  2. Other matters – Any disbursements we make on behalf of the client and the project which must be reimbursed

  3. Our purchasing services for the decorative and merchandising phase of the project. We include the process to proposing the furniture pieces and how we calculate the cost for each piece (which is always less than retail). We also include the terms for  purchasing custom items, our return policy on items that are returnable

  4. Final installation and project closure – the procedures for the final stage of the project

  5. Termination of project – In case there is a default, the project can be terminated by either party within certain parameters

So there is a lot of important information covered in the proposal. The signed proposal signals the beginning of the project which is followed by Trades Day where we invite all trades to meet at the project site to discuss and measure so they can provide their quotes (this will be covered in Part III). Then there is the big presentation which is our design ideas and visuals for the project (This will be covered in Phase IV), and at this meeting, a final Letter of Agreement is signed off (basically an addendum to the proposal agreement) and a defined budget is agreed upon. We later hold another budget review meeting to make sure we are on track

You can head to our website for more information about how we work and what the client’s role is for the project. You can also check out our FAQ’s page to see the answers to some of the common questions we get here. You can also schedule and pay for an in-home consultation from there.

Join us net week as we discuss Part III “Trades Day”

Wishing You Beauty and Inspiration!


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