THE BUSINESS OF DESIGN: BILLS LADEN WITH HIDDEN COSTS

10 things interior designers won't tell you - my bills are laden with hidden costs

To read more about the article that started this series, start at Part 1 here.

MY BILLS ARE LADEN WITH HIDDEN COSTS

Though most designers will send you invoices for what they're purchasing, it's easy to hide all sorts of costs by being vague. "Draperies for living room; materials and labor, $3,000," doesn't tell you a whole lot, does it?

The way to cover yourself is to demand details -- lots of details. You should always ask that material costs -- fabric, trim, lining, padding -- be accounted for separately from labor costs. Never let the designer buy anything without sending you a detailed invoice, as well as a picture or sample of the product, the quantity you're getting and the price. Stipulate in writing that the only fees the designer can receive are those you've agreed upon. True, not every designer will agree to these demands, but it's worth asking.

It's a bit more of a long shot, but you could also ask to have copies of all bills from outside contractors sent directly to you. "That way, the designer can't add anything on without going through monumental contortions," says Eleanor Windman, who runs the Rent-a-Decorator service in New York.

Again, my business is based on transparency, so there are no costs I am hiding.  To prove it, here is a real-life example of a proposal that was sent to a client in January.  See how the fabric and chair costs are separate?  You see each and every line item - the "other costs" is freight and is indicated as freight in the subtotal and if I charged a markup/ design fee that would also be indicated on a separate line.  Crystal clear. 

 

Sample-Proposal

Now it is true that not all designer's follow my processes, so if you are concerned with what may be hiding in your bills, ask your designer to review it with you.  This is a relationship and you need to be comfortable with what you are paying.  Not only that, but it is also important for insurance purposes in the case something needs to be replaced to know what it's true value is.

You designer may not be willing to share all her invoices with you, but you could ask to spot check an invoice or two to make sure that she is being honest.  This may or may not be a deal-breaker for you.

read the entire series:

1. SHOP IN THE RIGHT STORE AND YOU MAY NOT EVEN NEED ME 2. MY TITLE DOESN’T MEAN VERY MUCH 3. YOU MIGHT AS WELL USE MY ESTIMATE AS WALLPAPER 4. YOU’D SAVE A BUNDLE IF YOU KNEW HOW I SET MY FEES 5. MY BILLS ARE LADEN WITH HIDDEN COSTS 6. IT’S NOT IN MY INTEREST TO HUNT FOR BARGAINS 7. YOU DON’T NEED ME TO GET BIG DISCOUNTS FROM SHOWROOMS 8. I PREFER BIG PROJECTS, BUT I’LL TAKE WHATEVER I CAN GET 9. YOU HAVE LITTLE OR NO RECOURSE IF I SCREW UP 10. MY WORK IN ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST IS A MIRAGE

THE BUSINESS OF DESIGN: HOW I SET MY FEES

10 things interior designers won't tell you - how I set my fees Start with Part 1 to learn about the article I am breaking down in this 10 part series.

YOU'D SAVE A BUNDLE IF YOU KNEW HOW I SET MY FEES

Designers use a hodgepodge of methods to determine their fees. The traditional method of choice, called cost-plus, lets designers buy furniture, fabrics and accessories at a "trade" discount of 20% to 40%, then mark the item back up to around the retail cost, using the markup as a design fee. Another alternative is to charge clients a commission -- usually about 25% to 30% -- on items purchased. These days, however, designers increasingly bill either at an hourly rate or a flat fee; sometimes, they also charge cost-plus or a commission for items they buy for you.

The problem is, your designer's chosen method might not be the best deal for you. If all you want are curtains and carpets for your living room, an hourly rate makes sense. If you're building and decorating a house from scratch, you're better off with a flat fee. And if you just want your designer to purchase furniture, it may make the most sense to go with cost-plus -- as long as you keep an eye on how much "plus" is being tacked on. Sometimes the difference between what your designer pays and what he charges you is huge. Let's say a designer buys an Empire chest of drawers for $1,000, but it is really worth $2,500. "There is nothing wrong with marking it up to that price," maintains Jean Michel Quincey, a New York interior designer. "Why shouldn't he? Particularly if he's spent the weekend looking for it."

As a consumer, you may feel differently. In your initial interview with a prospective designer, make sure he tells you how he charges and whether he'll consider another option. When push comes to shove, most will.

As a client, your designer should be able to explain to you how they set their fees and what they are charging.  If it's not clear and you think they may be doing something shady then step away.

There is no universal way that commissions or fees are set - different from architects or the 6% real estate agents get.  I've done an entire article about the different structures of interior design pricing for you to read up on here.

It is true that you may be able to discuss a different pricing structure depending on your project, don't be surprised if the designer declines.  Designer's are running a business like any other and have processes in place that work out best everyone when they are followed.  You can read more about negotiating design fees here.

My invoices always have the price that I pay for the item when I am getting a discount.  So if I purchased that Empire chest mentioned above for $1000, but I spent 10 hours shopping for it, you would see I paid $1000 for it and then be charged my hourly rate for those 10 hours.  Finding a good deal takes time and may end up costing you the same amount in the end.

It comes down to educating yourself and making sure that you understand how you are being charged.

read the entire series:

1. SHOP IN THE RIGHT STORE AND YOU MAY NOT EVEN NEED ME 2. MY TITLE DOESN’T MEAN VERY MUCH 3. YOU MIGHT AS WELL USE MY ESTIMATE AS WALLPAPER 4. YOU’D SAVE A BUNDLE IF YOU KNEW HOW I SET MY FEES 5. MY BILLS ARE LADEN WITH HIDDEN COSTS 6. IT’S NOT IN MY INTEREST TO HUNT FOR BARGAINS 7. YOU DON’T NEED ME TO GET BIG DISCOUNTS FROM SHOWROOMS 8. I PREFER BIG PROJECTS, BUT I’LL TAKE WHATEVER I CAN GET 9. YOU HAVE LITTLE OR NO RECOURSE IF I SCREW UP 10. MY WORK IN ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST IS A MIRAGE