Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"In Hindsight, Maybe I Should Have Hired a Designer"

           Homeowners today are more into DIY than ever.  Home renovations are now taking place with the guidance of HGTV, Better Homes & Gardens, and YouTube.  That is ONE WAY instruction, and poor quality instruction at that.  Consumers that decide to tackle a home renovation themselves with minimal professional assistance do pay a price both during, and after the project is complete.  The magnitude of all the different options becomes overwhelming, contractors disappear for weeks on end, permits get skipped, and product gets back-ordered.  When it comes to very costly and time consuming projects like kitchen and bath remodels, homeowners need to put aside their pride and invest in a designer.  Why?  To make sure they do not spend $90,000 when they could have spent $40,000.  To make sure their project lasts 3 months and not 18 months.  I have outlined some of the top issues in kitchen/bath renovation projects, and how a qualified interior designer may have been (or may still be) a benefit.

1.       BUDGETING
Today, the budget is EVERYTHING.  Homeowners must set a budget before they begin a home renovation project.  However, it is difficult to determine a budget when one has no idea what a renovation costs.  This is where designers with renovation experience can be helpful.  While they cannot speak for contractors or the directory of vendors, they can usually give a good idea of the magnitude of investment you would be dealing with based on your goals.  Kitchen and bath renovation can fluctuate between approximately 40k and 70k average.  For high end product, the price can go up significantly.  When employing an architect, the price will go up significantly.  An interior designer will consult with you and try to help you find the best way to achieve your goals based on your budget.

2.       PERMITS
Walls cannot just be knocked down and re-arranged by anyone at any time.  Modification of a “structure” requires permits from the city/area/state.  These are safety precautions that every homeowner must recognize.  An architect or builder must be employed to determine the feasibility and cost of moving/adjusting interior/exterior walls and foundations.  Furthermore, they can specify whether a permit will be required, and which permits apply if more than one.  Not only do permits cost money, but the professionals to verify the need for permits cost money.  Interior designers can give preliminary input on this to help you avoid the need for permits by working with your existing structure.  If modifications MUST be made to the structure, interior designers can help determine which changes will be less complicated and expensive.  They can show you a range of options and give you an idea of what permits may come into play, at minimal cost.  
Beware of ads and companies that pitch “Free design consultation”.  These companies are usually sales based and their assistance to you will be from a biased party.  Often times the “designers” employed by the company are underqualified, AND are on commission, which will likely cost you additional dollars that you might not have spent hiring a design firm or independent interior designer.  For instance, let’s say you call a company you found in a magazine that advertised “Free in home design consultation”.  The representative from that company will be coming to your home representing only a small given set of manufacturers and contractors---often times just ONE manufacturer.  The layout and product they offer you will be a certain price, with a certain selection.  Qualified interior designers will consult with you to discuss a layout that works best for your space, and vendors/contractors that work best for your budget.  You can save many thousands of dollars going this route, AND you get an end result that is perfect for YOU---not limited by a given company’s product line.  For more information on the downside to “free design service” see my other article:
4.    LAYOUT
Kitchens and bathrooms are the most functional rooms in a home.  They are necessities, not luxuries.  Therefore the space plan must be given a significant amount of forethought.  One of the most sought after kitchen layouts is a U shape with an “island” or an L shape with an island.  Kitchen islands are glamorized on TV and in magazines and many new homes today have them.  Contrary to popular belief, an island does not necessarily improve a kitchen functionally.  In fact, it can even become an inconvenience.  It can impede traffic flow in average to small size kitchens and can become very costly to add on, especially when adding a sink or range, as most homeowners tend to desire.  The demand for this particular feature in kitchens, I believe is based on media driven popularity.  In my book islands are overrated.  Yes, they can be attractive and functional, but the NEED for an island is not as crucial as people think.  Other popular features that can put occupants/users at a disadvantage are double ovens, luxury range hoods, free-standing tubs, vanity tables, double sinks, and walk-in showers.  Qualified interior designers will help you to see past the “popularity” and appreciate the functionality in the best layout for YOUR space. For more details on finding the right designer, see my article:  "What is a Qualified Interior Designer?"

One of the most chaotic parts of home remodels is hiring the right contractor.  Cheap contractors these days are a dime a dozen.  Do not choose a contractor based on how your neighbor’s kitchen turned out, based on a couple Yelp reviews, or based on price.  Cheap contractors are notorious for being difficult to reach and disappearing for days and even weeks on end.  It is unsettling how many homeowners have been robbed of thousands of dollars when a cheap contractor disappears altogether after collecting a substantial deposit.  What is even worse, is if the contractor is found and charges are filed, often that “contractor” will not have the assets to reimburse the client anyway.  This can leave a client with a room(s) that is unfinished with walls taken out and a half order of cabinets sitting in the garage needing to be installed.  Do not take the cheap route.  Hire quality based on referrals, experience, company history, and make sure that the contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured.  In addition, make sure to find out what sort of contract they use prior to the start of the project and the deposit.  Read the fine print.  While most contractors still do business with checks, it is now very easy for small businesses to receive credit card payments.  With large investments, it is safer to use vendors and contractors that accept credit cards.  That way you are protected in the event of them disappearing without completing the job.  If you do not have the budget to hire a great quality contractor, postpone the project, or consider lower cost options in materials.  This is a very good reason to hire a qualified interior designer--- determine how to distribute budget, and be connected with trusted contractors and vendors by an industry professional.  The tiny initial investment is worth it.  I only charge $150 per hour and can provide you with a wealth of information for your project.  Plus, JOI offers "project management" which saves you time, money and tons of stress.

All inclusive home remodeling companies and independent contractors are very easy to find.  In the case of these companies, I have found that the quality of work may be strong in one area, but lacking in others.  For instance, the quality of cabinetry may be decent, but the quality of the tile application and design may be lacking/poor.  It is beneficial to hire specialists and artisans/craftsmen to complete certain tasks and make sure that no element of your project suffers.  A qualified interior designer can recommend these sorts of contractors/specialists to you, but the key in this approach is COORDINATION.  It is wise to hire an interior designer that works with the best specialists and knows how they work and how to coordinate their working with each other. The benefits of employing a qualified interior designer outweigh the costs, and most times the costs are covered in designer discounts on product and designer budget management.  For more information on designer-contractor relationships, see my article:  "Contractors Prefer Designers"

Electricity is not something you want to mess around with.  There are codes and safety issues involved, and it is best left to a specialist with excellent references and experience.  Some general contractors can handle this well, but often they contract out anyway, so you are accepting whomever they choose to include on the project without being informed.  Make sure that the specialist OR general contractor has impeccable records, licensing, and insurance.  Always make sure you include a contract.  If the “contractor” does not use a reasonable “contract”, it is best to look elsewhere. 

8.       PLUMBING
The same rules apply to plumbing contractors, but even more so.  The LAST thing anyone wants is a room flooded with sewage, or pipes that leak/erode.  Do not skimp on your plumber, and do not skimp on materials.  Plumbing issues can be the downfall of your kitchen/bath project.

Homeowners tend to get very excited about selecting appliances.  Stainless steel, gas powered six-burners, and decorative range hoods are all the rage.  Realistically most homeowners do not need a sixburner and 2-3 ovens in their kitchen.  Those commodities are popular, but they should not automatically be added to YOUR kitchen.  Be careful and be sure to prioritize.  A collection of new appliances can get very expensive very fast.  A professional interior designer can help you sort out your priorities and clarify which pieces you should pursue when appliance shopping, so that your budget does not get eaten up by appliances alone.

Tile is not only one of the most difficult parts of designing a kitchen or bath---it can also be the most expensive part.  Pictures online and in magazines/catalogs will show luxurious and exotic custom tile backsplashes and popular tile patterns/orientation.  Usually not listed in these ads and catalogs are prices.  You can visit dozens of showrooms and look at hundreds of styles and patterns, but it can become a full time job without any guidance.  Tile will almost always be involved at one point or another in a kitchen/bath project.  Tile must be addressed in detail during the budgeting phase.  Costs can range from $1.50-$35 per square or linear foot and then well above that in the case of luxury tile.  So in an 11x11 kitchen, a tile floor can easily cost $800 in tile alone---plus the cost of installation materials and labor, which can be double to quadruple the price of the tile depending on the contractor and complexity of the design.  The complexity of the pattern not only affects the sizes of tile and the square footage ordered, but the extra time needed to install and finish the tile as desired.  Hiring a designer that is knowledgeable about tile can save you thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.  I offer tile design services and get great discounts.  

For kitchen and bath renovations, numerous materials need to be individually specified.  Materials including: wood for cabinets, finish for cabinets, countertop material, backsplash material, flooring, wall finish, ceiling finish, and more.  In rooms that involve heavy use, durable materials are a must.  Some of the most desirable materials today are actually the least appropriate for such spaces.  Furthermore, materials that have become fairly mainstream in the last 10 years, are some of the most EXPENSIVE.  These materials include: cherry wood, walnut, granite, travertine, and marble.  Here are some examples of unappealing results when one has neglected to employ a qualified interior designer:  marble that quickly and easily became stained because of inappropriate use in a kitchen; solid wood floors that warped and split when installed in either kitchens  or baths; cherry wood cabinets that have become 4 shades darker than the original chosen color in one year; butcher block counters that have become water and heat damaged, etc.  Designers can steer you away from materials that are not suitable for your anticipated uses. Don’t be afraid to ask for unbiased professional help on this.  It may save you thousands of dollars and months of stress. 

I have heard the same argument a million times: “My brother/nephew/neighbor (etc.) is a superb contractor.  He can help me remodel my kitchen/bath.  I don’t need to spend all the extra money on a builder/contractor.”  Having friends and family with talent and connections is wonderful, but unless that brother/nephew/neighbor is retired with absolutely nothing to do, it is generally a bad idea to employ their services.  The complications with family and friends on large scale projects are just too much to risk.  What if you don’t like their ideas?  What if you don’t like the quality of their work in the end?  What if they have other things to do and only have time to work on your home once every couple weeks?  These are actually common issues with family/friend employment on remodels/renovations.  Not only is the quality and timing of the project at risk, but the relationship is put at risk as well.  If you cannot afford a third party contractor/professional, consider putting the project on hold, or speak with a qualified designer to discuss options for a low budget route.  My company is very budget friendly, and just a couple hours of professional discussion can do you and your pocketbook a world of good.  I can help you figure out the best ways to pursue a low-cost, but good quality renovation in your home.

Here is a good rule of thumb: don’t set deadlines.  Set a “estimated/goal completion date”.  The reality is that orders get delayed, deliveries need to be rescheduled/postponed, and the wrong color gets delivered.  These are just a few of the many things that can set your project back for MONTHS.  As a general guideline:  For custom cabinets, estimate 5-8 weeks for delivery; for tile, estimate 2-7 weeks for delivery; appliances and fixtures vary, but are usually attainable within 2-3 weeks unless they are backordered.  As for contractors and specialists, you MUST allow some padding time around the estimated time frame they give you.  If you want a project completed quickly, but with good quality work and product, always hire a qualified designer to project manage.  As mentioned before, it is most beneficial to you if you bring in the designer before a project is executed to discuss preliminary decisions, budgeting, time frame and the look desired of course.  The “look desired” is easily attained in 1-2 weeks for a professional interior designer.  It is all the other stuff that takes time, including order time.  

As mentioned in “order time” it is best to employ a designer very early in the game.  It is of course nice to have a designer to help pick out colors and materials, and space planning, but the complicated part comes later---when permits are needed, and product is ordered.  The orders need to be coordinated and executed at the appropriate times to make sure that all product arrives in the same week approximately.  Having everything arrive at one time is not a must, but having a bunch of cabinets sitting in your garage and susceptible to moisture is a very bad idea.  Materials for the project can be ruined before they are installed if proper arrangements are not made!  An experienced and organized interior designer will know how to coordinate the orders and deliveries to avoid this problem.  And of course, it is important to make sure you do not delay on ordering the product that will take the longest.  Do not mull over it for too long, or your project will be delayed.  Hire a professional designer to guide you on this and help you make educated decisions.  This will get your orders delivered fast, and installed faster!

For an organized person, orders can be coordinated easily, but coordinating contractors and installers is an entirely different ballgame.  It is important to have a reliable team of contractors that have worked together and are easy to get a hold of.  I insist upon the best service for my clients.  The contractor coordination alone is a VERY big reason to bring in a designer straight away.  You don’t have to deal with the estimate game, or the scheduling game.  My company handles that for you.  This part of “project management” is one that definitely makes hiring a qualified designer worth the money.  Generally speaking, home renovation projects can turn chaotic when just ONE contractor is involved.  Imagine how it would be with 3 or 4!  Save yourself time and tons of stress and call me to coordinate your home renovation project.

Don’t be a homeowner that after 14 months and $90,000 of questionable investments, says “In hindsight, maybe I should have hired a designer”.  Take the extra precaution for yourself, your home and your pocketbook, and book a consultation before jumping into your project.  You won’t regret it! 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"No Strings Attached" - Clarification on the benefit of hiring an interior designer

       Today, the stability of American interior design companies is being disintegrated due to the growth and media exposure of all-inclusive home improvement corporations.  Corporations such as:  Home Depot, Lowes, Ikea, Thomasville, Bassett, Ethan Allen, etc.  These BIG companies all have one big thing in common:  “Free” design service.  As I clarified in my past article "Free Design Service... Is it really free?" these services do in fact come at a price.  What price?  The “price” comes in the form of an up-charge on the product that you are obligated to buy from a given company.  That up-charge goes towards a number of things--first and foremost, the salary or commission of the “free” designers.  Here’s a reality check:  nothing is free.  Designers don’t really walk into someone’s store and offer to give away their expert design skills.  No.  They are hired by these companies, and most of the time, earn a commission based on how much they sell the client’s that walk in.  When you enter a showroom and collaborate with a "free designer" for things such as kitchen and bath design and decorating, those “designers” are not supposed to let you walk out the door without writing a check.  They are not supposed to give you copies of floor plans with pricing so that you can go compare with all their competition.  This also applies to companies that offer "Free in-home consultations".  They bring the showroom INTO your home, but the object is exactly the same for the "designer"---get the sale, no matter what.

       In the case of “interior design firms” or independent interior designers, you are not obligated to purchase anything, other than their time spent with you.  There are no strings attached.  You are free to do all the price shopping you desire with the information they have provided you.  Qualified interior designers are not supposed to pressure you into doing one thing or another.  Their job is to guide you in the appropriate direction, and share their design expertise as it applies to your project.  You have the option of hiring a designer to make all the decisions, but most clients choose to be a bit more involved in the design process.  Interior designers do not recommend layouts and materials based on how much money it will make them (at least I don’t).  They recommend things based on what is actually right for you.  If you want to spend only $15,000 on your kitchen remodel instead of $70,000, they will accommodate you, showing you the best way to utilize your budget.  

       In my commission sales experience I absolutely loathed the game of “What is your budget?” with the reply of “Well I don’t really have a budget, because I don’t know what this sort of thing costs”.  I would get this response with every other client I helped.  Everyone has a budget.  It might be two dollars, it might be two million.  It doesn’t matter.  EVERYONE has an amount that they feel comfortable spending on a given project.  Consumers need to ask themselves, what are they comfortable spending, or rather, what are they NOT comfortable spending?  

In the case of hiring an interior designer (which should always come first, before any vendors or contractors get involved), you receive information such as what sort of pricing to expect on different things in your home.  How should you distribute your budget to reach your goal?  You can get clarification on these details without any sort of obligation aside from compensating that designer for their time.  Qualified interior designers are paid to be knowledgeable and well connected in the industry.  As bold as it may sound, interior designers must ALWAYS come first when you are considering starting a project.  They give you unbiased information to help you choose the right path.  There are no strings attached.  You may choose to hire the designer as a project manager to make sure all the correct choices are made, or you may choose to simply consult with them prior to the project.  It makes no difference to the designer, because they are being compensated for their time.  Homeowners need to use that to their advantage.  What is a $150 design consultation against $20,000 in mistakes because they jumped in headfirst?  A very small price to pay.

          Still, the fact remains that large corporations such as Home Depot are taking over the design industry.  Why?  Because they are CHEAP… or at least they seem cheap at first.  Sure, Home Depot and IKEA offer you cheap cabinets and tile, but at what cost?  What do very cheap products all seem to have in common?  Overseas manufacturing!  Ironically, homeowners that are facing financial difficulties are directly involved in sending business overseas by pursuing the cheap methods of home improvement.  Many homeowners walk into showrooms asking one major question:  “Where are these made?”   It is great that Americans are acknowledging the need to support small local businesses, but sadly the majority of citizens do not rank saving American jobs over saving cash to renovate their kitchen.  

Generally speaking, it is true that not everyone can afford to hire an interior designer to consult with them about their home.  However, when a homeowner is considering starting large projects such as kitchen/bath renovations, as millions are, they NEED to make a small investment in consulting with a professional and qualified interior designer.  Not for color advice, not for decorating advice, but for budget and project management!  Whatever you spend on design services can likely be balanced out by the amount of money you SAVE by not making unwise design choices and investments.  

         Next week I will be posting an article clarifying what I mean when I say “unwise investments”.  In the meantime, if you are considering a large home improvement project, be smart and call for a “professional“ design consultation (not a “free” design consultation). Call me to help improve your home and protect your pocketbook today!   925-895-1336

This kitchen is packed with poor investments.  Don't let this happen to you!  Call for a professional "no strings attached" design consultation!  925-895-1336

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

HOME STAGING--- What is it, and is it REALLY necessary?

    Staging is not just decorating.  It is not just bringing in newer nicer furniture to give a house a more contemporary look.  It is not just taking books and pictures off shelves.  It is not just painting walls.  Well then, WHAT IS IT?  It is a psychological tactic used in order to sell a home fast and at a higher value.  When one is decorating/designing their home to suit THEIR tastes, that is what it remains--- THEIR taste.  In some rare cases sure, you will come across a 5 star award winning home right out of Architectural Digest.  But generally speaking people tend to decorate for THEM, in a personal and comforting way.  This is how it should be when residing, but not what is likely to sell a home at a value one might prefer.  Sure, you may receive compliments from friends and family when they walk into your home, but that still does not mean that they would BUY your home.  

     As a designer, I have found that the HUGE majority of people cannot VISUALIZE.  When one does not stage their home to sell, they are putting them self at a disadvantage.  When prospective buyers walk through, they are seeing your STYLE, not your house.  They see a purple wall with pictures on it, not a wall that can be used for an upright piano.  They see outdated vertical blinds, not outstanding views of the lake.  They see a huge clunky old bedroom set, not the large bedroom that houses it.  Prospective buyers are looking for a house that they can envision as their own.  They need to be given the opportunity to see through the furniture to the POTENTIAL that the house has for them.  “Staging” a home means making it neutral but appealing and increase the likelihood that it will appeal to EVERYONE who walks in.  But why pay for staging when you have emptied the house of its contents?  Can’t people visualize better when the house is empty?  An empty house can be helpful, but it is still not as likely to sell the property fast and at a higher value.  Why?  Again, most people have trouble visualizing.  A large room may seem small to a lot of people because they have no concept of scale.  People do not pay extra for small rooms.  So if your rooms appear small to shoppers you are out of luck.

     Let’s do a comparison--- an average size master bedroom with existing furniture versus master bedroom with NO furniture.  Today, most couples are opting for King or Cal King beds.  Mattresses are getting thicker and taller.  The bigger, the better.  Unfortunately an average size bedroom with an oversized bed will appear as a SMALL bedroom, which does not sell.  Now, in the case of keeping the room entirely empty, shoppers are walking into a master bedroom assessing the space and GUESSING as to whether it can hold their Cal King size bed.  These days, when bigger is better, an average size bedroom will appear small.  The purpose of staging in this case is to use special tricks to give the ILLUSION of a very large space.  An average size room with small-scale furniture will appear LARGE.  

Average size bedroom with king bed, before staging
Same bedroom, same furniture, after staging
     Staging is decorating in a sense, but “decorating” is a vague term.  A professional decorator or designer may use any variety of styles and techniques.  Whereas “staging” will consistently be done in a “minimalist” style.  “Minimalist”, as the term implies, is void of excess clutter and adornment.  Whether one is dealing with a 5 bedroom villa in the hills of Orinda, or a 3 bedroom ranch style home in Dublin, the formula remains the same:  Use furnishings that apply to the style of the HOUSE, but basic and neutral enough to be non-conflicting with every shopper.  Sounds simple enough?  Maybe, maybe not.  Bland, neutral furniture may be to one’s disadvantage if done incorrectly.  You still need to make a STATEMENT.  You need to make sure that while your home appears light, neutral, and large, it also needs to be appealing ENOUGH to make that shopper remember your home if they continue to look around.  This is where qualified interior designers can help.  

     Interior designers who offer staging services will take the fundamentals of staging, and their expertise in design, and deliver a space that will create a wow factor for all walkins---simple enough to be neutral, but unique enough to separate from the competition.  This is one service my company offers.  Staging with that extra level of spark to stick in a prospective buyer's mind… if they do not make an offer right away.  I can stage with existing pieces, removing clutter, re-arranging furniture, and perhaps adding a few fresh pieces.  Or I can stage an empty space from scratch.  I can also advise on which investments to make prior to selling, whether it be flooring, new windows, or removing old wallpaper.  See my investment articles.  "To Invest, or Not to Invest?" PART ONE 

     Old home, or new, you can’t just post it online and expect millions.  In this economy you need to take special lengths to outshine your competition, just to come close to your asking price.  Don’t settle for less!  Get your asking price and then some.  Call me to set up a staging consultation, and have the chance to select from the high bidders on your home!  925-895-1336