Well it appears that 2012 is going to be the start of a comeback in the remodeling industry here in Portland, Oregon. After several years of less than stellar projects in terms of both available investment and number of projects completed, I think that the “pent-up demand” we’ve been hearing about is finally bursting at the seams. All of my contractor and vendor friends (me as well) seem to be bustling around and happy again. It’s very exciting!
Speaking of budgeting, one of the questions I get asked most often is, “How much do you think this will cost?” I am responsible for bidding out the design portion of any project but it’s the contractor that determines the final cost of the overall project. So I avoid answering this question like the plague when asked. Sure I have my gut feeling of an approximation, but have learned the hard way that by mentioning any numbers at all it settles in clients minds as the expectation. SO, instead I want to offer up a wonderful tool that, in my experience, is a pretty good predictor of remodeling costs.
The “Cost vs. Value Report” created annually by Remodeling Magazine is used by many folks I know to help clients understand that while $20K really IS a lot of money, it will get you nowhere if you want to gut and completely re-do your kitchen and master bathroom. I know that I’ve mentioned this before in past blogs as a great resource, but now that the 2012 report is available I decided to do a little analysis looking back at where the cost of projects has been in Portland for the past five years. What I found actually surprised me. My hypothesis was the costs may have come down with the downturn in the economy along with the common practice of clients interviewing many multiples of contractors before hiring one. I thought that perhaps that competition would drive overall prices lower. That was actually not the case. Take a look at these figures specific to the Portland, Oregon area:
(All figures taken from Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Reports 2008-2012)
Now… before you say to yourself, “SWEET! I know what to expect now!”, I’d say back to you, “Whoa, Nellie!” because there are very specific factors that play in to these costs.
Let’s look at an example of some clients I worked with recently:
My clients live in one of those wonderful older homes in Portland (circa 1926) with lots of great architectural details but very outdated and out-of-code building materials. They wanted to remodel their master bathroom from top to bottom and use all new plumbing fixtures, lighting, glass subway tiles, frameless glass shower doors, etc. So we looked at this reports’ definition of a “Midrange Bathroom Remodel”. The definition is as follows:
- Update an existing 5-by-7-foot bathroom
- Replace all fixtures to include 30-by-60-inch porcelain-on-steel tub with 4-by-4-inch ceramic tile surround
- New single-lever temperature and pressure-balanced shower control
- Standard white toilet
- Solid-surface vanity counter with integral sink
- Recessed medicine cabinet with light
- Ceramic tile floor
- Vinyl wallpaper
But in the instance of my clients, they wanted/needed upgrades that would definitely increase the cost, such as:
- All of the wiring in the walls needed to be replaced and brought up to code
- All of the plumbing in the walls needed to be replaced and brought up to code
- All of the lath and plaster walls (and ceiling) needed to be replaced with waterproof drywall. Removing lath and plaster requires more labor and is most likely covered in lead paint, which presents a whole new added level of labor to meet federal regulations for it’s proper disposal
- They wanted the entire shower interior done in glass tile (rather than white ceramic tile in the description above)
- Frameless glass shower doors can run in upwards of $2,500 (no shower door is even included in the description above)
- They also wanted to replace the vanity AND add more customized storage to the room (a new vanity is not part of the description above)
- The fee for a bath designer is not mentioned above and can run on average about 10% of the total job cost.
So when my clients asked me what I thought about the price of the project, the Cost vs. Value Report told us it would be, on average, $17,400. Their budget was $20,000, causing me to say that most likely they’d need to a) increase their budget significantly or b) make some significant concessions on the cost of materials and fixtures they want to use.
The jury is still out as to whether or not they’ll go forward, but I think this makes a great case study in how “guesstimating” the cost of a bathroom remodel can be tricky.
This past weekend I got to spend some time working at the Portland Home Improvement & Remodeling show which is put on by the Oregon Remodelers Association (ORA). I was graciously asked to hang with my buddies Allen, Chris and Chad from Cornerstone Builders, Inc who (not so subtly) reminded me that it’s been far too long since my last blog entry!
Cornerstone has been around since 2003 and they build everything – from remodels and additions, to new homes. I met Allen Tankersly (Owner) at an ORA meeting about this time last year and we’ve worked together on several projects, including the update of his own office space and his showroom’s kitchen vignette. Just waiting on Allen to actually implement my beautiful design so I can show you the pictures!
I also helped Cornerstone recently with a whole house remodel in Tualatin, more specifically, the kitchen and master bathroom. Check out these photos for the complete transformation…
Here’s the kitchen before…
Here’s how the master bathroom turned out. Note: Allen obviously didn’t ask my advice about the blue towels…
One thing was apparent at the show this weekend – remodeling is alive and well in Portland. With the housing market and the economy having been weak in recent years folks are focusing their energies and investments on making their current homes more beautiful than ever. That’s the way it should be! Why should anyone wait until they put their house on the market to make it their dream home?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention several of my other favorite industry friends who participated in the home show. If you weren’t at the Convention Center then you missed out on a treat with the “Ultimate Master Suite” – a full master bedroom and bathroom vignette which featured a $6,000 toilet from Kohler (which does everything but organize your sock drawer – and yes, it has a remote control), exquisite countertops and granite fireplace surrounds from Pental Granite & Marble, all kinds of cool LED lighting and technological features by Lewis Audio Video – all which was constructed by Olson & Jones Construction and many other contributors.
Job well done, fellas!
Nearly all of my clients are newbies when it comes to working with an interior designer, so there are several things I usually explain at my initial meeting. One of the most important items we discuss is how I charge for my services.
There are many ways to charge for design work including (but not limited to):
- Charging by the hour
- Charging by the square foot
- Charging an hourly rate plus a mark up on any products sold
- Charging by the job
- Charging a percentage of the overall budget
An industry study was done in 2009 by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) to better understand how designers charged versus how consumers liked to be charged. The results were very interesting. They found that almost 70% of consumers prefer designers to charge a fixed or flat fee, while only 5.6% of designers actually charged for their work that way. Most designers charged an hourly fee or some variation of it.
Having charged by the hour for the first seven or so years in business I understand why designers do it. Mainly, if clients drag out the process by being high maintenance, or are ineffectual at making timely decisions, or used me as a marriage referee, at least then my time would be covered. However, I found that the process had more downside than up because:
- My clients never knew how much they would ultimately spend for my services and I couldn’t tell them ahead of time how many hours it would take.
- Receiving an itemized list of every single thing I’d done nearly always caused frustration and questions from my clients’ perspective. Sincerely, nobody likes to see that they have to pay for all of the phone calls I made or all of emails that I had to send during the process. It’s no different than when you get a bill from your lawyer for $250 to pay him for licking a stamp on your behalf… am I right?
- Clients have no idea how long the creative process can take and if they saw that I’d spent say three hours building a computer model of their new kitchen they tended to question me because in their minds it “should’ve only taken half an hour”.
So after working this way for seven years I decided (in 2009) to move towards a flat-fee pay structure. This method is truly only successful if you’ve had a number of years experience under your belt and I have found it to be so much more beneficial for my clients.
I have developed an in-depth spreadsheet that I use once I understand the scope of the project, which helps me calculate a typical flat fee for the scope of work. I put it into a contract for my clients to review and sign before I do any work. It is important to understand (and I explain this clearly each time) that my flat fee does not constitute an “all you can eat buffet” situation. There are a fixed number of hours built into the fee and if we bump up against that number before the process is through, then we discuss putting a change order in place to cover the difference. I very rarely have to do this and in instances where it has become necessary it’s because the scope of work grew beyond what was initially agreed upon.
So if you’re on the hunt for an interior designer, be sure to ask about their fee structure so that you can make apples-to-apples comparisons before making your final decision!
First off, I have to apologize to my husband for the inappropriate title of this post. I guess we’ll find out if he even reads my blog… (Hi, honey!!)
OK, so it’s no secret to those who know me that HGTV makes me pull my hair out. Why? Because I spend an inordinate amount of (non-income producing) time having to re-program clients into understanding that it really isn’t possible to remodel a whole house for $500 and in 2 hours. DOESN’T HAPPEN, PEOPLE! I don‘t find amazingly awesome used kitchen cabinets, that just happen to fit their space at a local flea mart for $1.50 each, nor do I just walk into a house with all my supplies ready for a few short hours of “fun” with my design assistant re-doing a space with apparently only 10-15 minutes of planning time the day before. News flash – nobody does!
Now don’t get me wrong. There are two things I actually like about HGTV. I think that Candace Olson is not only a goddess, but she is an amazing designer with a wicked sense of humor. Don’t you just wanna go out Candy and the crew for a night of binge drinking? I think it’d be a total blast.
Food For Thought And Note To Clients: Please notice that Candace never talks about price, or slamming bargain basement deals, or that she just whipped out an entire design plan in 3.5 seconds.
But really… what makes me weak in the knees is Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes fame. I’m not usually attracted to burly guys, but contractor-wise he is a total dreamboat. I could listen to him all day point out the flaws of other crappy contractors and then spend the rest of the show “making it right” for his totally deserving clients. I am a firm believer in doing it right the first time and it’s refreshing to see that I’m not the only one. So…I decided that I would become a Holmes groupie. I hopped on his website www.makeitright.ca and discovered that he is not just another buzz-cut with biceps, the man is an empire. I bought myself a baseball hat to support the cause (paid just as much for the shipping as I did the hat because it came from Canada) and am awaiting my first issue of his magazine. I debated about buying some of his overalls (yes, they sell those too), but didn’t think it would look classy enough on a design appointment. Maybe I’ll borrow my friend Gina’s BeDazzler and reconsider that…
In my fierce need to see justice done where crappy contractors are concerned, I would like to offer up a suggestion to Mike and his marketing machine. I think they should air a separate reality show after each episode where they let Dog The Bounty Hunter on the loose to track down the offending contractors and force them to face their wronged clients while on their knees begging for forgiveness. THAT, my friend, would be television worth viewing.
You can watch Mike and his crew perform miracles on Sunday nights on HGTV. I’ll bring the popcorn, the baseball hat, fan club certificate and pom-poms.
I know, I know… I need to get a life.
So if you read my previous blog entry about contractors, you already know that I’m a tad particular about who I select to work with in the contracting world and that the pool is very small. Well, the gods must have been listening! One of my favorite contractors commented to me a few weeks ago that he felt bad because I gave him so many great projects but he hadn’t been able to return the favor as of late. (Love him…) So instead, he introduced me to the contracting company that he modeled his own business upon many years ago. A very well respected, established, family- owned business with a great reputation. I called them up, asked if I could stop by and tell them a little bit about myself and when I showed up I was met by all four of the big players in the company. Gulp…
We had the BEST conversation ever. I’ll spare you the details but I found it interesting to hear about their frustrations of working with designers in their recent past. In my mind I’m already thinking “Ok…probably high maintenance divas with control issues” which is typically what I hear. (I even had a kitchen showroom owner tell me once that the most impossible designer he ever worked with wore more jewelry than a rap star and these god-awful gold shoes – thus starting the code word around the showroom about potential “gold-shoe designers”.) At any rate, what this recent contractor told me was that they’d encountered a string of designers who didn’t even prepare drawings of what they were expecting the contractors to install. (Wait for it…..) SERIOUSLY?? Another, I was told, just kind of came on to the jobs site and “waved her hands” around and told the crew to “just make it happen” when she was told that her design was not physically produce-able – or something of that nature. This is not the first time I’ve heard this comment either.
Before I realized I was actually saying it, I heard the Queen Sassafras in me say, “Didn’t produce drawings? They should just go back to calling themselves a d-e-c-o-r-a-t-o-r and be done with it already.” Remembering something about “only one chance to make a first impression” I recognized the horror of what I’d said (not knowing these guys very well), but my comment was met with laughter and a big “THANK you!!” from the owner. Phew. Another foot-in-mouth episode narrowly escaped!
I guess the moral of the story has something to do with understanding the level of competency you’re dealing with when hiring a designer for a remodeling project. If you’re doing a kitchen or bath, make sure that they’re certified at some level with the National Kitchen & Bath Association or very well established in that niche. Any other “certification” is just a code word for “completed training of some sort in an area related to kitchens and baths”.
And in case any of you are actually reading this and paying attention, you’ll notice that I am not yet certified with the NKBA, but my big exam is coming… September 20th to be exact. I’m sure you’ll be reading more about my level of anxiety as the day approaches.
I want to say that I love, love, love my contractors that I work with on a daily basis in kitchen and bath remodeling. They are an extension of my work and design so I choose them very carefully. The small handful I keep close to the vest know me well because I’ve made no bones about what I expect when I recommend them to my clients. I’ll let you in on a part of that laundry list:
- They have to be able to hold conversations with my clients and make them feel comfortable. This includes communicating clearly, demonstrating that they know what they’re doing technically, listening to client concerns and either educating them and/or problem solving for them.
- They have to do what they say they’re going to do – every… single… time. If they can’t follow through on a promise, they call ahead of time. If they’re going to be late, they call ahead of time. If there’s a major problem with anything, they call and tell the client what is going on and when it will be resolved.
- They have to have exceptional technical skill, and if they are lacking in any area then they know exactly which subcontractor to contact so that we get it done right the first time. That’s huge with me.
- They must have stellar business skills – they produce professional and accurate bids for work, they have formal contracts, they have an organized paper trail, they invoice on time, and don’t take the last payment until the job is done.
If you’ve ever hunted for a contractor, you probably know that there are few who fit this profile and it’s the rest of them out there that give contractors a bad name. But I’d like you to consider the challenges that even great contractors deal with, especially in this economy, by letting you in on some industry secrets. Ready?
Secret Industry Fact #1 – The prices for products, materials, and supplies have increased. Yes, increased. With business slowing for everyone, manufacturers have had to raise prices to keep their businesses going. Those at the end of the supply chain aren’t getting any better deals, despite what you might think. Have you seen the price of your gas or groceries drop anytime in recent history? If you received a huge salary cut while at the same time had your insurance premiums tripled, how would you feel if your boss asked you to work the weekend without extra pay?
Secret Industry Fact #2 – Suppliers aren’t stocking nearly as much product as they used to, and so contractors are spending inordinate amounts of time hunting down anyone who carries the product they need to buy in order to keep projects on schedule. And the tighter you’ve set your project deadline, the more work this causes. This increased amount of labor makes projects more expensive – period. Great example – I ordered a plain old shower arm from a major plumbing store in town over eight weeks ago. It’s not here yet and they can’t seem to tell me when/if I’ll ever see it. Kinda hard to take a shower with nothing to attach your shower head to, right? So I have to call regularly to see if they have any new news which takes away from other income-producing activities.
Secret Industry Fact #3 – Contractors who will significantly drop their prices to make you happy belong to one of two categories: 1) they’re not quality contractors to begin with (in my experience) or 2) if that’s how they conduct business (by undercutting all the other bids) then they will soon be out of business themselves or they’ll “change-order” you to death, thus actually increasing the cost of your project exponentially. This is the “$99 whole house carpet install” analogy which doesn’t include the pad and charges extra for stairs, pattern matching, carpet delivery, old carpet removal, moving any furniture, transitions at doorways, etc., etc., etc. And in the end, costs you $600 like every other installer in the city. If nothing else, you need to perform due diligence that you’re comparing apples-to-apples before making any decisions.
So if you’re in the market for hiring a contractor these days I’d have you consider these facts before making outrageous requests and trying to start bidding competitions. It’s one thing if you get two bids – one at $50 and the other at $5,000, but please don’t assume that everyone is so hungry that they’ll do anything to have your business. Believe it or not, if contractors can’t make any money to support the long-term viability of their business, then they’ll turn you away. HUGE SECRET: In fact, folks who try to pit contractors against one another and instigate bidding wars immediately get “red flagged” because chances are it’s only the tip of the client nightmare iceberg.
There’s no shortage of information out there about “Hiring A Good Contractor” and I recommend that you do your homework if you’re in the market. But just as there are good qualities to look for in a contractor, we have our own list of qualities we look for in a potential client. But I’ll save that list for another blog.
So in my world I do lots of kitchen and bath remodeling. When I first started out in this area of design I joined the NKBA (National Kitchen & Bath Association). Although you may not have heard of them before, you know exactly who they are if you’re an HGTV addict. You know how every year HGTV does a “Live from the Kitchen & Bath Tradeshow” special? The NKBA are the folks who own that show and it’s amazing.
This year I was fortunate enough to make it to that show in Chicago. Hadn’t been to Chicago before either and it was a blast. The proper name of the show is “KBIS” or Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. I got to see all kinds of new products, some which aren’t even out on the market yet. Thought I’d share a few of the things that I thought were cool.
Ann Sacks, of course, always takes the cake when it comes to new and luxurious products. I could have spent all day in their booth handling their new tiles, but I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. So I had to go back several times to see it all.
Here are some new introductions from designer Michael S. Smith:
There are always new inventions on the market especially in the area of plumbing. It seems as though kitchen appliances and fixtures do just about everything these days except make your bed!
Both Kohler and Rohl have come out with new water filtering kitchen faucets, so you can get regular tap water and filtered water from the same spigot, even though they have separate supply lines. It used to be that if you wanted filtered water you either had to have a separate faucet, add a filtration device to your existing faucet (not pretty), or have a Brita container in your fridge. These new products have taken care of the bulky, unattractive and inefficient systems of the past, by simply adding another handle on an otherwise normal looking kitchen faucet. Take a look…
I don’t know how many times I’ve helped clients rip out their yucky fiberglass shower inserts and replaced them with all tile. But it can be a spendy prospect if you don’t watch out. If you’re looking for a less expensive option, the folks at Sterling have the nicest looking shower inserts that I’ve seen on the market. They look clean and contemporary and have lots of storage, as well as some movable bench options.
For the longest while, the folks at Corian seemed to have the corner on the market for integrated sinks (meaning that the countertop material was also used to create a sink, making it all look like one seamless piece), but I’m starting to see the same thing with some of the other manufactured solid surface materials. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside of KBIS, but I saw a really cool Silestone integrated sink that looked like granite. Didn’t find a great example of it on their website, so this photo will have to suffice.
I’m not really hot on the “electric macaroni and cheese” look they went for here, but you get the picture…
I’ve always loved the look of glass countertops and I saw some great examples at the ThinkGlass display.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of what I saw and found to be amazing, these items seemed to be most appropriate to my clientele.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the mini-tour!