Pro Tips: How to Hire a Home Designer

You have made the decision to build your dream home. Countless hours have been spent pouring over countless interior design articles and photographs. You can now see each room of your home beautifully decorated. The first step in bringing your dream home vision to life will be creating a custom floor plan that is laid out to support your lifestyle and tie these wonderfully envisioned rooms together.

Each family is unique and your home should reflect that and by investing in a custom home plan you have the opportunity to experience an unparalleled living experience. How the home transitions from the entrance to the living areas to the kitchen, or even the garage can increase convenience and overall quality of life.

Rick McAlexander, president and owner of Associated Designs in Eugene, Oregon, believes that a family who choose to build their own home should carefully select their designer. A professional home designer can help guide you in creating a very special plan to call home as well as help prevent costly mistakes or problems after construction begins.

“It isn’t uncommon for many clients to underestimate the complexity of the design phase and what it takes to be an expert in this field. After designing thousands of homes, I’ve come to realize how important it is for a homeowner to feel comfortable with their designer before the process even begins,” says Rick.

Thorough research is an important first step before choosing a designer for such a big investment as a home. Many will start their search online but don’t be fooled by the look of the website. A flashy or smart looking website does not necessarily equal an experienced home designer. To assist you with your quest to find the right home designer for your project, Rick has compiled six key characteristics to consider before hiring a qualified professional.

Personality – The process of designing a home is a very personal project. The designer will be working closely with you and exploring your day to day living experiences which should be an enjoyable and comfortable experience. While it seems simple, it is important for you to like the designer as they interpret your goals.

Experience – How many projects has the designer completed similar in nature to yours? Experience isn’t just number of years in the industry but extends to the type of design work they have been involved in. A professional who has experience creating office buildings or hospitals will not have the same set of skills or insight as a professional who has focused their practice on residential design. Similarly a designer who has been involved in a lot of entry level production housing may not have the skill set for creating a unique estate-sized home, and vis-a-versa.

Reputation – Obtain a list of references, including past clients and construction professionals. Inquire about the design experience – was the designer quick to respond to calls and emails, did they deliver the project on time, were the fees charged far? Check-in with contractors about the quality of the construction documents. Taking additional time to check-into the designers record is worth the effort and increases the likelihood of having your home built on time and on budget.

Design Philosophy – Some home designers approach a project with a “you dream it, we draw it” style of communication. Others feel their experience dictates what is best. Does the designer exhibit a more collaborative style, offering their insight and advice while allowing for input and your personal preference? Considering these different styles and what will be fit with your communication style and comfort level is key to reducing friction and frustration during the design phase.

Level of Service Provided – The home design industry runs the gamut from “drafter” to “full service”. A drafter can take a floor plan and create the construction documents, typically the minimum required to obtain a build permit. A full service designer will provide a tailored approach, staying involved in the project from initial design, to completion of the construction documents, and is available to provide support and assistance through construction. Most firms will fall somewhere in the middle; providing complete construction drawing sets with a level of detail that the contractor can build with confidence, while allowing for consultation time as needed during construction.

Costs  - The design is the most critical element of a successful project. Cutting corners or selecting a firm based on their low cost could compromise the build. While designers will charge for their services in a variety of ways, the most common are hourly, cost per square foot, or a percentage of construction costs. Normally the rates are commensurate with the level of experience, complexity of the project, and the level of service provided.

“Choosing a good residential home designer is the most critical phase of the entire new home construction process,” says McAlexander. “Working with an experienced, professional designer should be a pleasure and result in a beautiful dream home that brings joy to the whole family for years to come,” he added.

Now that you can confidentially vet the home designers you are considering, check out our article on essential questions to ask a home designer before making your final decision, 5 Essential Questions to Ask Your Home Designer. Ready to hire a contractor but need some help? Check out our article How to Avoid Bad Contractors.

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