DesignThe Value of Design in 3 Cost Scenarios

The Value of Design in 3 Cost Scenarios

One of the biggest reasons people choose to DIY their design project, or let a contractor implement a design-build scheme, is because they don’t want to pay for the up front cost of design. But at the end of the day, it’s the design that adds the value to a project. Imagine if you will, taking one of the world’s top chefs, and your average person. You give them the same exact selection of ingredients and ask them to make something with it. The world’s top chefs are going to create an amazing culinary experience that delights your taste buds and has you craving more. Versus the average person who may or may not create something that is basically edible. Maybe if they are a skilled home chef it might even taste okay, but it’s going to pale in comparison to someone who’s trained in the the art of cooking. But the ingredients were EXACTLY the same! THIS is the value of paying a trained designer, landscape architect, or architect who has experience creating amazing projects!


So what, you might say. That’s cooking. I don’t get how that relates to design. Well…let’s look at a hypothetical scenario:


As I previously mentioned, the actual cost of construction is relatively fixed regardless of whether you hire a designer or not. At the end of the day, materials and labor costs are going to be relatively consistent across contractors. For example, concrete can run anywhere from $8 to $15 per square foot and planting irrigation and soils run anywhere from $6 to $12 per square foot, depending on the size and complexity.


Let’s take an “average” 9,500 square foot yard with a $70,000 budget for site and landscape improvements for the site (driveway, walkways, patios).

Homeowner A

Cuts costs by cutting the designer. Ends up with a semi-functional and uninspiring yard – basically the meal created by the average person off of the street.


Total Cost: $70,000

Homeowner B

Hires a design-build firm. The “design” is “free”. But nothing is really free. Design-build firms usually roll the cost of design into higher construction costs, combined with the fact that the selected contractor isn’t required to competitively bid the project, the construction costs end up costing more too. The design is nice (think experienced home chef) and functions for your day to day needs.


Total Cost: $84,000

Homeowner C

Hires a designer to optimize their budget. The design fee is $7,000 based on their total construction budget. (Design fees typically vary from 6% to 15% depending on the size and complexity of your project). But through creative decisions about layout and materials and by competitively bidding working drawings, the project ends up coming in slightly under budget at $65,000. The yard is super functional, Instagram worthy, and brings you joy when you are using your space.


Total cost: $72,000


Also, because Homeowner C has a clear plan up front for their project, they also have the option to DIY all or part of their project, depending on their skill level and propensity for physical labor – potentially saving another $10,000 to $30,000.


In the end, the cost of construction is going to be basically the same whether you hire a designer or not. Your cost of labor and materials is fixed, if you hire a good designer, a bad designer, or no designer at all. The cost of design represents a small percentage of actual construction costs. Divide this out by the life-cycle of the project, and the cost becomes totally negligible! A unique and beautiful design adds value to your project. Many developers have already learned to capitalize on the value of design, realizing a return on their investment. Well-designed homes and landscapes actually increase property values!


You can’t afford NOT to hire a designer.

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