How a Design Retainer Agreement is the Best Remodeling Project Diagnostic Tool

By February 20, 2018Project Planning
Design Retainer Agreement

Before I explain what a Design Retainer Agreement (DRA) is, let me first start out by sharing with you a situation that might help shed some light on the subject.

Let’s say, for example, that you are not feeling well. You may have some body aches and a migraine headache from time to time with some occasional stomach cramps. So, you set up an appointment with your family doctor. You proceed to explain all your symptoms and then the doctor says to you, “I have a pretty good idea of what might be going on, but first we need to run some tests, take a few x-rays and do a EKG”. Don’t you love my grasp on medical terminology 🙂 ? For your doctor to know specifically what is going on, he needs to do some a little investigation and then document his findings. This all takes time and effort for your doctor to do this and unfortunately this is going to cost you some money. But in the end, you have peace of mind that your doctor has spent the time and effort necessary to accurately diagnose your symptoms and then prescribe the correct remedy.

Well in a similar fashion your remodeling contractor needs to do that same procedure if you want an accurate estimate for a kitchen remodel or bathroom remodel. Your remodeling contractor will need to ask you a lot of questions. Investigate your house. Maybe even do a design or two for you and then document everything for you. Lastly he will need to put in the time and effort into accurately estimate your project. And this is what we would describe as a Design Retainer Agreement

Why Don’t All Remodeling Contractors use Design Retainer Agreements?

Many remodeling contractors don’t offer a Design Retainer Agreement because they do not offer design work or project development as part of their remodeling services. Some contractors are willing to produce an estimate based on their initial consultation with the homeowner. The risks with estimating a remodeling project before all the details are clearly spelled out include:

  1. Grossly over or under estimating the project costs
  2. Incorrect (and possibly multiple) assumptions about what is needed or wanted
  3. Uninspiring selections like plumbing fixtures or flooring that doesn’t match your vision (or budget) for your home)

As a result a project can very quickly become:

  1. Complicated because of missing information.
  2. Expensive because multiple change orders.
  3. Overdue because of product lead times and schedule slippage

Just to name a few.

What if I Have Architectural Drawings of What I Want?

You may be wondering if a Design Retainer Agreement is necessary if you’ve already paid an architect to produce your plans. Great question! The simple answer is maybe. The reason is that even if drawings and elevations are produced, there may still be a lot of unanswered questions. For example:

  1. Which window manufacturer will you be using?
  2. What kind of hardwoods are being installed?
  3. What is the brand and finish on your faucets?

While the basic design is there, ask yourself if all of the design considerations have been decided. And if not, you will want someone to fully develop the plan and present you with options that suit your design aesthetic and budget. A Design Retainer Agreement will help you and your remodeling contractor get and stay on the same page which is why we work with our homeowners in this way.

So just like going to your family doctor, using a Design Retainer Agreement to fully develop your project can deliver you peace of mind BEFORE you start! Wondering what comes after the Design Retainer Agreement? Glad you asked. That would be the Scope of Work that details every aspect of your project. Learn more about a Scope of Work.


Keep us in mind for your next project and remember to “Love where you Live!”


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