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Just quick question guys...


If you want to build a new home with an integrated theatre, home automation etc. lets say rasonable budget of anything from $50K - $500K - obviously the best thing to do is engage a professional integrator.


My question is - as a customer what should you expecton approaching a firm?


Is it reasonable to expect to be asked to pay a retainer before any design work is commenced? Thus locking you into a firm?


Or as a customer do we expect the integrator to do a design and costings document before any commitment is given by the customer? and thus as a customer you can walk away and shop the project around town?


All things being equal a good integrator will sell themselves on why a customer should choose them - but thats not the point - the point is when should the customer be asked to make a decision and be locked into a specific firm?


Open up the floor to comments?

[Edit- Reason for asking and throwing this out there is 2 fold.. I want to understand the customer and dealer expectations of each other and 2 - to understand how integrators are approaching this difficult situation[].
 

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This is an interesting, and very good, question and I'm sure we'll see lots of opinions.


In our model, particularily in the budget range given, there are several issues:

1. How can anyone give a customer a bid, or quotation, without knowing what is to be delivered?

2. In order to solve (1), you need extensive interviews with the customer to arrive at an accurate statement of work and functional specification. Without a functional specification one cannot come up with an engineering detail plan, without which one cannot determine equipment, installation, and programming costs, and without those, you cannot provide the customer with anything more than a wild guess about costs.

3. On the theater side, a cost cannot be developed without a design, a plan, and a statement of work (from which construction costs are developed). And, again, without a design, how does the client know what he's getting and how does the service provider know what is to be delivered?


In the end, to give a customer an accurate, fixed cost quotation, and extensive amount of planning, engineering, product selection, and client review work must take place. This work costs money. Someone, somewhere, sometime is paying for this work.


In our model, we charge for the design and engineering work (just as we charge for the architectural, design, and interior design plans on our construction/remodel side of the business). However, the fact we provide the plans, take-offs, product specifications, materials lists, detail wiring plans, etc., does not lock the customer to us. They are welcome to take the whole plan set to anyone and get quotes, installation and services. Step one is the design work, we charge for that work (with an obligation to keep the project expectations and costs in line with stated budget objectives). Step two is never taken without Step One being completed.


Getting a free quote or an free estimate before any design work is done is exactly how that $50,000 kitchen remodel project ended up costing $75,000. Such quotes/estimates are wild guesses at best and is not a very professional approach. By the same token, demanding the client execute the project with you just because you did the planning is equally a less than professional approach.


Clearly, anyone can quote a $500,000 project at $450,000...exactly "what" is being delivered is not clear to the customer or the provider.


...just my opinion.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by MODENA /forum/post/0


Is it reasonable to expect to be asked to pay a retainer before any design work is commenced? Thus locking you into a firm?


Or as a customer do we expect the integrator to do a design and costings document before any commitment is given by the customer? and thus as a customer you can walk away and shop the project around town?

I dont think a firm would do the design without asking for money. I think they will show you samples of work they have done in the past to give you an idea of their capabilities. They may give you a rough idea of the cost after hearing about your requirements. I got some ideas of the cost and time from local installers in a few minutes.


As for retainers....well once you get serious, and have decided on one firm....I think it is fair to ask for a retainer.


But then, some firms have a "cafeteria style" option for services they offer so you may have to "pay as you go".


But I believe most firms like to handle they project on a turnkey basis instead.
 

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I would think that in the "shopping" process, you should be looking at the firms/companies and not so much the project at hand and its budget.


What I mean by this is; you're buying the company- not necessarily the products in a system like this. Every installer/hifi store/retailer/whatever is going to have "pet" products that they offer- most will not have the same products as another, and they will all tell you they're the best....

The real question then becomes: will each individual company

1.) be on time to the jobsite?

2.) cause any probles with other trades?

3.) cause problems with the interior designer?

4.) deliver their portions of the work on time?

5.) keep detailed records of the work done?

6.) continue to support the installation well after it's complete?

7.) be in business 4 years from now, when you want to make equipment changes?

8.) be able to plan for those inevitable changes, and be prepared for them?


These are just some questions that a client should ask themselves when shopping for an integrator/custom installer. Ultimately, for a budget of 50-500k, you would think that the equipment used would be of good-to-very-high quality, and therefore MOST of your reliability problems would likely come from installation errors/oversights. In theory, anyway, that should be true- it isn't always; but the better people you have involved the less you should notice things like that. So working in hypotheticals is great, but you should really contact references for these companies and not just clientelle- but the builders, electricians, designers, etc. that they've worked with....that should give you a true idea of how good the company really is.


Dan
 

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I am a systems builder (Corporate IT) and I would expect to pay a designer for his work. Usually our bids are divided into Design and Implementation so that we get paid for our design work.


If you are building a home, you would expect to pay an architect for his design, wouldn't you?


Pay for the design, then if you want to get bids, go for it.
 

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I'd say hiring an integrator is just like hiring a lot of other people in the design profession. Whether it's architecture, interior design, or even my field of graphic design, the designer can't (and really shouldn't) try to do any "design" or talk prices without full knowledge of your goals, constraints, and budget. A designer can't know those things without spending time talking to you... and you can't expect people to give away their time for free. You can, in the interview process, talk generalities and design philosophies to get to know a designer, but I wouldn't expect much more in way of specifics until you decide to pull the trigger.


If you know what you're doing, you could even go as far as to write your own RFP, but in that case, your design proposals will still only be as good or as detailed as your RFP... which is why the "consultative" part of the design process is so important - if you knew all the questions to ask as well as the answers to those questions, you could do it all yourself! As Dan alluded, you're forming a temporary partnership; so it's not about the room design or equipment when you're deciding who to hire.


If I were hiring somebody to do an expensive theater, I'd try to choose 3 firms based on suitability, reputation, etc. Then, from each, I'd want to see sample work in the target budget range (i.e., not as important to look at the half-million dollar theaters they've designed if you're buiding a $50k room) and I'd get a few references and actually talk to them so I could get a feel for how they thought the process went and how happy they are with the final product.


Based on all that research, you can pick somebody and THEN start the design process for your project knowing you've picked the right designer - and feel GOOD about being "locked in".


SC
 

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Does the Architect before retainer do any work? Does the Interior Designer?


You pick them based on their portfolio and process - not based on free designs they provide. Their work product IS the design - they cannot sell what they give for free.


Ever watch the interior designer competitions on the home and garden channel? They bring in three local designers to make their pitch on how they would redo the room. They spend much time on walk-thrus and interviews resulting in renderings, samples, plans and budgets to win the job - but they got paid for all that. You could walk away with that pitch board and plans and DIY - but the rest of the show is the designer snapping their fingers to make sure the crews do it right. And they get paid to snap their fingers.


This is they way Design/Build firms operate. Some are Design Only - some are Build Only - some are Design Then Build - some are Design and/or Build. It is your choice as to what level you want to engage them on - if they are Design Then Build but you want just the Design - then you best move on.


After you have eliminated the biz model that does not fit - if their portfolio of work looks like they solved others needs (and maybe even something you want) then start talking about how they charge. But no designer is going to solve your wants&needs for free - that is called design - which is after all how designers make their living.


Having said all this - are there integrators that will walk thru for free and say yep we can do this for $50K - sign here and we will be there monday? Sure - but those are not professionals - those are contractors. If you want to use the plumber to redesign your kitchen - have at it.
 

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Design is critically important, but its not free. The single most important part of your entire project. Either pay someone to do it, or put in your own sweat equity. But do it, you must. If you are unsure of how to approach this, then hire someone like Dennis Erskine or equivalent for design. The cheapest mistakes are made on paper. You can recover from virtually any construction mistake in the field, but you cannot recover from bad architecture or bad drawings! Do not expect to get reliable bids without a design that is detailed enough for the contractor to build. Anyone who 'promises' you a price estimate without a detailed design is either padding it heavily, or has no idea what they are talking about. Either way, you will be sorry. My recommendation: stay away! It's not even a fair question to ask a builder to give a price estimate without design. I had my home built to a design that I worked on with an architect. The construction bids came in all over the map (a range of 3) even with detailed architectural drawings and construction specs. However, several quality builders were clustered around the same price point. I ignored the outlier bids. That gave me a good idea what I was in for.


For my theater and basement completion, my approach is the same. I put in significant time in making my own design (getting help from others along the way) for the basement and theater. Did a lot of the work myself (electrical, plumbing, painting, soundproofing, low voltage, etc.), but I bid out the framing, drywall and floor finishing work based on a detailed design. The quotes were a factor of 3 or 4 apart for each trade - all promising to do the same thing but different amounts of money. I cherry picked the best because the design was firm and to my specs.


My recommendation: Pay (cash or sweat) for a good design job. Then get competitive bids on the entire project. You'll be surprised at how much you can save if you do your homework and are diligent in pursuing the least costly options without sacrificing quality.
 

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I see this as two different types of work that just happen to over lap... Room design / Acoustic design and Automation integration.


Room design / Acoustic design... This industry I can see them charing retainers. I couldn't imagine them drawing a bunch of stuff up and showing it to you and then asking you to pay for it. They should however take your rough idea and tell you "This is what it will cost to deliver you a detailed design with X hours of modifications and then X per hour of continued design work"... or something to that effect.


Automation work however should be a straight quote prior to anything being paid. You should be able to go into their showroom and lay out your requirements or have them come to your house and lay out requirements. Then they come back and say "This is what you need and this is how many hours of labor it will take to program it all". You shouldn't have to pay them a retainer just to put a quote together, thats what is called "Operating cost" which should already be built into their markup. I know I didn't pay a retainer for my automation company to give me a quote.
 
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