Value of Craft

Would anyone go into a grocery store and ask to take the food home to cook it before deciding if they want to pay for it? How about asking to drive a new car for a week before returning to the dealership to work out the terms of payment or return it? David Roberts, owner of Roberts Architects & Construction, Evanston, Ill., lists these as examples of industries where items for free would never be expected. But yet, the remodeling industry does just this on a regular basis by giving out free designs and estimates.

“We can’t just hand off designs, much like you wouldn’t go build a building for somebody and hope to get paid later based on if they like it,” Roberts says. “I think that the design of anything has an inherent value in itself, and handing that off to somebody for free devalues that and our industry professionally.”

Roberts, who serves on the NARI Board of Directors in the Greater Chicagoland area, recognizes he might view charging for designs and estimates a bit differently than others in the industry because he is a trained architect. He recognizes many in the industry would not agree that remodelers should charge, because many believe it would hurt business. He acknowledges this becoming an industry-wide policy is unlikely in the near future because remodelers recently joining the industry may not be willing to charge for estimates and designs while building their portfolios.

Some customers likely won’t want to proceed when they hear about Roberts’ sales process, and he’s OK with this. “You’re going to lose some jobs, but those were jobs you probably were never going to get anyway,” he says. “Do you really want to waste hundreds of hours every year and lots of money [by giving out designs] for jobs you’re never going to get?”

Many customers are willing to pay for design and estimates because they understand the value of the process, and they recognize that businesses have to make money to survive. Roberts explains he makes sure his sales process is organized and presented in such a way that the potential client understands what they would be paying for and why.

At Roberts’ company, it all starts with a phone call, during which he gathers information about what the caller’s needs and wants are. If it makes sense to Roberts and the potential client to continue, then an in-home meeting is scheduled. Roberts stresses on the phone and again in an email to confirm the meeting and that he won’t be bringing any plans, written ideas or anything contractual to the initial meeting. During the meeting, he will further discuss client wants and needs and determine whether pursuing the project would be mutually beneficial. If the potential clients are interested in continuing with the company, they have the option to pay for a design-build feasibility study, which includes drawings, budgets, timetables and logistics.

“At that point, [clients] are either going to accept and understand paying for the feasibility study is part of the process, and it will give them a lot of value, allow them to make decisions and put them in control of the project. Or they won’t, and only an hour of their time and mine has passed,” Roberts says.

These sales practices may not be for everyone, but Roberts feels that sharing his process of charging for designs and estimates may inspire someone else to consider it for themselves. With a closing rate of 90 percent after presenting clients with the sales agreement for the feasibility study, Roberts is glad that he stuck with his decision to charge even through the recession.

“Everything we do in our industry is hand-made. It’s one-of-a-kind,” he says. “It’s not like buying a blouse or car in different colors. When you think about it, there are very few industries that give things away like the remodeling industry does.”