After the designer and clients have discussed the topics presented thus far, the clients should be asked if they are interested in entering into a contract for design services. They may or may not be able to make a decision at the end of the first meeting. If they decide to go ahead with the project, then the designer should formalize the discussion by preparing and sending the clients a “Proposal for Design Services” within a few days of their meeting so the clients can study the specifics. Often, clients feel more assured about an agreement if everything is spelled out in writing. If the clients are in agreement with the proposal, they can sign it and return a copy to the designer.
Some firms have standard forms for “Proposals for Design Services” with spaces for filling in the times, dates, costs, stipulations, and signatures. Other firms prefer to prepare more personal proposals taking into consideration the first meeting’s discussions. In either case, it is recommended that the proposal include the following: (1) names and addresses, (2) scope of work, (3) drawings/products, (4) client meetings, (5) time schedule, (6) fee and payment schedule, and (7) contract acceptance.
Names and Addresses As in any formal letter, the proposal should include both the clients’ and the designer’s names and addresses. It should also include the firm’s or
designer’s telephone number so it is easy for the clients to contact the designer if they have any questions about the proposal.
Scope of Work The proposal should identify specific tasks the designer intends to complete. In order to prepare a master plan, typical tasks involve completing the site measurements, base map, site analysis, design program, preliminary design alternatives, and final master plan. If there are any additional tasks required, they should be identified as well.
It is also recommended that the designer identify those things that are not part of the contract. Some homeowners assume that a master plan will contain all the information necessary to actually install and construct the entire design. Many master plans involve the construction of steps, walls, decks, fences, arbors, and so forth. The construction of these structures requires additional drawings in order to provide the contractor with necessary information to build them. Detailed construction drawings are typically not part of the “Proposal for Design Services” unless both the designer and clients agreed beforehand that it was something to be included.
Drawings The “Proposal for Design Services” should identify the specific drawings that will be given to the clients. On a typical project, the clients should be given copies of the preliminary designs and the master plan. In addition, the designer may wish to prepare other types of drawings such as sections and/or perspectives to supplement the plans. For each of these drawing types, the proposal should also identify its scale, what type of print or copy it will be, whether or not it will be rendered in color, and what it will show. Also, the proposal should indicate the number of copies of each drawing that will be given to the clients.
Client Meetings Important to the proposal is a description of the number of meetings that will take place with the clients to present various phases of the project. Typically, there are three meetings with the clients. The first meeting is the one already discussed in this chapter. The second meeting usually takes place when the designer has completed the preliminary plan(s). At this time, the designer should ask for feedback from the clients about the different design ideas. At the third meeting, the designer presents the master plan to the clients. Depending on the size of the project site and the scope of work, there may need to be more meetings, especially if the project is complex.
Time Schedule The proposal should identify when (1) work on the design will begin, (2) the preliminary plans will be completed, and (3) the master plan will be completed. With regard to setting completion dates for the various phases of the design project, the designer may prefer to pinpoint completion dates by telling the clients the exact date when work will be completed. However, this is not always a good practice. There may be times when unforeseen circumstances arise, causing work to be delayed. Because these situations are not predictable, identifying exact dates is not a recommended practice. Approximate due dates will usually suffice. When a phase of work is completed, the designer can then telephone the clients to set a specific date and time for a meeting.
Fee and Payment Schedule The “Proposal for Design Services” should outline the fees for design services. It is recommended that the total fee for design services be separated into (1) a retainer fee, (2) a partial completion fee, and (3) a final completion fee. A retainer fee is the amount of money the clients pay before the beginning of any work by the designer. It is similar to “earnest money” that a person pays to reserve a specific item for later purchase. A retainer fee is common practice in design professions. The amount may vary from project to project, but may be somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the total design fee.
The partial completion fee is the amount of money paid at the presentation of the preliminary plans. This amount may vary from 40 percent to 60 percent of the
total design fee. Frequently, most of the design time is spent in this phase, and therefore it may show a substantial dollar amount.
The final payment is made at the presentation of the master plan. This amount may vary from 20 percent to 50 percent. There are some companies that collect the full design fee after completion of all the specified work. Regardless of which payment system is used, be specific about how much needs to be paid when.
Contract Acceptance Our discussion so far has concentrated on the proposal. A related document is the contract. But, there is a difference between the two. A proposal is a document that simply outlines the specific services that are to be rendered for a particular sum of money. Such a written proposal is not a legal contract. It is an offer that can be accepted or rejected by the clients. However, when both the designer and the clients sign a proposal, then the proposal becomes a legal contract. Therefore, when a proposal is submitted to the clients, the designer should sign it in order to establish it as an offer from the designer to the clients. If the clients accept the proposal, they can sign it to establish their acceptance. This signed document is then considered to be a legal contract between the designer and the clients according to the specifications in the proposal. Therefore, the proposal should contain spaces for the signatures of the designer and the clients, as well as the dates the signatures were made. It is recommended that the offer made in the proposal be open for acceptance for a limited amount of time, such as 30 days.
Upon receiving the signed contract, the designer can then begin the work. However, no work should be undertaken before receiving the signed contract because the designer has no legal authority to do so. Furthermore, the designer may be wasting time if the clients decide not to enter into the contract.