Caveat emptor—buyer beware. These words should be stamped on the front page of any proposal that offers free services or its evil twin "fees credited back."
Both of these practices are commonplace in the remodeling industry, which is already on the "approach with caution" list for consumers. The damage that is done by engaging in misleading or deceptive business practices extends to beyond the consumer to the entire industry. It damages the adjacent industries of design and architecture as well, cheapening the service they make their lively hood from.
Free Is For Bottom Feeders
Free design isn’t really free. It is part of the company’s overhead which is reflected back in the pricing of the project. Free is the tactic of the bottom feeder who has chased discounts all the way to the bottom. Not only do you eliminate a revenue source for yourself, but you undercut the companies for whom this is their revenue. If a remodeling company offered free tile setting or painting with every project, how would you feel about that?
It gets worse.
Credit Deceptions Are Corrosive
Crediting design back to the project is insidiously deceptive. A remodeler openly bragged to me about how they use this tactic to snatch the client using the bait of a 10% design fee ($10,000 on a $100K kitchen) that would get waived if they build, but behind the scenes they were only providing $1,600 of services and adding $3,000 to the cost of the project to cover themselves and make money. Not only deceptive, but dishonest and lacking in integrity.
Where is the moral compass of this industry pointed?
Free is the tactic of the bottom feeder who has chased discounts all the way to the bottom.
A Case For Integrity
These are selfish acts that come from a company or individual focused on themselves. A win at all costs mentality that does nothing to create longevity or stability. The company that uses these tricks is not a friend to the industry or our clients.
We also need to ask what this word "design" means. The remodeling industry has become careless with this word. It gets thrown around and diluted as remodelers engage in that chase to the bottom. What does it mean to design a kitchen? What level of detail should it include? Is it any wonder that ASID keeps trying to take away access to that word, or that AIA guards the word "architecture" with a legislative fist? Maybe they are right, if this industry can’t respect the word and the craft perhaps it should be taken away.
The practice of offering free design or crediting design back to the project should be abolished. The industry associations—NARI, NAHB, NKBA, etc—should take a firm stance against these practices and reprimand and remove those firms that engage in these bad practices. They won’t but they should. In the absence of leadership, ethical remodelers, designers, and architects should come together to launch a PSA campaign for consumers so they understand how they are being duped.
For those remodelers who read this and realize how they have been hurting themselves, the industry, and the public, it isn’t too late to change. Take the high road. Explain on your next lead how you used to operate and why you no longer play that shell game. Become a remodeler of integrity.