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Us or Them: Choosing the Right People to Remodel Your House

"Remodeling" is a term that covers a broad range of activities. It can mean anything from replacing your kitchen cabinets to adding a wing on to your house. With this broad-reaching word comes a variety of people to help you accomplish any task in the spectrum of "remodeling."

When replacing your kitchen cabinets, the most inexpensive person to do the work will certainly be you. With computer design packages available for purchase, or free access to them at certain home improvement stores, it is relatively simple to create remodeling plans. As long as your project is doesn't involve any structural changes, and is within your skills as a laborer, doing it yourself is a good option.

As the complexity and size of the project escalates, you rapidly move out of the realm of "doing it yourself." Architects and designers become a necessity to complete the project. Knowing the difference between the two is helpful in determining which one you need for your project.

Architects vary in the type of service they provide and the amount they charge. Some will simply create the plans, make sure the plans pass building codes and give you some names of contractors they rely on. This is one of the cheaper options since coordinating the work is then up to you. This reduces your cost, but obviously increases your time and involvement in the project. Other architects will charge a higher fee while providing more service. Typical services include hiring contractors and checking the job site regularly to make sure the work is performed correctly.

Designers will also range in price, based on the services they provide. Designers generally charge a flat or hourly rate, unlike architects, who are more likely to charge a percentage of the cost of construction or give a cost per-square-foot. Designers may also get a commission on products or services you buy though them.

Most designers work with a building firm that will perform the work based on the plans you and the designer create. When meeting with the designer initially, it may seem that they charge much less for drawing up your plans, but that is generally not true. The cost of creating the plans is included in the cost of the entire project, so you ultimately pay about the same amount if an architect were to draw the plans. Design firms will usually charge a design fee, which is about five percent of the estimated cost of the completed project. By paying this five- percent, you will receive preliminary drawings and a cost estimate. If you choose to go with a design-build firm at this point, your work is basically finished. The company will create the formal plans, get them approved, begin the building phase, and guide you through selecting finish products like tile and faucets. Be aware that when using a design-build firm your total cost will not include city permit fees, soils and engineering calculations.

Ultimately, whom should you choose to do a remodeling project-an architect or a designer? The answer depends on whom you ask. Architects tend to feel that selecting a designer to create a remodel will result in a design that is more functional than graceful. Designers will generally say that their projects tend to be cheaper than an architect's since an architect will add superfluous, and expensive touches that will exceed the budget for the project. Somewhere in the middle, no doubt, lies the truth, and that is for you to decide, based on the size of your project, and your personal style.

Sources: Kathy M. Kristof, The Los Angeles Times

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