A letter of agreement is a crucial way for designers to outline their expectations for the design process to a client. We asked 10 pros—LeeAnn Baker, Anne Carr, Timothy Corrigan, Doreen Hunter, Don Ricardo Massenburg, Asha Maxey, Glenna Stone, Lance Thomas, Brandi Wilkins and Rosemary Wormley—what they’ve found to be the most important points in their LOA.
Talk it out
“I find myself spending a good amount of time explaining the recommendation of contractors and the relationship between my company and the contractor as we move forward. It is very important that I set and manage expectations about what this relationship will look like and that the client understands that they will go into a separate LOA with the selected contractor. I also spend time discussing change orders, whether it be changes to design plans after selections have been approved, or additions to the project that will change the original scope of work. I remind clients that these changes can be time-consuming and costly. I have found that the time spent explaining the details of my LOA, rather than just forwarding them the document and having them read it, is very helpful and valuable when building a professional, trusting relationship.” —Don Ricardo Massenburg, Design Inkredible, Durham, North Carolina
Clear and consistent
“One of the most important parts of any LOA is the description of services. While most projects have similar services rendered, every job is different. Here, we clearly define what the client will receive from us. This is the first step in managing expectations, something I can’t stress enough to young designers. Know your capabilities and services, and clearly communicate those to your client. To help reinforce that clause, we look to the ‘Artistic Release: Consistency’ portion of the LOA. This protects the designer and, ultimately, the client’s space by ensuring that the client’s desired services are produced in a manner consistent with our current portfolio and that we will try to incorporate any reasonable suggestion made by the client. Designers need the freedom to create, and this is our way to make sure the client understands and accepts that before the work begins.” —Lance Thomas, Room Service, Lake Charles, Louisiana
“The most important language in our LOA is, ‘This service does not include the following … ’ I have found that it is just as important to ensure clients are crystal clear on what is not included in the scope of our services as it is to illustrate the actual deliverables of the project. Having clients read and initial this section leaves no room for confusion once the project is underway.” —Brandi Wilkins, Three Luxe Nine Interiors, Frederick, Maryland
“A few clauses come to mind. First: ‘Client is free to purchase items at retail or auction by themselves, but for any item that is directly purchased by the client based on the previous recommendation by our firm, full design fees will be due to us.’ I think we’ve all had clients who can’t help but get involved and play designer, and internet shopping makes it even more tempting. This clause ensures that we are compensated for the time we’ve spent procuring options for our client, even if they ultimately decide to purchase them on their own.
“Second: ‘We reserve the right to photograph this project for portfolio or publication purposes with timing of photo shoot to be approved by client. In the event of any publication, designer agrees to maintain complete confidentiality of client’s name, if client so desires.’ This is an often overlooked clause that is so important in terms of promoting your work and avoiding awkward conversations at the end of the project.
Third: ‘We routinely present recommendations with 6-8 options for each item. If none of these options are approved, we will provide an additional round of recommendations. If further rounds of options are requested, we charge an hourly fee for this additional scope of work.’ We recently added this to our contract after a few clients insisted on seeing more and more options, and in some cases never made a selection!
“And last: ‘Any items requiring shipping or storage will be billed at the net cost with a service charge of 20 percent to cover management and expediting.’ A fairly benign detail that can become a point of contention once charges start adding up.” —Timothy Corrigan, Timothy Corrigan Inc., Los Angeles and Paris
“I have very specific language about procurement and the expectation that clients purchase through us. We spend a lot of time cultivating vendor partnerships and sourcing for projects. In the interest of transparency, we put that on the table at the beginning. Of course, for some clients, we make minor exceptions, but that policy has helped me to define an important expectation at the start of the project.” —Glenna Stone, Glenna Stone Interior Design, Philadelphia
“In each letter of agreement, I spell out the full scope of work in detail. This includes everything that was discussed and agreed upon during the consultation. It then states that any additions to the scope over the course of the project will not be covered by the presented design fees and will be billed accordingly. This language is so important, as it eliminates the scope creep and lets the client know what to expect should they want to add on to the project. I make sure to have the client acknowledge that specific portion of the LOA to bring it to their attention. This language has been a definite lifesaver, time and time again.” —Asha Maxey, Asha-Maía Design, Alexandria, Virginia
“A few years ago, after a few issues with fabric durability, I added language to our Letter of Agreement that states that we do not offer warranties on goods or materials purchased through our office. Though all third-party warranties are passed along to the client, we make it clear that our office makes no additional coverage. Additionally, we added a clause stating that any issues with items purchased through us must be reported immediately.
“Most fabric companies only will stand behind their fabrics for six months, with numerous restrictions. With manufacturers increasingly adding lesser-quality materials to fabrics (such as viscose), we find some fabrics are wearing much faster. Though we typically try to test materials for high-traffic areas ourselves, there are some durability issues that are difficult to catch. I make sure to highlight that clause, because I have found that when most clients experience issues, they tend to wait and see if it is really a problem. By the time they finally call, the manufacturer warranties have typically expired. Now that the language is clear for them, they cannot hold us liable for their lack of action.” —LeeAnn Baker, LeeAnn Baker Interiors, Seattle
Scope it out
“The most important part of our LOA is the project scope. It specifically identifies what is being done, who is responsible for each item and the project costs. This is why listening to the client is crucial in that initial meeting and then verbally repeating every word as it relates to the project scope. Once we have that understanding, it is written in the LOA for review and signed by both parties.” —Doreen Hunter, Hdesigns Group, Detroit
“Letting my clients know up front that I charge a 30 percent markup over wholesale is the most important part of my LOA. Many clients scour the internet to find discount pricing and are very intelligent about how pricing works. Some clients even ask showrooms to divulge trade pricing. In this way, I am completely transparent and trust issues don’t develop. If a client doesn’t trust you, it can sour the entire relationship.” —Anne Carr, Anne Carr Design, Los Angeles
“Defining a clear, concise scope of work is critical to the success of a project and something we’ve fine-tuned in our LOA over the years. We spend a considerable amount of time asking questions and listening to potential clients in an effort to really understand what they’re hoping to accomplish. It’s easy for clients to get carried away in an initial meeting and discuss everything they’ve ever wanted to change or improve in their home, so we use the scope of work to help them prioritize and keep the project on task. When we start a new build or whole house renovation project, the scope of work helps define the roles different stakeholders will play and how each will work together. This is especially important when the client has assembled their own team and we may be working closely with an architect or contractor we haven’t worked with before. It’s also our starting point for developing the timeline and making budget recommendations, and can be a useful centering tool if the client strays too far from the initial goals.” —Rosemary Wormley, Ash Street Interiors, Northfield, Illinois
Homepage photo: A project by Brandi Wilkins | Photo by: Laura Metzler