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Initial Consultation with DIY Ally Has Its Limits

Recently, a client complained about our interaction to the Better Business Bureau.  In my opinion, the claim is rooted in her misunderstanding of the services I provide online as DIY Ally.

Here’s her contact request verbatim:

“Hello, I designed the first floor concept with Home Designer Pro – and part of the second floor. I need a professional to review and advise on our first floor concept, guide us for the second floor design and provide preliminary drawings to submit to our builder to bid.  What is a realistic time frame to receive drawings if we enlisted your services?”

I replied suggesting that she booked an initial consultation. She proceeded accordingly and in addition to the $50 initial consultation fee she sent a compilation of her stylistic preferences — a document with very hard to decipher diagrams (layouts without scale or dimensions) and 6 pages of tiny pictures and notes. It was quite intense.

I took the time to study every single photograph/caption and keeping in mind her contact request email, I addressed a possible outcome, should she choose to pay for my services.

I wrote: “If you would like, I can help you with developing the second floor plan based on your sketch of the first floor. I think the first floor works well, the way you’ve laid it out. To help you with the second floor, I need to know your program for it; please make a detailed list of all of the requirements. Try to be as specific as possible, especially about the “round” room. Is the living room double-height?

I will not be able to give you the kind of drawings (plans, elevations, etc.) that are required to pull permits. I can only help you with space planning. If that is something you are looking for, please let me know.” As you can see, I was responding to her initial question upon analyzing the information provided.

I informed her that: “It will take me approximately 3-5 hours to lay out the floor plan and to reconcile it with the floor below.”

This was her 345-word follow-up response:

“Thanks, Alla! I’ve had some time to digest your email and review the plans again.  Are you able to make detailed suggestions for the floors or are you more of an overall layout type of architect?  The reason I ask…

I’m uncertain of the laundry room layout – would you put it there? Is it too big/small? Where would you place the cabinets or how can I best set up this room for best functionality/feel?  Other example, I didn’t put a door on the room to the right of the entry because I don’t really know what to do with it.  I think that should possibly be a pantry/storage and eliminate some of the hallway in the process?  I need someone to verify door placement and flow as well.  I think 3 feet is the average hallway, but not sure.  Another example, the “breakfast nook” off the kitchen…is that large enough for a 6 person table?  I’m good with the overall layout…it’s the details that need ironing.

The living room is open above – double height.

The attachment has been updated with dimensions and commentary to address the round room and second floor layout.  For the second floor, maybe the “round room” can be inserted into the home a little more and connected to the bedrooms? Trying to think of the exterior design as well.  Wondering if the bathrooms and bedrooms need to be switched?  I liked the bathrooms on the back of the house so I can place a tub next to one of the windows for the wooded view (our “backyard” is 15.5 acres of woods)… and the kids bedrooms and study on the front to see the “city” view.  Plus, the sun rises on the front of the home and sets on the back.

Can you help with drawing the exterior design including large wrap around porch?  I’m keen on details and need a perfectionist with loads of experience to guide me…I hope that’s you! : )

Trying to prevent myself from saying, “Had I known ______, I would have ______.”

Clearly, she followed up with a lot of questions. In my mind, we were moving forward. So, I wrote back: “Julie, I will take a look. Would you please send another small payment so that I’m able to address your questions adequately.”

She didn’t like that. Somehow, she expected me to address all of those questions in the realm of the initial consultation.

“I assumed you were gathering information for our online consultation. I certainly didn’t realize your reply requesting further information would constitute as the consultation itself.  Essentially, I sent $50 and my drawings and received nothing but a “thank you.”  How is that a service provided? Not a single suggestion. And I still don’t even know if you’re able to help me at this point.  At minimum, a consultation would let me know if you’re even able to help. Needless to say, I request a full refund. My next step is the Better Business Bureau. This is absurd.”

No point in arguing with her, but moving forward, I’d like to take a moment and explain a little bit further what the initial consultation entails.

Initial consultation is the time to assess the project, to decide if I can be of help, to determine how much time is approximately required. It’s also an opportunity to gauge a client’s expectations. The key word here is INITIAL. I am not designing, only figuring out the scope of my involvement.

I did exactly that. She wanted to see if I would be able to help and how long it would take. That’s what had to be addressed initially, in order to proceed.

There was a multitude of questions ranging from layout concerns to exterior elevations. How can she expect them answered at once? It’s a first for me! I’m actually used to clients who are satisfied. Below are just a few examples of the projects I worked on as DIY Ally:

Remodeling master bedroom and bath

Opening up a kitchen

Design of a Reflected Ceiling Plan

Kitchen plumbing

Turning a sunroom into a porch

Space planning

I’ve helped a client in Trinidad to fix circulation

A client in Italy asked me to generate design ideas

I really enjoy providing this service and it’s true, a lot of times the questions I get are quite easy to answer in the framework of the initial consultation. But this one did not qualify. Would you agree?

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