The RedBook Guide: The best questions to ask when interviewing your property project team

—7th March 2019

When you interview a professional who you are considering using for a property project – whether it is an architect, interior designer, garden designer or project manager – the prospect of meeting them for the first time can be intimidating as well as exciting. It will help you greatly at the interview to have a list of prepared questions. This Guide offers some of the best ones to ask.

It is crucial to be crystal clear at the outset what a good choice of professional looks like. At the risk of stating the obvious, you will want to choose someone for your project who makes the absolute most of the opportunity you have to transform or improve your home, and someone who at the same time minimises the dangers of upsets or failures during the project. Just as important, they should be someone you will actually enjoy working with.

Your gut feeling is at least as important as any hard information you glean from the interview.

“It is near essential to have more than one fee proposal so you can make an informed decision.”

If your project is a new build house or a large restoration project, your relationship with the architect, interior designer or other senior professional may well last two years or more. Personal liking and trust between you and your key team members, strong enough to endure the ups and downs of building works, is critical to a successful project.

Bear in mind that it is always easiest to be sure you have made the right choice when you have two candidates, perhaps more, to compare. Of course when it comes to the question of professional fees, it is near essential to have more than one fee proposal so you can make an informed decision.

TOP TIP: It helps enormously to send the candidate a brief on your goals and your project in advance. This should ideally include a short description of your property (with photos, if possible), your preferred timing for starting and finishing the project, your reasons for wanting to change your property, and a short description of how you want to change it.

Note: RedBook writes carefully structured briefs for its clients and shares them with the candidates we recommend, so they come to interviews with a clear understanding of our clients’ needs, vision and parameters. This saves clients’ time—especially if there are multiple candidates—and ensures they get the most out of interviews. We also supply clients with a full set of customised questions for them to ask at interviews.


SUITABILITY AND EXPERIENCE

“…establish whether your project is in the ‘sweet spot’ of the candidate”

You want to be sure the professional you choose for your project will deliver their service flawlessly. This requires some probing at the interview. What you want to establish above all is whether your project is in the ‘sweet spot’ of the candidate.

Because if the project is a little too big or too small for them, or a bit far away or too complex or unfamiliar, then you are taking a big risk and you are likely to end up paying an extra price at some point for engaging them. This may mean an increased fee, or a price in terms of their interest in the project or their ability to resource and deliver it properly.

TOP QUESTIONS INCLUDE:

– What is a typical project for you?

– How does my project compare to others you are working on in terms of its size, style, complexity and distance from your office?

– Can you describe another project like mine that you have completed, and how you dealt with its challenges?

– How many projects have you done like mine?

– How big is your team and how long have they worked with you?


APPROACH

“You will want to find out whether the candidate you interview will complement your own personality and your preferred approach.”

It will be no surprise to learn that every firm of interior designers, architects, garden designers, project managers and so on has a slightly different approach to projects.

They present their designs in very different ways. And they offer more, or less, input to different parts of the project. For example, some interior designers have the capacity to produce technical working drawings of joinery to give to builders, while others cannot.

And a different style of service is given by almost every practice, making for contrasting experiences for their clients. For instance, practices can be disciplined and slick or more artisan and rough-and-ready in approach; they can be highly creative and passionate or intellectual and more impersonal.

Practices also have different preferences about the make up of the project team. So some architects insist that their clients also engage an independent project manager while others strongly resist the idea for fear of the project manager disrupting their relationship with the client, or just adding bureaucracy.

You will want to find out whether the candidate you interview will complement your own personality and your preferred approach.

TOP QUESTIONS INCLUDE:

– How often will we meet you if we appoint you?

– Who will we meet most regularly, you or someone else in your team?

– What is distinctive about your approach, or different from competitors?

– What do you not do, or include, in your service?


CAPACITY

“Too much of a workload, and your project may be neglected”

You also need to know how much work the candidate has on at the moment, or in the near future, and where your project ranks in size among others being worked on.

Too much of a workload and your project may be neglected; too little, and you have to ask yourself whether this candidate’s firm is in sufficiently robust health to see through your project through to the end.

TOP QUESTIONS INCLUDE:

– Will you be able to start straight away, or when we want to get going with the project?

– How many projects do you typically have on the go at any time?

– How many do you have now, and what does your schedule of new projects look like over the next 12 months?

– How big is our project compared to others you are working on?


FEES AND VALUE

“Don’t be afraid of asking follow-up questions if the answers you get are not immediately clear.”

When you interview a candidate to help you with a project, you want to know how much they are going charge for their service. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to get an immediate answer if you ask them ‘how much’ at your first meeting. The reason is as simple as it is frustrating.

Interior designers, architects and so on base their fees on the amount of time they expect a project to absorb, and at a first meeting with a potential client they need to gather a great deal of information about the likely scope of work, and then they need to compare this with other projects they have tackled in order to work out their likely time commitment. It often takes practices up to a week to produce a fee proposal.

Some architects are exceptions to this rule. If they are asked to quote their fee for building a new house of a known size, it is often relatively easy for them to know how much of their time this will absorb based on previous experience. So they may well tell you their standard rate right away — usually expressed as a percentage of the cost of building the house.

But what everyone should be able to tell you at their first meeting with you is how they structure their fees. Fee structures from interior designers, architects etc. can be highly complex so don’t be afraid of asking follow-up questions if the answers you get are not immediately clear.

Assuming you have had a great meeting with a candidate, it is usual to ask for a formal fee proposal at the end of a meeting. Fee proposals frequently take a fair amount of thought and time to put together so we advise asking for a fee proposal from a candidate only if you are seriously considering appointing them for your project.

TOP QUESTIONS INCLUDE:

– What are your hourly rates?

– How do your fees compare with others providing your service—high, medium or low?

– How do you structure your fees?

– What factors will go in to deciding your fee for my project?

Note: RedBook analyses fee proposals for our clients so they can understand them easily and ensure they are comparing ‘apples with apples’. Having advised clients for nearly a decade on fees and fee proposals from a huge range of architects, interior designers etc. we have great expertise in understanding fees and benchmarking them for clients.

RedBook is a specialist consultancy that helps clients and their advisers select the perfect creative and technical team for significant property projects.

For further information, please contact us on 0207 060 6222. Or email: enquiries@redbookagency.com