We had a bad experience with Suzanne who owns Ssquared design. There were red flags in the beginning, which I wish we had realized on time.
First, you pay $300 for a consultation, and you do not get to see any design until you sign the contract and pay a large portion of her design fees up front. We hired her to do design and also to hire the contractors and manage the project. She said she would be on site several times per week to check on the progress of the work.
During the consultation, we talked about the kind of things we wished and budget. We wanted to stay below $60K.
A few weeks after we signed a contract with her, paid 50% of her design invoice, and we had a second meeting during which she showed us some rough sketches of design options. We picked one and she told us that would be about $70K, obviously higher than we wanted to pay. So we asked for a detailed invoice of the renovation cost to see where we could cut down. It should have been her job, by the way. She sent us three documents: the contractors invoice, an invoice for her design and management fees, and one for the material. When we got those, we realized the $70K did not even include her fees and the material, it was only for the contractor’s part! In the end it was going to be a $100K renovation, far from the $70K she had told us!
In addition, we found several mistakes in her invoice, including missing material. When we pointed that out to her, her response was that she does not usually share the details of the invoice with her clients. Were we supposed to blindly pay for a renovation without ever seeing the invoice? Especially after seeing so many mistakes? At that point I was feeling uncomfortable and started not trusting her, but then we already had signed a contract, right? So in the end we decided to skip part of the renovation and not redo the kitchen to save money. We paid the full amount for the contractor’s cost upfront to her and she was responsible for paying him as the project advanced. We also paid her the estimated cost for the material, appliances, and light fixtures.
Another thing to note is that the quote to redo the electrical that her contractor gave her was very high. We independently got a quote from an electrician we trusted, which turned out to be much lower (by thousands of dollars), so we decided to do the electrical with him instead. She committed to take care of the communication between him and her contractor. However, in practice she did not communicate with him, and we ended up having to do it. This was a huge hassle that caused several problems down the line.
We soon learned that Suzanne does not answer emails quickly and does not like to talk to her clients on weekends or holidays, which I can understand at some level, but I am not convinced it is good practice when you run a business and there can be emergencies to take care of. Checking messages once in a while on weekends shouldn’t be too much to ask.
The whole project was supposed to take 6-8 weeks to complete after the start date. Toward the supposed end of the project, though it was not complete yet, she asked for a second partial payment of her fees. We pointed to her that she had not updated her invoice after we decided to not renovate the kitchen, so her invoice should reflect that or, if we were going to pay for a kitchen design, we should be getting a full complete design and be able to use in the future. She never replied to that email, never sent us the design or updated her quote, and never asked for that money again.
Around that same time, she told us that she had talked to the contractor and that they were on schedule to finish a week later, so we could schedule the move. So that was great. Or so we thought. We gave them an extra two days, just in case, booked movers, and scheduled cleaners. Five days before the move, we went to see the house and there were so many things that were not done and things not done right. Not just a few little things, but A LOT. And not just painting, but also some construction work! We spoke directly to the contractor at that point who said he did not know about all the things that were left to be done, and that he never told her the house would be ready by the date she gave us. There was a long list of things left to do and we know we had gone over them with her both orally and by email. And yet it was not done. Five days before the move. We were livid and we told her that. Our belongings had to be moved into the house because of her bad estimation of the completion date, which means the contractors had to work around all of our stuff, making their job more difficult.
Clearly, she had not done her job, she had not been on site often enough, and did not communicate with the contractor even the times when she explicitly said that she has done so. She never once apologized for those mistakes. Oh, and the fridge she had bought for us DID NOT WORK in the space we had! The dimensions were correct but it was a two-door fridge with a freezer on one side and because it was against a wall, we could barely open the freezer door! This kind of design flaw is the exact reason why we hired a designer. And she failed miserably. Never apologized for that mistake either.
At that point, we went on a three-week long trip we had planned and told her it had to be finished when we come back. That should have been plenty of time for them to finish the project. We also asked her to have the fridge switched by the time we came back from our trip. Mid way through the trip, we had not heard anything about the new fridge and enquired about it. She had not ordered it yet. She sent us some options by email, none of them had an ice maker, so we ended up doing an online search ourselves and finding the right fridge for the space *ourselves* after she said it was too difficult. By the way, that fridge was about $400 less than the one she had originally purchased but she never refunded us for the difference. She also charged us for backsplash in the original material quote but never refunded it after we decided to not work on the kitchen.
Three weeks later, we get home late at night, with our kids, after a 15 hour long trip and 7 hours of jet lag. And we find the painter still inside the house! It was not even finished! Our petsitter told us they never came more than a couple days/week while we were gone, and even after we got back home they were not showing up every day and bringing only 1 or 2 guys. The next day we also realized the dishwasher had not been installed. We emailed her to express our discontent and that is when she just quit. She emailed to tell us she was no longer going to be part of the project and we would have to deal with the contractor ourselves.
The contractor initially claimed that he had not received all his money and that we still owed him several thousands dollars. We told him we already paid it to Suzanne and that he had to get the money from her. He clearly got some of it because he continued working a little, but not very efficiently. At some point, we asked him to fix a few more things and he refused because he said we still owed a few hundreds of dollars. Suzanne told him we had added extra items to the renovation and that this extra cost was on us. This was not true, but since she also owed us several hundreds of dollars (remember the cost of the fridge, the backsplash, etc?), we did not think it was fair to ask us to pay extra without any accounting. So we asked for detailed invoices to show what we really owed. She never sent it. We also had to ask her a dozen times to get the proof of purchase for the appliances so that we can get covered by the warranty in case something broke. She was not responding to emails until we threatened to go to court. She sent us the appliances receipts but never the proof of purchase for the garage door. To date, several months later, we still do not have any info on where it was purchased.
In summary Suzanne may have a few good design ideas, but she does not follow through with them, makes lots of mistakes, and does not take responsibility for them. It is not acceptable to thinking clients should pay her whatever amount of money she wants without ever seeing the detailed invoices. She is irresponsible by not answering emails from her clients, and by quitting the job before completion.