If you are a designer about to begin staging a client’s home, you probably have a good idea of your plans for the job. This idea, call it a visual plan, must be translated into a written contract, so that both you and your client are clear about the services you will provide and the terms of those services.
Many artists and designers feel overwhelmed when trying to memorialize the terms of an agreement before they begin. The good news is once you have created a template, you can continue you to use this as an outline for all future clients whose homes you stage.
Start with the basics—a simple paragraph stating that you (your name or firm’s name) will provide certain services, as outlined below, to your client at the address of your client’s home. Then write the date on which services will begin. After that, make sure your agreement covers the following topics.
Now you get into the details. This is where you describe, room by room, the work you will do. A good contract will have one paragraph per room.
But before you even begin to describe the design details for each room, it is important to document the condition you found the room in. For example, if there is a crack in the ceiling in the dining room, you want to add that into your work description. It is wise to take pictures of all flaws you find before you begin work. You do not want to be liable for repairing damages you did not cause.
A paragraph will read something like “dining room - paint walls with Benjamin Moore paint color [write exact name and color code], lighting fixtures replaced with [write name and model of fixtures] and new dining room table purchased at _____ will be set using the client’s china and stemware. Stager will loan linens. Client is responsible for purchasing dining room table we discussed at initial design meeting. Stager will purchase paint and fixtures. Work will begin on ____, 20__ and will be completed by _____, 20__.”
While you agree to creating a certain look for the home and you have discussed this design plan with your client, it is still wise to incorporate a design clause into your contract. This clause gives you artistic discretion and ability to use your professional judgement. When it comes to art and design, you are not dealing with a measurable standard, so you want to be clear that the clients understand that they are placing their trust in you--and can't claim breach of contract if they don't like the pattern on the sofa you loan them.
In the sample paragraph above, the stager was loaning table linens for use in the staged home. You must document this in the contract.
Briefly identify the loaned item, and state the duration of the loan and any rental fee. Also include a clause stating that the client will be responsible for the full cost of the item if it's damaged. This cost is the current retail value. You do not want to get into a valuation argument; current retail value can easily be found unless the item is rare. In that case, list a replacement value in the contract.
This is the length of time for which you agree to provide staging services for the client. Once the initial work of creating a new style for the home is done, you will need to continue to update and clean the home. If you agree to do this for 90 days, state that and offer the option to renew by providing written notice and a deposit for the next phase of the staging agreement.
Be sure to take a deposit before beginning work. It is wise to make this deposit nonrefundable. Many sellers will look for other bids, and you want to make sure you have not lost time for the services you have already provided talking with the client, preparing extensive design plans, and blocking out space on your calendar. This deposit should be between 30% to 50% of the cost of the first phase of the contract.
The other payments will be made at certain benchmark dates. Typically, these are the halfway point and at the conclusion of the first phase. Be sure to include a clause about late payments, for example: “all payments must be made within 30 days of the due date. Five percent interest will apply to all late payments.”
It is also important to state that you will stop all services if payments are overdue by a certain number of days. For example, “Stager will not continue services if payments are past 90 days.”
In the event that relations sour and you cannot reach an agreement with the client, it is wise to have a way to exit the agreement. This is as simple as a clause saying something like: “Either party may terminate this contract by giving 30 days' written notice to the other party. Upon early termination, all costs must be paid within 30 days of the date notice is given. Late fees will apply to all payments made after this time.”
Make sure that your client has insurance on the home you are about to stage. You do not want to be held responsible in the event of, for instance, a robbery. Also, the client will need to have coverage for any accident that may happen when the home is being shown to prospective buyers.
Make sure that your client shows you copies of these policies and agrees that by signing the contract he or she is fully responsible for any damages that occur when you or your agents (anyone who works with you, such as an assistant or other employee) is not on the premises.
The look and design you create for a home is your intellectual property. In this day and age, where everyone snaps photos and posts to social media, make sure that the client agrees to give you credit for creating the look. Also, you want the client to give you the right to use any photos that you take of the staged home to add to your portfolio and marketing materials.
It may seem like a lot of information to include in a written agreement, but remember, the more detailed you are in your descriptions, the less the likelihood of any misunderstanding later.