You’ve decided to build an addition, do a whole house renovation or a major interior remodeling project. Next up - What’s the Best Way To Do My Project?

There are three main approaches to consider: Owner-Builder, Design-Bid-Build or Design-Build. Which one is best for you?

Like most questions, the answer depends on your circumstances and how important different factors are to you. Factors you must consider include the level of architectural design, style, material quality, project size and complexity as well as the level of experience and quality of service by the building professionals and tradesmen who will build your project. Of course there is also the factor of available funds to invest in the project. Often this factor has the most influence on the choices and decisions you must make.

Owner-Builder approach will require you to spend more time on your project but has a high probability of reducing your project investment. As Owner-Builder you will hire your own Architect or Designer to prepare design plans, bid plans and permit plans. You may elect to act as your own permit expediter and navigate the permit process in your local jurisdiction (owner beware, this choice will often require more time and effort than you expect). As Owner-Builder you will solicit proposals, bids and estimates from various trade contractors for the different phases of the work included in your project. You will then effectively take on the role of General Contractor and coordinate and supervise the work from beginning to end. In some cases, especially larger projects, you may choose to hire an on-site project manager, working superintendent or construction manager to assist with the daily management of the project. Sometimes this person will perform general construction tasks (working superintendent) and other times they will only coordinate and supervise. You will be responsible for complying with your local building code and for taking care of whatever work may be needed for each trade to complete their work. For example, reframing to allow for plumbing pipes to go where intended or roof penetrations and flashing for all penetrations (HVAC and plumbing contractors do not do any framing or roofing yet their work effects those phases). If you have the time and prior experience with project management (construction related is best) or are a building industry professional this approach may be the right choice for you.

Many people don’t have the time, or simply aren’t interested in taking on the responsibility of managing every last detail of their project. If you are in this group, your question is whether the Design-Bid-Build or Design-Build approach is better for you.

If architectural design is the most important thing to you for your project then the Design-Bid-Build approach might be the best one to use. You will likely interview different architects and designers and select the design team you determine is best for your project. The architect and designers will develop your design and prepare plans and specifications for builders and contractors to review and prepare proposals and estimates for your project.

There are several different ways that you may go about soliciting “bids” from builders and contractors. Some owners ask their architects to obtain bids from contractors that they have worked with in the past. You may have a contractor you already know that you’d like to bid on the project. Many owners talk to their friends and colleagues who have done projects and ask for referrals for other contractors to potentially bid on your project. You must be careful when evaluating the “bids”. To get to this point you have invested a lot of time (and money) in design and you’ve probably developed a good relationship with your architect and design team. You are now deciding on who will build the project, which generally is 85-90% of the overall project investment, yet you have very little if any sense of who the potential builder is. Low bid is often the “winning bid” simply based on the assumption that all builders and contractors are pricing from the same set of plans and specifications so the product will be the same. This is a seriously flawed assumption. Every builder and contractor providing you a bid will deliver a different product, and it is unlikely the price at the end will be the original bid price.

An intangible factor is the service quality that the builder provides. This will determine your experience of the construction process and shouldn’t be overlooked. A firm with a strong commitment to customer service and satisfaction will likely have a higher price than a firm that is always seeking the least expensive way to do things and anything that is different or a variance in the plans is an excuse for another change order. Ideally, you will navigate this part of the process, avoid the pitfalls, and select a builder or contractor that is qualified, experienced and a good fit for your project and move into construction and build your dream project with no issues. (Pitfalls to avoid list link here)

You may have been through this process before and realize its very important to work with a builder/contractor during design development and you’ve retained a contractor as part of the project team during the design phase to help evaluate cost impact of various construction details, check for constructability and develop a realistic budget for constructing the proposed project before you complete design (Price Planning Consulting – put link to that service here). This is referred to as a negotiated bid process, and usually leads to more satisfying outcomes for you.

You have heard stories about beautifully designed projects that owners couldn’t afford to build, horror stories of endless construction delays, shoddy work, incomplete projects, never ending change orders and generally very unsatisfactory project outcomes. These pitfalls can be avoided (see link to Pitfalls) and one possible solution is the Design-Build approach.

When referring to any industry professional in this article, whether Architect, Designer, Builder, Contractor, Design-Builder, Tradesman the writer is referring to reliable, experienced top quality professionals in their respective area of expertise. Considering anyone less qualified is a formula for a project disaster and not recommended. When you need surgery for yourself or a loved one, do you seek the cheapest doctor? Not likely. Why would you seek the lowest price for surgery on your home, one of the most important things in your life? This is why the “low bid” approach is suspect. As one a past client once said (a construction attorney who litigated very large cases who we built 3 additions for) – “There is a right price for every project, and it’s never the low price.”

The Design-Build approach seeks to find the right balance of factors for your project. You will drive the importance of each factor; whether the level of architectural design, style, material quality, project size and complexity. In this approach you have determined you are comfortable with the Design-Builder’s ability to provide the level of experience and quality of service you expect. The Preliminary Design and Feasibility Study part of the process will help you determine the right weighting of each factor and determine what your overall project design and investment amount. The design build process facilitates flushing out potential surprises during construction, which results in amore efficient and timely construction process. Meaning your project is likely to be done on time and on budget. If you seek a well designed, well built project and a relatively stress free process, exploring the option of using a professional design-builder with a strong track record of excellent results of delivering on time, on budget work, you should seriously consider this approach.

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