If you found this blog through a Google search, you are sure to have noticed the number of people chiming in on both sides of this question. Before writing this, we searched it ourselves and were a bit taken aback by some of the combative and decisive language in what we found. Let’s see if we can bring some sanity to this critical topic and help you understand how it can benefit you.
Is this even the right question?
First off, we believe the architect vs. design-build question is actually the wrong question altogether. While an architect is not needed for every project, they are very often a part of the design-build team, and quite frankly, a pretty important one.
The fact is, even pretty straightforward remodeling projects are pretty complicated affairs that require numerous types of expertise, experience, and knowledge. If a project requires the expertise and experience of a professional architect, choosing a design-build route does not mean you no longer need that expertise. So what is the real question?
The real question, and it is a crucial one, is whether you will complete your project through a bidding process, or through a design-build process? Still a little puzzled? No problem, let’s dig into this one so you can make the right choice for your project.
As soon as you talk to anyone about doing a project at your home, you will hear this refrain. Search the internet, same thing. At its core, it is not terrible advice, but the reality of it is that getting bids, ones that are actually helpful anyway, is a lot more work than you may realize. Let’s take a look at the way this typically works for an explanation.
Let’s say you want to remodel your kitchen. Seems simple enough right? You call three remodeling companies that you have heard of and ask them to give you a bid on your project. Each contractor comes to your home, discusses the project with you, and goes away to prepare an estimate. A little while later you get your three bids and start the difficult task of comparing them. This is usually where the real frustration often starts and when you start asking things like “What’s the difference in these?” or “How can one be so different from another?”
Since your project has not yet been defined in enough detail, the contractors you have talked to have made many assumptions about the fixtures, materials, and design choices in the estimates you received. Since it is improbable that they have all made the same assumptions, you end up with estimates that actually represent three very different projects and therefore three different prices.
It is hard to blame the contractors at this point, after all, none of them are going to dedicate a lot of time developing the details of your project without knowing if they will be awarded the work. It seems like a bit of a stalemate, doesn’t it? You would like to get an accurate estimate before choosing, and they would like to know they are getting your business before committing a lot of time to developing the project.
This is actually where many of the nightmare stories you have heard about runaway budgets get started. When a contractor is chosen, and a budget is established based on a vague understanding of the project, cost overruns and changes orders are almost unavoidable as the project gets defined. Unfortunately, this is often happening during construction which only increases the stress levels.
When choosing a contractor, it is important to remember that cost is just one factor in this critical decision. Think about how many things you purchase in life where cost is the only consideration. It is probably a pretty short list, and it’s things that are commodities, like gasoline, where it’s almost impossible to discern a difference in quality or performance. So why is it that bidding and price get so much attention when choosing a contractor?
When you think about choosing a contractor, you’re actually selecting a company that will have the keys to your home, likely working in it when you’re not home, be helping you pick and coordinate a vast number of material and color choices that will perform well and look beautiful, hiring trade partners and craftsmen to do the work, and managing all of these things to completion in a safe and timely way. And hopefully, they are doing it all with clear communication and keeping your home relatively clean and usable in the process. We’re getting tired just typing it all.
Understanding a contractor’s ability to do all of these things should be at least as high on your list as getting a rough estimate, which is about what a bid amounts to. Keep in mind also, that if you compare three companies who are going to do all of these things well, you are more than likely going to find that they are all very similar in price. As much as we would all love to see that incredible deal, the old adage “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” almost always rings true.
“So how can a design-build approach help and how do I choose a contractor without getting bids?”
First off, spend some time upfront getting to know a couple of contractors and finding out how they will accomplish the long list of things in the last section. Ask them about their selection process, their management process, their craftsman, their trade partners. How will they keep your home clean and safe during the project and how will they keep you informed of progress? How will they handle changes or surprises if they occur? For more help with this, download our Questions to Ask a Remodeler and Questions to Ask a Remodeler’s References documents. The more meaningful you can make these discussions, the better choice you can make.
“But what about price?” Even at this early stage, a good contractor will be able to help you identify a reasonable budget range for the project you are considering. Will it be exact? Nope, because no one, not even you, knows exactly that the project is, and it’s really hard to tell you what “it” will cost when no one knows what “it” is yet.
After you have completed the vetting process and chosen a contractor that fits your project, your family, and your budget, the real fun of designing and constructing your project can begin. Most importantly, it’s done with a team, sitting on the same side of the table as you, advocating and working to help you develop the project you are envisioning in the budget you set.
Together, you will develop the plans and choose all of the colors, textures, fixtures, and materials that integrate the way you live in your home and your personal style into a beautiful, cohesive design. All of this is completed with your budget in sight and the whole team working together to respect your priorities.
With the design work complete, construction can be completed in an efficient and organized way that reduces the chance of delays and cost overruns. You can sit back and enjoy the process of watching your home taking shape.
We realize that this is a big topic and one that’s tough to cover in one blog post. If you would like to learn more in a friendly, no pressure conversation, fill out the form on this page or give us a call to chat with one of our expert Project Consultants. They will be happy to answer your questions and help you understand if design-build is right for your project.