Frequently Asked Questions
This page has been desgined in response to you, our current and prospective clients. We hope this is helpful. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss them further. We will add other sections as requests warrant.
It is time to build your new home. You have been dreaming and saving for this day. All those plans and pictures you have clipped and saved will finally come to life. The big question is "Who can best make your dreams come true?" Turning your dreams into the home, business or remodeling, that satisfies your needs, requires an experienced professional. How do you find an experienced professional and what should you look for?
Selecting a contractor is like selecting an employee for a company. The process is similar and the results are the same. If you hire a talented contractor with a proven track record for pleasing clients then you will have a successful project. Where do you find such a contractor?
Start with people you know who have built or remodeled and ask about their contractor. Ask about the contractor's experience and if they would use that contractor again. Ask bankers, realtors, suppliers and others for contractor references. The Better Business Bureau may not be able to give you a reference but they can tell you if complaints have been filed and their disposition.
With these general impressions you can narrow your list. You may even wish to make a final decision and engage a contractor on a "Design Build" basis. If not, let's go shopping.
For new homes, open houses and the Spring and Fall Parades of Homes are an excellent place to view the workmanship and types of homes your candidate contractors build. Also drive by their job sites to view their work. For safety reasons, we recommend you have someone with you if you enter a home under construction. If you are seeking a remodeling project and your potential contractor also builds homes then the new homes tour will be very helpful as well. Hopefully you will see finished work from people you talked to who have recently remodeled.
Match Your Contractor To The Project
At this point your list should be narrowed to 1 to 3 (maximum) contractors. All your contractors should build primarily in a price range similar to your budget and provide the level of service, workmanship and finish you are expecting. The same is true of remodeling.
There are exceptions. If you are interested in a particular contractor and they currently are not working your type of projects, then sit down with them and discuss their ability to meet your expectations and the project's scope of work. They should be honest with you and not just tell you what you want to hear.
Don't select a remodeling contractor to complete a two story addition when they specialize in decks and basement finishes. Also proceed with caution if you seek a contractor who specializes in remodeling to build your new home. Especially if your home is complicated. Don't select a contractor who specializes in starter homes to build a high end luxury home & visa versa. Some contractors who specializes in building homes on speculation are probably not set up to provide the customer services of a Design Build contractor.
In other words, match your contractor to your project's scope of work and your personal needs for service.
Know Your Contractor
This process probably should be called "get to know your partner". When building a custom home or remodeling the contractor ranks at least as important as the floor plan design, workmanship and home location. You will engage in a long term relationship with your contractor to create a home for your lifestyle and needs. How smoothly your project proceeds and your level of satisfaction is determined by your contractor. This point can not be emphasized enough. To get to know your contractor will require a meeting with them.
In this relationship several characteristics are important and you should look for them:
Is it open and free flowing, two-way and direct? Does the contractor listen? Is the contractor knowledgeable in your areas of concern? You will not have a successful project if you can not easily discuss issues, concerns and get your questions answered, regardless of subject.
Ethical & honest? Can you count on them to treat you fairly and meet their obligations?
How are the vibes? You will be working together for a long time. You will need to work out many issues to ensure a successful project. You want to be smiling when you receive the keys just like you were when you started the project.
Through contacting a contractor's client references and your contacts under "Getting Started", you should evaluate a contractors reputation for their: workmanship, timeliness in project completion versus schedule, warranty service after occupancy (complete & timely) and their service (how helpful and what services available during design and construction).
Business Experience and Management
Phone numbers, voice mail, electronic mail, mailing address? The best way to contact them?
Have insurance coverage? workman's compensation, liability, builders risk, etc. (protects you from claims arising from property damage or injury)
Established presence in the community? (Longevity suggests financial stability)
Actively participate in trade organizations such as The National & Local Association of Home Builders, etc? (Active participation demonstrates a contractors commitment to professionalism. These organizations help keep their members informed about business practices, products and industry issues).
Offer a written warranty? A written warranty protects you. A verbal or written statement such as "We will warrant our work for one year" does not help if there is no follow up.
Do they have a written scheduling system? Ask to see a current active project schedule. If the contractor does not schedule the work and materials then a completion schedule can be unpredictable.
How do they handle changes you request as work progresses? Do they have a written procedure outlining, in detail, the change itself and the cost impact on the contract price? Changes can affect the schedule but it's impact should be noted with the written change order. Change orders should be signed by the contractor and you the client. Ask to see an example.
At this point you should be down to one contractor. If you have more than one contractor at this stage you will not be able to use the "Design Build" process directly with your contractor. You have two choices: (A) engage a contractor for a fee to work with you to complete your design and budget bid your project (select the contractor you feel favorable toward), or (B) you can hire an architect to draw up your plans and develop a set of specifications to have them bid. Your contractors can recommend an architect.
The overall selection process can be summarized through the following steps:
Use your network of friends and people you know who have done similar work and ask for references. Would they use them again?
Go see their work.
Match Your Contractor To The Project
Find a contractor who specializes in work similar to yours.
Know Your Contractor
Your contractor is at least as important as your plans, because, how smoothly your project proceeds and your level of satisfaction is determined by your contractor. The issues of concern are: communication, trust, synergy, reputation and business management.
Based on the information gathered, you can select a contractor.
What Does Design Build Mean?
This is one stop shopping at its best. The design build approach to building brings together professional design and construction expertise. One company handles design, budgeting and construction. This means you enjoy continuity of service through out your project. The process applies to new homes, commercial buildings as well as remodeling and renovation projects.
What Is The Advantage Of Design Build?
We believe the Design Build process with one company works in the client's best interests. The reason is the contractor can provide guidance and balance the clients needs and desires versus budget constraints during design and thus save costs and time up front and during construction. The client is a partner in the process and thus is better informed and understands what they are getting. No surprises! The result is a happy client who gets what they want and need affordably.
What Happens In The Design Build Process
Sometimes an agreement is signed covering the estimated cost of the architectural & design fees. These fees are usually rolled into the cost of the project with the signing of the construction contract.
Design discussions can be based on sketches/pictures you have; plans from plan books, which can contain elements you like; or plans the contractor has previously built but need to be modified. During design plans are developed for: each floor/room, elevations, site (how the building will be situated on the building lot), landscaping if required, esthetics, etc. Site visits are made to ensure the design considers relevant site requirements. These are developed with your input, wishes and desires as the guiding influence. Your design-build contractor will provide the building and design experience to guide you at this conceptual stage. They can show you examples of similar projects and present economical, practical and esthetic solutions to frequently encountered design problems given your budget.
These are drawn up based on:
City and county codes
Structural & site requirements for the design.
Types of materials to be used (grades, species, brands as required)
Fixtures, appliances, hardware, etc. (brands, colors, model numbers)
Heating, cooling, ventilating, plumbing, insulation, etc.
Your design-build contractor can council you in choosing materials and finishes for your project that are good values within your budget and complete your vision of your project.
The contractor will prepare a preliminary cost for the project covering each area. This will allow the design and specifications costs to be reviewed and adjusted in preparation for final design, costing and specifications.
Final Design & Specifications
Based on the above, final architectural drawings, project specifications and costs will be developed.
Construction Contract & Financing
The client and contractor sign a contract to proceed with construction. By this time the client has arranged for and received the necessary financing to proceed with the project.
Project Construction & Completion
This is the time when your project takes its final form. You are in a position to relax knowing the same professionals who worked with you to design and budget your project are the same ones who are doing the construction. Thus your design will be completed to your requirements, communications will be smooth and construction will proceed in a timely manner.
Working With A Design Build Firm
A professional design-build firm offers you a level of help and service for your entire project unavailable any where else in the construction industry. In one firm you get personal help in designing, budgeting and constructing your project. You do not have to worry about finding different professionals to handle each phase. You also get consistent service, attention and smooth communication. You save time and maximize the value in your project. The result is a happy client who gets what they want and need affordably.
When you ask a contractor to bid a project you are asking the
contractor to compete with another contractor or contractors
based on lowest price. This process can be beneficial if all
bids are for exactly the same specifications and plans and you
have matched your contractors to the project. If this does not
occur than lowest initial price may not be the best price and
you may be surprised later.
You need two items. Clear and complete sets of architectural drawings and specifications. You can get both from an architect. Drawings and specifications ordered from plan books may need some review before you give them out to bid. Lumber cut lists and similar lists are not beneficial to a contractor. You also have no assurance the plans are within your budget.
When asking a contractor to bid a project you don't just bring in a set of plans with out any specifications and say "bid it". If you do, you have no idea what they will be providing you in the bid. You also do not have a way to compare bids and make an evaluation favorable to your needs and eliminate surprises later.
To control costs make sure the architect explains the drawings and specifications to you and how they meet you needs. In your discussions with the architect make sure your plans and specifications are consistent with your budget. This will avoid disappointments later.
To ensure contractors are bidding EXACTLY the same work and
materials. The specifications should define at a minimum:
Framing materials, sizes and centers for framing.
Brands and model numbers of products (e.g. doors, windows, roofing, sinks, faucets, appliances, hardware, garage doors, etc.)
Grades for (concrete, lumber, steel, trim, paint, trim material & cabinets, guttering, etc.)
Define the excavation and site work to be completed. Examples are how is rock excavation to be handled if encountered; what about controlled fill (how much is required), etc.
Allowances in dollars for any items you choose. Examples are; light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, flooring, ceramic/marble, appliances, hardware (door/bath), landscaping, etc.).
Types of Bids
There are basically two kinds of bids. We call them "Good" bids versus "Square Foot" bids. Good bids (costs determined solely based on your specifications) take time and effort. Square foot bids aren't very good for new custom home plans and specifications because they are based on a particular contractors "minimums/standards" and the homes they build on speculation. Not your specifications and requirements. Square foot pricing can lead to surprises later. Square foot pricing is like describing the average man or women with one set of criteria. No matter what statistic you pick the next person is different.
This will require an appointment and meeting with your contractors. During your meeting explain your project and what you expect. Review your drawings and specifications.
If you have not had a prior meeting with your contractor you may want to get to know your contractor at this time. Some items you may wish to cover are listed under "Know Your Contractor" in our section titled "Selecting A Contractor".
During your meeting there are some Do's & Don'ts regarding Bidding
Get agreement with each contractor when bids are due.
Advise your budget amount up front with your contractor. They can not help you if they don't have this critical piece of information. If you have not determined how much you want to spend by this point then you will be disappointed if you get the bids over your budget. You will have wasted yours and a lot of other peoples' time and resources. Remember, the project is being bid. No contractor is going to artificially inflate their bid.
Advise your contractors if price alone will decide who will complete your project.
Advise each contractor who the other bidder(s) is.
Be sure to match your contractors to the project. This should give you comparable results.
Advise your finalist contractors the results of your evaluation. They appreciate your thought fullness and courtesy.
- Don't ask a contractor to bid against more than two other contractors. If price is going to determine who is going to complete the project tell them. Let them decide if they want to bid the project based on your budget and the other bidders.
Comparing The Bids
When you receive the bids list each area of the bids side by side. List the total price and each items allowance dollars. In this way you eliminate variances and missed items. Also make sure each contractors' bid specifically states in writing they are and will comply with your specifications and plans.
Make sure all the contractors used the same categories and dollar amounts for allowances. An item to clarify regarding allowances is the cost of installation. Example, some contractors include the cost of the electricians time to install your light fixtures and appliances in their allowance dollars. Some do not. For those that do include the electricians labor in their allowance dollars they have effectively lowered your dollars available to purchase your light fixtures and appliances. In so doing they have lowered their bid to you. We suggest you keep all allowance dollars comparable by having labor excluded from them.
The above subtlety is an example why it is important you are specific in what you request and you know exactly what is being bid and why. Don't do a superficial evaluation. All bids are not the same. Gaining an understanding of what is included and excluded in each bid item and making sure all contractors are including and excluding the same items will help you ensure comparable bids. Be sure and update your side by side bid comparison for these cost adjustments.
As we mentioned above square foot bids can be full of unknowns and should be viewed with caution.
You must remember all your contractors must make a fair profit or they can not stay in business for long. To be fair to your self and the contractors involved, large variances in bids will require a detailed review and comparison to understand what they have included, changed or excluded. If you do not ensure these items then the bids are not comparable and you could be surprised later.
Bidding takes a lot of work on your part. Some people will not do a good job here and just assume the bids are comparable and accept the lowest price. This can lead to conflicts and surprises do to a lack of understanding regarding your expectations and what is bid. When it is done properly bidding can lead to a successful project and relationship with your contractor.
Making Your Decision
After you have completed the above cost analysis and all your bids are comparable it is time to make your decision. You must now weigh what you learned about your contractor (see Selecting a Contractor) and the bids received. Remember, how smoothly your project proceeds and your level of satisfaction is determined by your contractor. This point can not be emphasized enough. The quality and professionalism of your contractor are just as important as price.
Square Foot Pricing
What Does It Mean?
Not much, and it can be very misleading. Square foot pricing is like describing the average man or woman with one set of criteria. No matter what statistic you pick the next person is different. Too many factors can influence the price of a home or building. Some of these factors are obvious and some are not. Square Foot Pricing has two common uses. First it is used to compare value. Second it is used to price homes and buildings for bidding. Once a home or building has had the plans and specifications finalized and priced based on them, then a price per square foot can be computed. But all it means is just the value determined and it can not be used in a different situation with any reliable results.
What Can Affect Square Foot Pricing:
Location - Location - Location
A lot in a secluded subdivision can cost more than a lot by a freeway. Lots in cul-de-sacs and lots with views, walk out basements, etc. can cost more than flat treeless lots. Lot prices can vary by $30,000 each within the same subdivision. A 2000 square foot home can vary $15 per square foot based on the lot selected. Using square foot pricing you could exclude a home from your search thinking it "costs more" with out evaluating why and possibly miss an excellent location for a home.
There can be hidden and value added costs in some lots. Hidden costs may be in rock, poor bearing soil or ground water conditions. A flat lot versus one on a hill side may be less expensive. But the home on the hill side, even though it costs more, may have more value due to a daylight or walkout basement or gorgeous views.
The style, shape or the number of stories of a home or building can affect its' square foot price. They determine the amount and kind of material and labor used. Example, a ranch and two story home may have the same square feet but the two story will probably cost less per square foot. The reason is the two story home will have less roof and foundation costs. Does this mean the ranch is not as good a value? Depends on what you are looking for in a home.
Specifications and Finishes
The workmanship used, plus the type and quality of materials, appliances, lights, flooring, trim etc. may vary between homes or buildings of the same square feet. Thus material and labor costs will vary. The home or building using the better workmanship and higher quality materials may cost more initially but can save you money over time. Does this mean the home with the better workmanship is not a good value? Does this mean the home with the lesser quality workmanship and material is a better value?
Before excluding a home from your search based on square foot pricing determine what makes up the difference, especially if the home sounds appealing. Custom home square foot bids can be full of unknowns and should be viewed with caution. As seen above many different factors can influence the price per square foot. Some may be of value and some may not. Dollar per square foot pricing can be very misleading. Example: a "pup tent" can cost $5 per square foot, a castle can cost $1,000 per square foot. One sounds too good to be true. The other sounds outrageous. Which is the better value? Depends on what you want in a home.
From a pricing and value perspective, the important point is whether the price of the home/building is within your budget. If it is, then the home/building should be evaluated on its merits regarding your needs and personal considerations.
Any construction project requires more than a verbal exchange to have a successful project. Verbal exchanges lead to unclarified issues, misunderstandings, unmet expectations and invariably disappointments. A good written contract protects the interests of all parties. Contracts do not need to be lengthly or complicated. There are minimum key elements you should have in your contracts.
Contract Type & Terms
Should describe the price structure, payment schedules, banks involved, etc.
Include the Project Scope/Specifications & Plans
This should be done by reference and attached as an addendum. Otherwise these details make for a lengthly and confusing contract.
Change Order Procedure
Changes will occur and all should be clear on how they will be handled, including payments, credits and schedule impact.
How & when.
Start & Completion Dates
An elapsed time for completion from say loan approval can also suffice. This is an important element if you must be in your new office or home by a certain time or you are trying to schedule related activities.
Insurance Types & Limits
Liability, Workers Compensation, Builders Risk, Title insurance for Property Transfer, etc. Insurance protects you from claims arising from property damage or injury.
Warranty & Standards of Performance
Duration, Details of Coverage, Responsibilities. This should be in writing and not just say there is a "one year warranty", or some thing similar.
Regarding codes, ordinances, covenants, construction.
Procedure for unresolved issues if they occur.
These are the basics. Your contractor should be able to discuss details with you and other requirements that may be required.
A Note about Standard Real Estate Contracts
For new commercial, custom homes, remodeling and renovation construction projects they may not provide the necessary clauses to properly execute these types of projects. Standard Real Estate Contracts are excellent for purchasing existing properties, homes and homes built on speculation. If you use a Standard Real Estate Contract for a new commercial, custom home or remodeling project it should be reviewed by an attorney before it is signed.
We wish you every success and look forward to working with you.