Call us crazy, but putting projects out to bid is our least favorite thing to do, and here is why.
Bids are never apples to apples
When you put a project out to bid, the architect has to provide a lot more information to ensure that all the contractors are bidding the same thing, which they never are. We know from experience, if you ask 6 contractors how to build something, all 6 will have a different way of doing it. Taking the lowest bid can sometimes mean that your going to get an inferior product or maybe a subcontractor whose attention to detail isn’t quite where you’d expect it to be for the money you are spending. When the contractor isn’t intimately involved in the project they don’t know what your expectations are. I once asked a client’s rep if the client was a Volvo or a Ferrari, because it makes a difference in the level of detail and the quality of what you provide. You may also be ruling out the best contractor for your project based on price alone. In the long run, the more expensive contractor may have been better able to meet your needs and may have lost of job because they were not willing to compromise the integrity of what they do to win a job.
You spend more money with your architect on things that could potentially be spared
As I mentioned above, the amount of information that needs to be provided during the bid process can sometimes be significantly more than what would be needed if you were working with a contractor that the architect has already worked with. Having a contractor who has been involved in the process from the beginning and knows that you want a specific type of wide plank hardwood flooring will help get accurate pricing. Often times a contractor will leave an allowance for things like light fixtures, flooring, plumbing fixtures etc. These allowances are based on either their experience, or whatever is the easiest and cheapest thing available to keep their bids low and be awarded a project. That doesn’t mean that you will select these products, and in the end, you may be over the budget you had agreed to because this contractor didn’t know you wanted all LED fixtures, or that special faucet from Waterworks. As the architect, we will try to pack as much as possible into the design drawings and specifications to catch all of these variables, but it’s simply not the same as the builder getting to know you during the process so they know what to bring to the table to meet your specific budget and requirements. Of course we want to be involved in your project from beginning to end, and we will help you with all of your choices and selections, but adding unnecessary time to a drawing set to get accurate bids is sometimes a waste of our time and your money.
The lowest bid rarely nets you the best project
We’ve worked on several projects where contracts have to be awarded to the lowest bidder, and it’s always a challenge. When the client doesn’t know, like, or trust the contractor, there is always second guessing through the entire project and it can become a very adversarial relationship. You will be spending several days a week, for several months of the year, with this contractor who is building on renovating your dream home. Knowing that your personalities will click can be worth a few extra dollars! Having the peace of mind that the contractor will pay his subs on time and won’t take your deposit and skip town is huge. Knowing that the contractor understands your objectives and can easily bring cost effective value engineering to the project without losing sight of your final vision is crucial. But the reality is, building a home is a very complicated process and you want a contractor by your side who is going to listen to you, handle the details, and be kind and respectful through out the project.
Building a team gets you a better end result
We know we aren’t perfect, and training to be an architect often requires you to work as part of a team. We love the integrated design process, both between ourselves in the open design studio, and with the contractor, client, and specialty trades. Building net-zero homes is a team effort and we think you get a much better project when the entire team pulls together the project from the beginning. As I mentioned above, no two builders are going to build something the same way so why put a wrench in the system. Sit down with the contractor and go through how they would build it, what ways they can bring cost savings to the project, and how to meet your objectives in the best possible way. Planning for things like, where the solar lines are going to run from the roof to the utility room, can make or break a project. Making those decisions made during the design phase helps create a truly cohesive project. Having a different set of eyes on the plans as they come together, in our opinion, always creates a better solution. Architects are trained to get the most out of your space and your budget. We think in three dimension as the plans are going together. But we also love to work closely with our builders because they know how they are going to put together what we are asking for, and they are always up on current market fluctuations in pricing and schedule, so they have a thumb on the pricing throughout the project and can make cost effective recommendations that help keep the project on time and on budget.
Putting a project out to bid could blow your schedule out the window
Although the last of our 5 recommendations, it is in no means the least important. The last couple projects I have put out to bid have all had the same problem. The client has finished with design and they are excited about the project only to find out that all the contractors that we have approached to bid on their project are out 3, 6, or 12 months. Securing a contractor so you can start your project when you’re ready to get started can be critical. When you put a project out to bid you are at the mercy of the contractors schedule. When you bring a contractor in, early in the design process, they will add you to their schedule and be prepared to start your project at the agreed upon time. Getting everything together in time for construction then becomes something the team works very hard to make happen. If you put a project out to bid, even if you land the contractor you know you want to work with, you may need to wait several months to get started. So when you start a project, be clear about your timeframe. If you’re building on the lake or ocean, sometimes the towns have rules about when you can do construction, and it may not be during the time of year that is best to build. If you’re not already on your contractors schedule, that could mean you have to wait a whole year to build. In Maine, depending on the time of year, roads get posted which do not allow construction vehicles to travel to a site for many weeks. Timing is crucial and holding a contractor to a bid for more than 90 days is unlikely. The fluctuation in the product market can be huge. Between the end of December 2015 and the end of January 2016 one of our window manufacturers increased their pricing twice.
So our recommendation is to stop putting your project out to bid! Select a contractor that you know you can work with. Tell them your budget, bring them in on the team, and let them plan for working with you and provide value engineering to your project to keep it on time and on budget!