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What is the Design Build Process?

Photo by Christina Kiffney Photography

Who should remodel your home?

I have many conversations with folks who are in the very early stages of their remodeling process -- they haven’t yet chosen which method they want to use for their remodel. The two methods available are hiring an Architect and seeking out a General Contractor or finding a Design Build firm. There are pros and cons to both methods, and there isn’t necessarily a “right” or “wrong” way to do things. It’s all about feel and fit: ask yourself, “Am I comfortable with this team and their process?”

Working with an Architect and General Contractor

Hiring an Architect can be pretty straightforward. You can interview them and look at their past projects. You can also talk to their past clients and learn about what it’s like to work with that particular Architect firsthand. The weakest link in the process is getting an accurate picture of the job cost. That’s because the Architect isn’t actually building the project (that’s the General Contractor’s job!). Once you choose an Architect that you like, and they produce drawings that you love, you’ll then put your Architect’s drawings out to bid. Ideally, your Architect has a General Contractor they like working with - this helps to keep your construction costs in check, and makes them more predictable. However, if you don’t get a bid that is within your budget, it’s back to the drawing board to revise your project scope to fit within your bid. This means more of your time, money, and perhaps a little frustration.

The next step in this process is to select your General Contractor (GC). This can prove to be tricky. There are a lot of GCs out there, and it’s important to be diligent in your hiring process. Beware of contractors who offer low pricing and don’t match that pricing with at least 5 years of experience building in Boulder. Horror stories of contractors becoming disenchanted with projects mid-way through the job because they under-bid the job and are losing money are not uncommon. Hiring an experienced contractor comes with a monetary cost, but also with the reputation and years of building under their belt that can help you sleep soundly at night. There are many talented GC’s in Boulder. If you find a reputable team that has at least 5 years of experience working in Boulder, then you’re on the right track. Boulder has one of the most difficult permitting processes in the U.S., so this is key 

Congrats! Now that you’ve selected your Architect and your GC, you have officially become the monkey in the middle. Any conflicts that arise during construction will likely be deemed the Architect’s fault by the GC, and any construction defects will obviously be a fault of the GC, according to the Architect. It’s possible to work through that process and come out the other end with a beautifully remodeled home, but it can be a challenge.

Working with a Design Build company

An alternative to the Architect + GC method is Design Build. Design Build joins the forces of schematic design with practical construction: in essence, providing you a one stop shop. Your designer/architect has firsthand experience with construction, so they know what things cost.  This streamlines the entire process, leading to faster turnaround time during the iterative design and job costing process. A designer in the Design Build framework can provide “option” costing more precisely and quickly than a standalone architect.

All that said, Design Build also has its drawbacks...if you see them that way. If you choose the Design Build process, you are agreeing to their construction pricing. You won’t have the opportunity to put things out to “bid” in order to see if there’s a better deal out there. This means that reputation is key! Make sure you speak to your Design Build firm’s past clients about how the firm performed on their budget metrics. Some folks ask me, “how do you know you’re getting a good price if you don’t put your designs out to bid?” It’s a good question, with an easy answer: I’d choose my long standing relationship with my electrician over some cowboy who offers cheaper pricing. I know my guy will show up on time, communicate effectively and provide integrity throughout the project...time and time again.  Don’t you want that, too?

I really enjoy the collaboration with my team of designers and carpenters here at SoBo Homes. Our team includes Project Managers who have cut their teeth on many different aspects of construction, especially carpentry. This means that when I ask them a question about a design element, they can think about it in terms of assembly and materials. How can you beat that? Our clients get designs that can be built, practically.

The right fit and feel

As the owner of a Design Build firm, I think you can tell where I fall in the debate between the Design Build vs Architect + GC models. However, I stand true to the fact that neither choice is necessarily right or wrong - it all comes down to the fit and feel of the people and firms that you choose. Read more about us as a company and our design and construction process.

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