Hiring A Design-Build Firm Versus A General Contractor

How best to build their new home can be one of the most significant decisions a person may be faced with, in their lifetime. Right at the start, before committing to any one pathway, you need to carefully weigh up which avenue you will pursue. Hiring a general contractor for the build or commissioning of the services of a design-build firm.

The outcome of your decision-making at this critical time can not only have financial ramifications but can impact the quality of the home you end up with. Of course, not only do decisions on building the new family home face this quandary, building any structure for commercial or residential use raises the same questions.

Design Firms & Contractors- “You get what you pay for”

The challenge is how to achieve the best result for the best investment. That doesn't mean finding the cheapest way to build your house. Choosing the cheapest bidder raises the ugly specter of them possibly cutting corners to cut costs. Which has the potential to saddle you with long-term headaches and unforeseen expenses further down the track. For a decision on the best method of construction for your project, you need to weigh up the comparative benefits of what the industry can offer you. Understanding that two major processes are needing to be optimized for the outcome you are seeking, is a solid start.

design build firm

The process with a general contractor

First, the building you envision needs to be designed and documented. For the creative phase, you can either take your concepts to an architect or architectural firm or find a building designer. These qualified professionals will take your ideas, concepts, sketches, and wish-list and come up with a solution that, perhaps after a few revisions, ideally represents what you want to be built. They will produce a final set of plans and documentation that specifies materials and finishes, ready for the permits and approvals applications through the relevant authorities.

Then, you take your documentation to builders or building contractors for quotes, and you can select your contractor. This leads to the second phase of the process, where your plans on paper are turned into a physical reality.

The process with a Design-Build firm

Alternatively, you can approach a design-build firm and they will take care of the entire process from initial concepts to completion. One of the major advantages of this option is that your design-build firm is fully accountable if anything goes wrong. There's no blaming the architect and avoiding accountability. They're responsible for all work on the project. There is one contract for the entire project, and you can legally seek remedy from just one party if it comes to that.

Another major advantage is that the whole process can be smoothly streamlined, with the various processes of design and construction overlapping to save time and avoid delays. This is ideal if you are on a tight schedule. Here is a summary of the advantages of using a design-build firm over-using an architect and then finding a building contractor:

·      One inclusive contract for the entire project

·      Full accountability for everything involving just the one entity

·      Design and construct overlap that will save time and reduce delays

·      Less cost by avoiding high professional architectural fees

·      Considerably reduced risk of errors in interpretation of plans

·      More practical design, facilitating the more cost-effective building

·      Sensible marrying of design with best construction methodology

Possible Cons

However, there may be inherent risks in placing the entire project in the hands of one entity. You need to trust the integrity and skills of the design-build contractor you choose. Furthermore, the design may be skewed toward practicality, economy, and ease of construction at the cost of some more artistic and creative design elements. Also, with no competitive bidding, there may be less incentive for them to keep costs down.

A general contractor, on the other hand, will engage all the trades and professions required to build from your working drawings and will orchestrate the entire build from the plans you provide. He will seek the best prices and savings on your behalf to make his bid competitive. However, your building design plans can lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations if the builder has had no input in the design process. This inevitably results in costly or wasteful revisions, completion delays, and deadline blowouts.

This is perhaps the biggest pitfall of engaging an architectural firm to create your plans and documentation and it presents a general contractor’s greatest challenge. When a happy client arrives clutching their wonderful, artistic visions created by a professional architect, the contractor realizes he may have a tall task to turn that academic work of art into something he can practically build on site.

Handling of issues that arise during construction

Too often the design, which costs the client an arm and a leg, is not conducive to practical building methodologies or has specified rare, costly materials that need importing from far corners of the planet if they are even available at all. And the contractor quickly identifies that if he builds to those lovely, artistic renderings the build will come in way above the client’s budget.

These issues don’t arise if a design-build firm created the plans with state-of-the-art modern building processes in mind coupled with a firm understanding of the client’s budget. This is your major consideration when deciding whether to engage a design-build team or have your plans professionally drawn then call for general building contractors to bid for the project.