Lesson 22: Design/Build

As a way to turn more prospects into clients and to serve them better, some remodelers implement a design/build process. This month Dennis Gavin, CR, CKBR, of Gavin Design-Build Inc., and Shawn McCadden, CR, CLC, a consultant to remodelers, lend their expertise on becoming a design/build firm.

Design/build is basically one-stop shopping for remodeling clients. All aspects of the job, including design, budget and construction are handled by one company. Ideally it is a seamless process where a remodeler is involved from start to finish and the homeowner deals with one person all the way through.

Gavin started his business in 1980, but in 1997 switched the focus to design/build after feeling frustrated bidding on projects where people had hired an architect. Oftentimes the plans were just outside the scope of the budget and never made it to the remodeling stage.

Prior to the emergence of the design/build process by some remodelers, contractors had been providing a lot of their time for free and often giving away design ideas. Many got wise to this and realized the potential of charging for design services by working for customers who comprehend that design services are valuable when provided in tandem with solid construction.
McCadden looks at design/build as a three-legged stool involving a design professional, a contractor acting as salesperson/estimator who is solely responsible for the project, and the homeowner who controls the budget.

“If we take any one of those legs out, then the design/build process will fall down,” says McCadden. “All three should be at every meeting. The contractor or designer shouldn’t be meeting with the client separately to discuss the design of the project.”

There are two ways to implement design/build. Some companies partner with outside architects in the design/build process and have a close working relationship. Other firms do the work in-house, either by the owner or another person on staff. It allows the budget and design processes to be more integrated and have a better chance of a good outcome.

According to McCadden, advantages of design/build include: single-source responsibilities, cost control, quality control and quicker delivery time.

A single-source responsibility is an advantage to the contractor as well as the client, since there is only one person taking charge. If the scope of the work changes, because the homeowner is in control of costs, they know what to expect in the end.

“Quality control is a real advantage,” explains McCadden. “Experienced design/builders know what products work best in which applications. When I was doing design/build, we subcontracted the designers and made sure we matched the right designer with the right client. That way we didn’t have a designer who is an expert in colonial homes creating a contemporary home.”

Another advantage is quicker delivery time. With a single company in control from the start, there’s not all the rebidding and redesigning because the architect didn’t design beyond the scope of budget. The homeowner doesn’t have to review multiple bids.Lastly, contractors are in a better position to know the lead times for the products they specify.

There are potential pitfalls of the process. “It might come down to the company or specific individual; do they have the skill level necessary to do the design?” says Gavin. “Another potential problem, which is easy to overcome, is that many townships and municipalities now require stamped drawings for larger sized projects, which necessitates the designer to be able to provide that service or going outside the company to do that.”

McCadden suggests becoming educated on what the industry best practice is for doing design/build. Employees should be trained for the way design/build works and not to modify the design/build process to work for a company. Through ignorance, some people are watering down what design/build is, and this makes for confusion for homeowners.

“Contractors should look at the liability of the design,” says McCadden. “They might want to look into insurance for that because if their design fails they become fully responsible.”

For more advanced remodeling projects, the design/build process helps in submitting bids and lets the homeowner know exactly what they’re getting.

“You have to make people aware of what you do,” explains Gavin. “What helps me market it is the visuals. My Web site shows the process of an existing site, the design and then the finished product so the homeowner can see not only how we changed it, but also how closely the design matches the finished look.”

Proceed to the test