Remodel models have benefits, drawbacks

Most of your clients have three standard options for tackling a major remodeling project. They can hire a design-build firm, retain an architect or go with a contractor.

Although each of these options presents its own benefits, liabilities and trade-offs, a design-build firm yields the best outcome, assuming the firm has strong design and construction departments.

A renovation project succeeds or fails in the planning and execution phases. We see every project as two very integrated opportunities to build your project twice; once on paper, once in reality. With this in mind, let’s look at the three models.



The design-build model links the planning and execution phases within the umbrella of one firm. There are several advantages to going with a firm that can provide design and build services.

Schedule. Working with one firm streamlines the process.

Primary contact. In the case of our firm, the client has one primary point of contact to guide the homeowner through the process.

Cost checks. Better design-build firms price the project at several key phases during the design process instead of waiting to the end.

Construction expertise during design. With the design and construction teams in the same house, consultation and problem solving are facilitated and build-ability is considered as the project takes shape.



In the architect-bid model, the homeowner retains an architect who works with the homeowner to develop a set of drawings and specifications. The completed drawings are then sent out to bid.

Impartial third party. The major advantage of the architect-bid model is the architect as the homeowner’s third-party advocate. Understand, though, that this has its limits.

Negotiate bid. Some architects and homeowners will bring in a remodeling contractor early in the design process for a negotiated bid. In this scenario, the builder offers his or her experience and price checks to the design process.

Professionalism and design quality. We bid on work designed by outside architects and designers. After reviewing hundreds of sets of drawings over many years, we can state with some accuracy there is an immense range of design quality. Hiring a credentialed architect may not guarantee a better design product than hiring some designers. It’s all about experience, vision, ability, listening skills and knowledge of building codes and building science.



Any substantial project should have a qualified designer working through the details in a methodical way. Some contractors may be able to sketch a client’s masterpiece exactly the way they want it on the back of a napkin, but we doubt it. Expect no permits, a stop-work order and unforeseen costs. For projects that don’t require drawings, however, hiring a contractor first may be the way to go.

Developing and completing complex construction projects inherently embodies risk. Our biggest goal for our clients is to manage and minimize these risks and strive to create excellent outcomes for everyone involved in the project.


Christopher K. Landis is a licensed architect in three states and partner in Landis Construction Corp., Washington, D.C.