Silly clients think they know better

I was on the phone with the owner of a home that recently underwent an extensive remodel. Homeowners don’t always make it on an editor’s list of people to interview, and their quotes don’t always appear within articles. But, now and then it’s good to hear their perspectives, which can add interesting dimensions to a story, as it did to this one.

The interesting part of our conversation didn’t come from discussing the design of the newly remodeled home or the owner’s satisfaction with the end result. Rather, the conversation took a left turn when we began talking about the way he chose to hire the key players in his project.

He told me the architect he hired drew the plans, created construction documents and put the construction out for bid. Then, per contract, the architect managed the construction phase, which was handled by the contractor who won the bid. The arrangement was functional, but certainly not as efficient nor cost-effective as the client hoped it would be.

In hindsight, the homeowner told me he would have done things differently. He would have hired a design-build firm and brought everyone together much sooner. I asked him why he took the design-bid-build route rather than following the design-build process, and he said he thought he was going to save money. I laughed and said, “You silly homeowner,” and he laughed with me. “Yeah, I’ll never do that again,” he chuckled.

Most homeowners are not familiar enough with the remodeling process to realize the value of design-build. Too many homeowners believe the value lies in competitive bidding. Rarely is this the case, except maybe for exterior replacement work, a new driveway or construction of a community park. Certainly not for a whole-house remodel.

Design-build, although not the only way to go, is the best way to go. It keeps one entity in control of design, construction, and the hiring and management of all contractors. Design-build is common in the remodeling market, but it can — and should — be applied to more projects than it is. I’d bet that satisfaction levels of homeowners whose projects were managed within the design-build process are higher than those whose projects took the design-bid-build route.

Remodeling, like custom home building, has been described to me as, “a horrible business model,” because the product is reinvented for each customer and production efficiencies are difficult to establish. The best a remodeler can do is create best practices and procedures, and trust they will work as planned, every time. The design-build process — with its single point of control — is the perfect way to establish consistency, and to manage the unforeseen challenges inherent in every remodeling project.

A few weeks ago — as part of our annual market trends survey — we asked remodelers, “Are you noticing an increased demand from homeowners for one-stop design-build services?” Preliminary results indicate 62 percent of remodelers believed homeowners want their design and construction services to be delivered through the design-build process. Keep your eyes open for the January issue when we publish the final results of the survey. QR