Working with a General Contractor versus Working with a Design-Build Firm
The road to bringing your dream kitchen or bath remodel to life starts with research, vetting your options and ultimately deciding on a team who you trust with your home remodeling investment. Oftentimes, homeowners find themselves stuck between partnering with a general contractor or a design-build firm. While you may tend to be more familiar with the traditional, general contractor business model, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right partnership for you. Before signing on the dotted line, it is essential to your decision making process and, ultimately, the success of your project, that you understand the differences between working with a general contractor and partnering with a design-build firm.
Typically, a general contractor deals only with the construction aspects of home remodeling. When working with a general contractor, expect little to no design guidance or help with the material selection process. You may not realize it, but a contractor’s lack of design knowledge is particularly important when it comes to how your contractor prices your construction contract. If your contractor does not know the specifics of the materials you’ve chosen, or have yet to choose, he will price your contract based on “allowances”. An allowance is essentially your contractor’s guess at how much the finished design materials will cost. This becomes a problem when your contract lists a $10,000 countertop allowance, but the Calcutta Gold marble you’ve fallen in love with is more than twice that cost. You haven’t even gotten to tile, cabinets or flooring yet and your project is already over budget!
It is also important to know that general contractors are not licensed to draft construction documents, such as building, plumbing and electrical plans. It is the responsibility of the homeowner to first work with an architectural draftsman, structural engineer (if need be) and various skilled tradesmen to finalize the detailed project plans that the general contractor will then work off of. Your architect will know the local building code requirements and be prepared to design your remodel to code so you don’t have change orders as well as missed deadlines, and increased spend out of your pocket.
An important common situation we hear from clients that regret selecting a general contractor over a 1-stop shop design build firm; Your blueprints are created by a draftsman that you hire and you must give them to your contractor to price out with materials. Your contractor may come back and inform you of the budget that happens to be double what you planned on spending. Now you need to go back to your draftsman and get new plans. There is no discount for new plans. Therefore often homeowners pay for plans twice when going this route. You want to be sure you are coordinating closely between your architect and your general contractor.
As you can start to see, when working with a general contractor, you assume the role of lead project planner and oversee each vital aspect of the remodel. For those with the time, skills and knowledge to manage a project, working with a general contractor can be a great option! However, for those who would rather dedicate their time elsewhere and/or lack a foundational knowledge of construction, details tend to be overlooked, leading to costly construction delays, a lack of accountability amongst the “team” and a whole lot of unwanted stress for the homeowner.
Alternatively, design-build offers a more comprehensive approach to the remodeling process. True design-build remodeling unifies and manages the various, vital aspects of design and construction under one roof. Design and construction professionals are able to clearly communicate through every aspect of the project, taking the planning and managing responsibilities off of your shoulders while offering one point of accountability.
Specializing in kitchens, bathrooms and whole home remodels, Sea Pointe Construction combines the best of design-build with a diligent and detailed project planning process which offers clients clear and complete contract pricing. As opposed to guessing at material costs and basing your remodeling contract off of “allowances”, clients work one-on-one with a Sea Pointe Construction Design Consultant to finalize all construction documents and material selections. With such specific information, the Sea Pointe Construction team is able to provide you with accurate project pricing. Having a detailed outline of the project also allows the Sea Pointe Construction team to estimate a realistic timeline for construction.
Before you hire your general contractor or design build firm, you want to be sure to check your references. Any general contractor or firm should be willing to take you to a job site that is in construction. This will show you how this construction company respects your home. You don’t want food wrappers or trash on a job site. You don’t want cigarette butts outside your home. You do want plastic enclosures with zippers to keep dust particles and debris from construction away from your family and the areas of your home that are not under construction. You do want to have a HEPA filter if anyone in your family has respiratory conditions such as asthma or COPD.
You also want to be sure that the company you hire for the job has license and insurance to do the necessary work to complete your remodeling project. Both licenses and insurance is governed by Contractors State Licence Board. You may look up your prospective contractor or firm on their website at www.cslb.ca.gov to ensure their insurance and licenses are in good standing.
→ Be sure to check that the person you are hiring is the same name as the owner of the business you are hiring. It has been common to find someone “using” another contractor’s license and that is not legal and you will not be covered by their licenses or insurance. This means if a worker gets injured while working on your home, you are liable and they can put a lien on your home. These are real things that have happened to good people. Be sure to do your homework before signing. There are good general contractors out there, you just want to make sure you are engaging your project with a properly licensed and insured general contractor.
→ Be sure your contractor is licensed for what he is working on your property for. You don’t want your electrician installing your water heater and you don’t want your plumber to set up your electrical panel and circuitry. There are 43 different licenses that you can be sure your contractor has by checking the same website, www.cslb.ca.gov. Anyone performing work outside their license will not be covered by their insurance and again fall on you, the homeowner and your homeowner insurance policy.
We’ve compiled a handy guide of 15 Remodeling Review & Resources Websites so you can be sure to feel confident in your choice.
It is important to note that, because design-build construction contracts are comprehensively priced, it may seem like the more expensive option when compared to a contract drawn up by a general contractor. But remember, unless your general contractor has specified costs off of the specific materials you’ve chosen, their lower contract price isn’t accurate. General contractors typically have change orders through the process that total the difference plus more after adding in the architect, structural, design, and material costs. Not to mention you must do all your own purchasing and have the material ready for your general contractor upon the day he has planned to install it.
Also note prior to selecting your builder of choice, you may want to meet with a professional designer with years of space planning experience. After designing thousands of spaces, it becomes second nature to design spaces specific to your family’s lifestyle needs.
Designers also have access to software used for communication that will show you your entire remodel with all the materials selected and rendered in the right place so you may see your remodel as it will appear after being built, yet no real construction done yet. This is very important as we have PLENTY of experience with clients seeing their backsplash tile that they absolutely love in a 4 X4 sample, yet once shown how it looks on their entire wall, they are overwhelmed and decide to select alternate colors or patterns. This saves you a lot of money to figure this out prior to purchasing the material or seeing it half-way installed and wanting to change it out then. You can see the process below of how our designers use rendering tools to communicate with customers. The renders are often just as vivid as the after pictures.
Rendering these enables us to not only measure twice, cut once, but it also enables us to design as many times as necessary to get it right. That’s exactly what we do to ensure that the remodel design we provide you exceeds your expectations. You can see from the render above to the after photo below that the client loved almost everything about this render. There were 2 changes made as a result of the render; different lighting fixtures and silver pulls and faucet rather than gold.
Another helpful tool prior to starting your project is to create a look book. You can gather pictures by tearing pages out of magazines, printing images form the internet, and snapping inspiration from design stores of color palettes that you like. You may also do this exercise digitally by creating a Pinterest or create a Facebook group where you can share images with your family and designer. You can start with getting some design inspiration from our Kitchen, Bath, and Whole Home portfolios.
Whether you choose to work with a general contractor or a design-build firm, we hope you have a successful remodeling experience and that your newly renovated kitchen or bathroom is enjoyed for years to come!