Ask the Builder: “What is Design/Build Contracting?”

Written by Andy Stauffer

August 29

design build contracting

When a home owner is researching and interviewing builders, the subject of how a builder approaches the building process is very important. These days, there are two main ways a builder can approach the custom home building process: either via the Design-Bid-Build process, or the Design/Build. Here’s a quick overview of each one, and why we’ve always used the second method.

The “Design-Bid-Build” Process

When having your home built with a design-bid-build process, the homeowner will first contact a design firm or architect. He (or she) will then work with the designer or architect to have plans drawn up for the new home. This is the first step is called, obviously, the “design” part of the process. This is where conversations about square footage, finishes, layouts, floor plans, and furnishings take place. At the end of this design phase, the homeowner hopes to “spec out” the house, so that he can send those plans “out for bid.” Generally speaking, people using this method try to find at least three builders to give their plans to, and they’ll request a bid from each builder based on those plans. (This is the “bid” part of the process.”)

In theory, the homeowner will wait a few days (or weeks) and then wait to collect each builder’s bid, and compare the three and make a decision about who to hire. This, for many years, was the traditional way of having a home built.

The “Design/Build” Process

The second, and newer, approach to building a home is the Design/Build process. With this method, a homeowner interviews a few builders and, hopefully, selects one based not only on a general idea of costs, but also based on the builder’s reputation, personality, previous projects, and ability to get things done. That builder will then contract with a design or architectural firm to have plans for the home drawn up, and the three parties (designer/builder/homeowner) will all work together to come up with the best home plan. If everyone’s done their job, at the end of the design phase, not only does the homeowner have a winning design, but he also has a total price for what the home will cost, because he’s been communicating with the builder the whole time.

Stauffer & Sons Construction is, and always has been, a Design/Build contractor, and for good reason: we’re big fans of the fact that with a Design/Build approach, there’s never a big surprise at the end when the homeowner finally learns the price tag for his home. That’s the main weakness of older building methods, and we’ve seen it time and time again: where a homeowner sits down with an architect for hours and hours, listing all the wonderful things he wants in his house, determines the overall square footage, chooses a certain level of finish, then walks out the door happily with a set of plans… for a house that will end up costing him $100k more (or even higher) than his intended budget. This is the worst possible scenario: where a homeowner has just spent thousands of dollars on a beautiful set of plans for a home that he can’t afford.

This isn’t the architect’s fault, of course; the architect’s job is to design a home that fits the client’s desires. But what we’ve found over the years is that it’s too big a disconnect to go through the entire process of designing a home from start to finish without ever consulting a builder in the process—the one who has real-world data on what things actually cost. So when people walk in our door and say “I’ve got a set of plans for a home, can you put a bid on it?” it’s a very rare case indeed where we give the homeowner a price range that’s even in the right neighborhood of what he was expecting.

To avoid the heartache of going through the design process in a vacuum, we always recommend consulting a builder early in the process. You can still work with your architect to design the home of your dreams, but we’ll be there to help you ask the right questions and bring the dreaming back down to reality from time to time so you can be confident that the home you’re designing is one you can actually build.

If you’d like more information on our Design/Build process, feel free to contact us. We would love to see (and build) the home you’re dreaming of.


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