Around here, we put a lot of time and effort into the analysis of a space, the optimal design and the perfect materials. We debate the location of a window, the direction of a backsplash tile and the width of a walk-in shower. So, when the time comes to implement the plans, the vast majority of our clientele takes the obvious next step by asking us for recommendations on the labor to assemble the project. After all, the contractor really is the variable between an ordinary job and a constructed work of art. Throughout our time with a client, we become invested in their dreams of home and earn their trust as a partner in the process along the way. Thus, when our team is asked to endorse a local General Contractor, our answer is – simply – no.
Over the years, we have learned to distance our business from endorsing contractors under the basic premise that most contractors have a different set of priorities for the project than we do and, unfortunately, in many cases see the undertaking in strictly economic terms. And while we understand the competitive nature of bidding in a competitive marketplace, it is important to select an entity that takes pride in the ultimate product, occasionally going above and beyond to gain client (and architect) satisfaction. Choosing a General Contractor – from a kitchen remodel to the planning and construction of a new home – comes down to a truly clever mix of competency, connection and, inevitably, cash.
The right pairing of architect and contractor should aim to have a healthy set of checks and balances. The right builder will analyze our plan set and make positive suggestions on details, finish coordination and potential cost-saving measures for the undertaking. Our job, as the design professionals during construction, is to point out issues of quality and adherence to the plan set. These roles work best when there are open lines of communication between the contractor, owner and designer where the connections are clear; we work directly for the homeowner and the builder is contracted in the exact same way, but we do not work for one another. The concept of having the client’s best interest in mind is, in our opinion, the meaning of integrity and professionalism. A contractor should be known for the way they accomplished the work and the feeling the occupants felt along the way.
The first step in finding the right contractor for your project is almost always a word-of-mouth exercise. Our clients tend to talk to their neighbors, colleagues at work, friends in the industry and – inevitably – will ask us if we have a “match” in mind. With so many “horror stories” of bad experiences out there, owners want to know that they will be treated fairly and with a genuine courtesy. And oftentimes, will look to us to endorse and recommend a contractor. While we understand the desire for an industry-recommendation, we want to steer clear of selecting this partner for the project as part of the aforementioned checks-and-balances that the best projects need to adhere to.
It’s for this reason that asking for reference projects, along with contact information for previous (and, ideally, recent) customers, is the first careful step in your vetting process. This is to say that that, of course, you want to see the work but you also want to hear about the way it was completed. Did the contractor come in at or under budget? Did they accomplish the anticipated schedule or – at the very least – explain why the time for work was extended? And when things did not go according to plan, did they take responsibility for the solution, even when it creeped into their profit margin? Every business decision, even those backed in research and well-intended meetings, carry the slight risk of backfiring. And construction is a very human profession.
In the end, building new or renovating your home can be expensive, disrupting and stressful in regards to your daily life so the GC decision is critical to the process. When expectations are realistic – with a team that values a reputation of client satisfaction – the best results come naturally.