Deciding on the Right Contractor for a Remodeling Project

 In Homeowner Tips

If you’re considering a major home renovation project, you have two options on how to pursue it: You can hire a remodeling company and an architecture/design firm and manage them separately or, alternatively, hire a design-build firm that would integrate the two functions into one contract.

Being a flex design company, Wisconsin Home Remodeling knows the pros and cons of both options.

Design-build is becoming an increasingly popular buzzword in the remodeling industry — a lot of companies have re-branded as “design-build” firms. Nearly 20% of all remodelers consider themselves design-build firms.

According to data from the Construction Industry Institute, the design-build approach can be more cost-effective and efficient than the traditional method of signing separate construction and design contracts. One study tallies the cost of design-build projects at 6.1 percent lower and 33.5 percent faster than the traditional method.

Still, you can achieve the same result by hiring your own architect and contractor separately who can work together.

Here’s what you need to know before deciding whether to hire an architect and contractor separately or a design-build firm:

Learn what exactly a “design-build” is. Simply put, design-build is a way to streamline the design and construction of your project to save both time and money. A budget is typically identified early in the project, and the design is tailored to meet the budget.

Having both the designer and builder involved from the beginning allows for more accurate pricing information as well as designs that are closer to that budget.

Traditional design-build firms offer themselves as a one-stop shop for your entire project; you can work with the same single company from the design through the construction. Ideally, they are licensed as both architects and general contractors.  However, many who consider themselves design-build don’t have an architect on staff.

Here are a few recommendations for anyone considering a remodeling project.

Shop around  – Meet with several firms, design-build firms, architects and contractors to decide who is the best fit for you. Talk to friends and co-workers for recommendations. If you don’t know where to start, take a look at firms bound to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s Code of Ethics at

 Make sure you are working with both a licensed architect and a licensed contractor – This ensures you’re working with properly trained professionals. The American Institute for Architects (AIA) and NARI are important professional organizations that list many professionals. Your state or local jurisdiction can help you determine if the professional is licensed.

Understand your contracts – True design-build firms offer a single point of contact and contractual relationship. This can be good, but be sure you read your contracts. Many will discount their architectural fees initially, but if you do not continue through and use their in-house construction services, you are often back-charged the amount you were originally discounted.

One way to avoid this is to look for firms that charge a market rate design fee and a credit toward construction.  You should be rewarded, not penalized in this process.

Be honest and upfront with your team about your budget – If you hire professionals you trust, letting them know your true budget will help them tailor the project to you. Follow the process outlined by your team — it will likely involve multiple steps designed to guide you through each decision as required.

Avoid two-against-one conflicts – If you hire an architect and contractor separately, you have two points of contact/separate contracts. But you also have two professionals that can each advocate for you throughout the process. This will create fewer conflicts of interest when questions arise.

Determine whether speed is more important than controlling the numerous phases of the project – Generally the design-build method offers a quicker timeline, but many decisions are made over the course of the entire project including during the construction phase. I’ve seen more projects go from paper to brick using this method than not.

The traditional process of contracting an architect and designer separately is a slower process, but would be ideal for someone who wants to understand every detail and aspect of their project prior to any hammers hitting nails.

Due to the high demand of many remodeling industry professionals, project timelines are being extended by 4-6 months in most cases. So be patient and persistent in your search for a professional to meet your design needs.  Spending a little more time in the beginning can help ensure a more successful end result.

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