The contractor your choose can make or break a remodel. However, finding the right one can be confusing. Did you know there are different types of contractors, each with its own business structure and process? When exploring your options for a remodel, it’s important to find the type of contractor whose strengths are the best match for the needs of your remodel. The first step is learning how to tell the difference.
As a design-build firm based in Portland, OR, our team at Lamont Bros. Design & Construction enjoys getting to work with homeowners to transform their homes and their lives. However, we also know that our methods and processes for remodeling aren’t always the best fit for every remodel. We want you to be able to find a contractor that’s a good fit for your project, whether or not they do business the same way we do.
In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of contractors and identify their strengths and weaknesses. With the information below, you’ll be able to better understand the options available to you so you can make an informed decision for the future of your home. The types of contractors we’ll discuss include:
- Economy Showrooms
- Big Box Stores & Franchise Remodelers
- Established Remodelers
- Design-Build firms
An owner-operator contractor is one that is typically owned and managed by a single owner. This type of contractor takes on various roles and responsibilities within their construction business.
They are usually involved in every aspect of the project. This includes initial planning and estimating, purchasing materials, hiring subcontractors, managing the construction process, and ensuring quality control. They may also handle administrative tasks, such as accounting, licensing, and compliance with regulations.
Owner-operators typically have very few employees — more often than not, it’s just one guy. While he may occasionally subcontract work out to other contractors, an owner-operator tends to do most of the construction work himself.
What are the Strengths of Owner-Operators?
One of the major benefits of working with an owner-operator is that they tend to be great at starting work quickly and offering great flexibility throughout the process. Since they don’t typically have an established design process and often work on a cost-plus contract, there’s flexibility to design the remodel as you go. This approach can be helpful with urgent projects.
Also, because they are the ones performing most of the work, owner-operators tend to take more ownership of the project. This often results in a high level of craftsmanship and a personal touch that can be difficult to capture from more corporatized remodeling contractors.
Owner-operators also often develop great personal relationships with their clients. Many homeowners find value in knowing that they have a reliable contractor who they can call when they need work done around the house.
What are the Weaknesses of Owner-Operators?
However, it’s also important to be aware that owner-operators are the highest-risk contractors on the market. Because they are usually a one-man show, it’s easier for them to simply take your money and disappear.
While most owner-operators are good, honest people, it can be difficult to find one who is both reasonably priced and does high-quality work. It’s also important to recognize that this type of contractor has the highest rate of fraud.
It’s also worth noting that owner-operators tend to have limited planning, design, and project management skills. For this reason, they often struggle with large, complex projects.
Economy Bath & Kitchen Showrooms
As a budget-friendly option, economy showrooms are often characterized by their focus on low-cost materials and streamlined services. They cater mostly to those seeking affordable solutions, making them popular among house flippers and homeowners who prioritize cost over long-term durability.
These showrooms have large displays where homeowners can compare different products and finishes. Selections often include countertops, plumbing fixtures, flooring material, cabinetry, and appliances.
Economy showrooms typically offer inexpensive materials, but their product selection and design services are often very limited. Although they do not provide project management, they may or may not offer installation services for their products. However, any additional trades such as electrical work will require separate contractors.
What are the Strengths of Economy Showrooms?
The primary advantage of an economy showroom is its ability to provide cost-effective solutions for remodeling projects.
These showrooms focus on offering affordable options to help customers stay within their budget constraints. By sourcing imported materials and products at lower prices, they can pass on the savings to their customers.
They also serve as a convenient “one-stop-shop” for all the major products you may need during a kitchen or bathroom remodel. If you don’t mind choosing from a limited selection of popular styles and materials, you can find flooring options, cabinetry, countertops, bathroom fixtures, and more.
What are the Weaknesses of Economy Showrooms?
Because of their focus on affordability and lower-priced materials, products from economy showrooms tend to lack long-term durability. While the materials available in these showrooms can serve their purpose well, they may not offer the same level of quality or longevity as higher-priced alternatives.
Additionally, their product selection caters more to standard or basic features rather than intricate or highly personalized designs. Customers here have fewer choices when it comes to unique finishes, styles, or specialty products.
Economy showrooms are also heavily product-focused. Because of this, customers may need to coordinate with separate contractors for tasks beyond the scope of the showroom’s offerings. This means that you might have to manage multiple contractors and ensure effective communication between them to complete the project.
Big Box Stores & Franchise Remodelers
Big box stores, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, as well as franchises like Rebath and Bath Planet, offer a convenient full-process remodeling experience. Many homeowners trust these household names and feel comfortable remodel shopping at these locations.
These companies provide a wide range of in-stock products and often offer installation services through third-party contractors. This means that you can do your shopping in the store, and when you’re ready to buy and install, the store will broker a contract with an installer for you.
While they are not as affordable as economy showrooms, big box stores are still cost-effective, albeit with certain limitations in terms of project scope and complexity.
Franchises like Rebath and Bath Planet focus on specific types of remodeling projects, providing an end-to-end experience but with limited options. Although there are some differences between franchises and big-box stores, the client experience remains largely the same when it comes to home remodeling.
What are the Strengths of Big Box Stores & Franchises?
One key strength of big box stores and franchises is their brand recognition and reputation. Their established brand name often implies a level of trust and reliability, giving clients confidence in their products and services.
They also often have readily available materials, tools, and equipment, reducing the time and effort required to find and purchase them. Furthermore, their installation services through third-party contractors can take a lot of the guesswork out of finding the right contractors for the job.
Another notable strength is the convenience they provide. Big box stores and franchises have a streamlined process and standardized procedures for every project. These established processes make it easier for clients to engage in their services.
What are the Weaknesses of Bix Box Stores & Franchises
Due to their standardized approach, this type of contractor may not offer the same level of customization or attention to detail as smaller contractors.
Because they prioritize efficiency and cost-effectiveness, they tend to have more limited flexibility in accommodating unique project requirements. If your remodel involves any structural changes or a highly customized design plan, a big box store or franchise remodeler may not have the capacity to take on the project.
Moreover, big box stores and franchises can sometimes face challenges related to communication and coordination. Especially with a larger workforce and multiple third-party contractors, maintaining consistent communication across a project can be more challenging.
In some cases, the emphasis on speed and efficiency may result in lesser craftsmanship or reduced attention to the needs of an individual project.
Established Remodeling Contractor
An established remodeling contractor is typically a large general contractor with a proven track record in residential remodeling. Think of this type of contractor as an owner-operator who grew up. They’ll typically have at least 10-20 employees and can run multiple projects at once.
Unlike an owner-operator, the owner of the company isn’t usually on the job site building the project. More often than not, he’s the one selling the jobs and (sometimes) managing them from the main office.
These contractors are typically well-versed in various aspects of remodeling, such as project management, construction, and finish carpentry. In addition, they often have an effective supply chain system in place to handle material selection and ordering.
Established remodelers usually have more defined methods and processes, but they can still offer some degree of flexibility to their clients.
What are the Strengths of Established Remodeling Contractors?
Perhaps the most noteworthy strength of established remodelers is their expertise and knowledge in remodeling projects. They have a firm understanding of the remodeling process and can provide valuable insights and recommendations to clients. Their experience also allows them to anticipate potential challenges and find preemptive solutions, ensuring smooth and successful remodeling projects.
Additionally, this type of contractor often have a portfolio of past projects that showcase their craftsmanship and design capabilities. Clients can review these examples to assess the quality of their work and determine if their style aligns with their vision. The portfolio serves as tangible evidence of the remodeler’s skills and can instill confidence in clients seeking reliable and experienced contractors.
Established remodelers also tend to have longstanding relationships with suppliers, subcontractors, and other professionals in the industry. This network can offer several advantages for clients as it facilitates smoother coordination and access to high-quality materials and services.
What are the Weaknesses of an Established Remodeler?
In spite of their strengths, established remodelers may have limitations in terms of design work. While established remodelers may excel in the actual construction and renovation phases, they are often less focused on designing the project beforehand.
This means you have one of two options when working with this type of contractor. Option one is to use the “design-as-you-go” approach, which involves starting the project with minimal design work and developing the plan as the project takes shape. While this approach offers great freedom, you run the risk of runaway costs.
The second option is to hire an independent designer. Going this route can provide you with a complete set of designs before the project begins. However, it’s worth noting that without adequate input from an actual builder, independent designers can sometimes create projects that are too difficult or costly to build.
Established remodelers may also struggle with scheduling and over-commitment. Due to their reputation, their services might be in high demand, leading them to take on more jobs than they can handle at once. When this happens, individual projects don’t always get the attention they deserve, leading to delays and compromised craftsmanship.
Design-Build Remodeling Firms
Design-build firms are construction contractors that offer a comprehensive approach to projects by integrating both design and construction into one process.
Unlike the traditional design-bid-build method, where the design and construction are handled by separate entities, design-build firms streamline the process by combining these two aspects into a single team.
When working with a design-build firm, you’ll first work with a design team to thoroughly plan your remodel. This will cover everything from the general layout of the space down to the smallest product selections.
Once the project is designed, the team will handle all of the permitting and preconstruction work. Then, the construction team will oversee the project through to completion. Depending on the type of design-build firm you work with, they may do a majority of the work with an in-house build team, or they may subcontract out most of the project.
What are the Advantages of a Design-Build Firm?
The strengths of design-build firms lie in their ability to provide a seamless and efficient project experience.
With both design and construction expertise under one roof, these firms can foster close collaboration and effective communication between designers, project managers, and construction staff. This integrated approach enables design-build firms to streamline decision-making, minimize delays, and enhance project coordination.
Design-build firms are also known for their ability to complete projects within a specific budget and timeline. The close collaboration between designers and builders from the early stages of a project allows for continuous cost estimation and value engineering. Most design-build firms operate on a fixed-price contract model, meaning you’ll know exactly how much the project will cost before construction even begins.
What are the Weaknesses of a Design-Build Firm?
One major limitation of working with a design-build firm is that there is limited flexibility for processes and personnel. While many people like the clearly defined processes of working with a design-build contractor, others may find it stifling or limiting.
This is especially true for homeowners who want to be able to select their own remodeling team. When you work with a design-build team, it consists of employees from the company. If you’d rather be able to hand-pick and choose your designer, project manager, and carpenters, design-build may not be for you.
It’s also worth noting that working with this type of contractor offers limited opportunity for competitive bidding. In the traditional design-bid-build approach, homeowners can seek out bids from multiple contractors before beginning construction on the project.
However, with a design-build firm, the homeowner often loses the ability to collect bids because they are already committed to working with the design-build firm by the time the designs are complete.
This issue can be addressed by thoroughly evaluating the qualifications and track record of the design-build firm before entering into a design contract.
Want to Learn More About Finding a Contractor?
Now that you understand how the type of contractor you choose can affect your remodel, continue your research. To learn more about how to weigh your contractor options, read our article, “How to Choose a Contractor for Your Portland Remodel.”
Want to talk to a professional remodeler about your upcoming project? If you’re planning a remodel and want to know if a design-build firm is the right fit for you, click the link below to schedule a free consultation with one of our design consultants.