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When to hire a design-build firm (And when not to)

Looking for someone to remodel your home can be difficult. Right now, every remodeler, contractor, and design-build firm you could hire is booked out months or even years. Worse yet, some seem too busy to even answer the phone.

But how are you supposed to know where to start looking? What are you even looking for? When you need a doctor, at least you know what kind of doctor to look for. Are you looking for a dentist or a cardiologist? Remodeling can be confusing and the consequences of hiring the wrong type of company for the job are significant.

In this article, we’ll discuss what kind of construction projects are great for a design-build firm like ours.  We’ll also talk about what other options are available for projects that don’t fit our wheelhouse.

What are the main types of construction services available?

Remodeling is a balancing act between three factors: affordability, quality, and process (or timeline). The issue is, you can’t have all three at once. If you want affordability and quality, your project will likely take longer. If you want a project done quickly and cheaply, your quality will suffer.

Before discussing when to hire a design-build firm, it is important that you understand the options available to you. 

There are typically four main options in the remodel construction market. These options are handymen, general contractors, design-build firms, and “The Top 1%.” 

Handyman

Handymen are great options for smaller jobs and repair work around the house.

A handyman is typically an independent contractor, often considered a “jack of all trades.” Repair and maintenance work is the handyman’s bread and butter. However, larger projects are also possible, at the expense of more time.

Since a handyman service is usually 1-2 owner/operators, their scope of work is limited by personnel. Because of this, handymen are typically great candidates for small, limited-scope home improvement projects.

General contractors

When the work you want done on your home is wider in scope and requires more expertise, a general contractor might be a better choice. General contractors tend to bid out different jobs to specialized subcontractors. So one day, your drywall subcontractors will be in to do the drywall. The next day, flooring. And the next, a painter.

If you choose to work with a general contractor, you may need to hire a separate architect or designer beforehand to design your project. That depends on the scope of your project. Any time you are changing structural elements or the purpose of a room, you will need a designer.

These contracts are very easy to calculate and understand. At the same time, the initial quote on a cost-plus contract is only an estimate of the total project cost. The project cost can often end up more expensive than initially anticipated.

Design-build firm

A design-build firm is a full-process remodel option. The design team and builders work together towards to goal of a successful remodel.

In the case of a design-build firm, the project design team and construction team all work for the same company. As a result, you work with the same people from the first sketch to the final nail. 

A design-build firm best suits mid to large-scale, multi-faceted projects where a detailed design matters to the final build. Projects that fit this bill include kitchen remodels, bathroom remodels, or additions. 

The advantage of working with a design-build firm is the integration of the design team and build personnel. This doesn’t just eliminate the need for you to hire and coordinate between designers and builders. It also provides an environment where your entire team is working together with one goal in mind.

Some design-build firms function on the construction end in much the same way as a general contractor. Once the design is complete, a project manager bids out the actual work to various subcontractors.

At Lamont Bros, we also have our own in-house construction teams who are trained in skills ranging from framing to finish carpentry. Usually, the only work we subcontract out is specific trades – electrical, plumbing, and HVAC. As a result, the timeline of a remodel is more streamlined and predictable. 

Design-build firms and most general contractors typically operate on fixed-price contracts. With a fixed-price contract, the builder and homeowner budget the entire project together. This happens before construction even begins, and locks that price in when you sign. That way, you as the homeowner will know up-front how much a project will cost before committing, and you have more control over the total cost of your remodel.

The Top 1%

When quality is of the highest priority and cost is no issue, it’s a job for The Top 1%. Globally renowned celebrity designers, architects, and luxury builders make up this category. 

Going with this option is a lot like buying a Louis Vuitton handbag. It’s going to be the highest quality product, but you’re also going to pay for branding.For example, if you wanted a kitchen by the premier kitchen designer of our age, you’d probably go to Mick DeGiulio. Internationally acclaimed and widely agreed to be the utmost authority on designing kitchens, DeGuilio represents the cream of the crop. 

When working with the highest-quality artisans, the cost will be astronomically higher and the process will take much longer. These people are the best in the business, and they’re usually booked out for years. If time and money are no objects, then this might be the best fit for you.

On the few projects we’ve done this way, we’ve often seen the client put a specific person on their payroll to manage the construction project for them. This increases the organization and allows the manager to spend more time sourcing the very top 1% of craftsmen, artisans, products, and solutions for the client.

Some of these experts may travel from out of state or even internationally. Others may not be available for a year or two. It may not be the most convenient process, but at the end of the road, you’ll get what you’ve paid (and waited) for: the perfect designer project for you.

Reasons to hire a design-build firm

There are several differences between the four main types of remodel construction businesses, each with its own strengths. Now, let’s discuss a few reasons you might want to hire a design-build firm like Lamont Bros. When considering the three cost factors of remodeling, design-build firms tend to be an equal balance between affordability, quality, and process.

Your project requires the work of a designer

Many remodel projects require a design before construction. Even when no design is required, it is often helpful.

Sometimes, construction laws require that a remodel project involve the work of a designer. Other times, it’s just common sense that you use one. In either case, a design-build firm typically employs a team of certified designers who work closely with the build team.

We’ve found that having designers and builders under one roof tends to promote communication between the two, which ultimately results in a more cohesive final product. It is also possible to save time and money by contracting a design-build firm rather than hiring an independent designer and a separate builder. 

Here are a few reasons why your project might need a designer:

Changes to structural, electrical, or plumbing

Any time you want to change a load-bearing structure in your home, you should hire a professional designer or engineer to ensure that the new build maintains structural stability. This includes things as simple as knocking out a wall and as complex as a second-story addition. 

Do you want to rearrange your light switches, move appliances, or add a new sink? If so, you need to rearrange your plumbing and electrical, as well. When doing any of these things, we strongly recommended that you hire a designer.

Changes in room-use designation

Building codes decide what constitutes a bedroom, a kitchen, or a utility room. So, when you change the use designation of a room, you have to make sure that it meets code requirements for its new intended use. 

For example, we’ve seen several dining-room-to-guest-suite conversions. Changing from a dining room to a bedroom means meeting several code requirements, including room size, window placement, and closet space. In order to make sure a change in room use meets the requirements, you should hire a designer to create the construction drawings.

Anything involving cabinetry

To ensure your cabinetry is efficient and useful, you should hire a designer to plan the layout.

Cabinet layouts are a surprisingly nuanced challenge, with many sizes, functions, and placements being possible. Cabinetry is also very expensive. 

Though not required by law, we strongly recommend using a designer to map out your cabinets any time you plan to change them. A kitchen designer understands how a kitchen cabinet system should function. They are experts in cabinet uses, ergonomics, and layouts. So, a good designer can ensure that the flow of work in your kitchen remains natural and streamlined. If you’re going to spend money on buying cabinets, you might as well make sure the layout is well-designed, too. 

You want a predictable, reasonable cost for your remodel

When you hire a design-build firm, you put yourself in control of the price of your remodel. With a fixed-cost contract, you get to set the total project budget and lock it in before construction begins. 

When designing a remodel, you have two factors to consider: what you want to change and what you want to spend. Sometimes, those two factors don’t align. And that’s okay. 

Your design team may show you different design options for a remodel.  One might include every item you want with no expenses spared.  Another might narrow down the scope of the project in order to meet the budget. You might also see a design that falls somewhere in between the two. 

As the homeowner, you should get to decide how much you spend and expect your builder to hold to that agreement. That’s why a fixed-price contract will establish a design and a total cost beforehand. 

When working with a cost-plus contractor, neither of those factors are locked in when construction begins. This allows for more flexibility during the process, but it also means that prices can balloon out of control very quickly.

It’s common for cost-plus contracted projects to meet their budget mark well before the remodel is finished. Once this happens, the homeowner usually has no choice but to continue shelling out money to complete the project. 

When working with a fixed-cost contract, the only time the cost of a project will increase is due to increases in material prices, such as the lumber crisis this year, or if there is a change of scope of the project. 

Timeline and process are a priority to you

One of the most prominent reasons people choose to work with a design-build firm is because they want a concrete, easy-to-follow process for remodeling. Instead of spearheading the project themselves, they want a guide to lead them through the challenging journey of remodeling from start to finish. 

Not everyone wants to approach remodeling this way. Some people enjoy the challenge of figuring it out as they go, learning by trial and error. But, for those who want to be the deciding voice in the design and construction of their remodel without having to do all the heavy lifting, the design-build process is a great balance. 

A design-build team will walk you through the process step by step. From start to finish, you remain in control of the project while your design-build team care of all the technical details. This way, you can offer your input and your design team can translate it into a buildable design plan. 

When the scope, design, and price of your project are predetermined before construction begins, you also get a better idea of how the timeline will work. 

With an in-house design plan, the team knows exactly what needs to be done and how it’s going to happen. So, they can more accurately predict how long the construction process will take. 

At Lamont Bros, we assign a dedicated team to each project. That way, the projects won’t drag out for months and months, with the builder’s attention spread between 10 different simultaneous job sites. Our goal is to have your house torn up for as little time as possible. Your build team comes in, they focus on your remodel, and then they pack up and leave you to enjoy your newly remodeled home. 

Reasons not to hire a design-build firm

There are some instances where hiring a design-build firm isn’t in the best interest of the homeowner or the builder. In cases like these, which we call a bad fit, it is important to recognize why you shouldn’t hire a design-build firm and who you should hire instead. 

The scale and scope of your project is limited

If you have a project that doesn’t require the skills of a designer, you won’t need a design-build firm. The two most common of these types of bad fits are small projects and specialized trades. 

Small projects

Say you have various “odd jobs” you need done around the house. Maybe you have a leaky faucet, want some shelves built and installed in your wall, or need a new handrail for your staircase.

In cases like these, you don’t need a design-build firm, in the same way that you don’t need a Gatling gun to quell a small rodent infestation. These kinds of isolated, simple tasks should be left to a handyman.

Projects slightly larger in size can really go either way. For example, say you want to update your living room by removing a non-load-bearing wall and adding new paint, flooring, and trim. You might want to hire a general contractor and have them subcontract a painter, flooring installer, and drywall team. You could also hire a design-build firm, but the necessary design work would be minimal, and the cost might be higher. 

Specialized trades

Maybe you don’t want a full remodel. Instead, you want a specific, focused project, like repainting your home’s exterior or replacing your carpets with hardwood floors. 

When you have a project that is large in size but narrow in scope (re-flooring or repainting), you should just hire a specialist directly. Other examples could include replacing a countertop or replacing your front door. 

You would rather sacrifice process and quality for the sake of cost

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear – a design-build firm like Lamont Bros is never the cheapest option. Design-build firms do their best to maintain competitive, reasonable prices. However, their focus is quality and process, not being inexpensive.

There are situations where homeowners simply don’t value the process and quality of work that a design-build firm provides. Either they would rather hire a less expensive builder at the risk of extending the project’s timeline, or they would rather buy inexpensive products and end up with a lesser-quality finished remodel. 

At the end of the day, you as a homeowner should do what you think is best for your own financial security. If you’re looking to sacrifice quality or convenience for the sake of cost, design-build probably isn’t the right choice for you.

Do you need a design-build firm for your next remodel?

After reading this, you might be wondering if a design-build firm is the way to go for your next big home renovation project. The best way to figure that out is to keep doing your research! To learn more about the design-build process with Lamont Bros, check out our Process Overview page, which walks you through every step of a home remodel with us. 

If you want to learn more about our work directly from one of our professional design consultants, click the button below to schedule a video call.