Finding a Contractor

Here at Board & Vellum, we are fortunate to work with a great mix of general contractors to whom we can happily refer clients. We are often asked for a list of recommendations, and this is one of the services we provide. We are always happy to do so, but finding the right fit is far more complicated than just rolling through our digital rolodex and finding the next contractor. There are all types of builders, and matching them with our clients is one of the key things we do to create a successful team.

Finding a Contractor – Job Site Sign

Our team will work with the client and the contractor for many months through construction. Ensuring we have a successful match is "Step One" to a great project.

So where do we begin figuring out who would be a good match?

There are several factors that we consider when determining which contractor will work on your project. Determining the priority of each one of these factors helps us narrow the list down. Here’s what we (and you!) consider when finding a contractor:

  • Personality Match. This is probably the most critical factor, as the builder will be in your home for quite a long time. Finding someone you get along with will be key. Every client and builder is different, so what we do is a bit of a match-making service.
  • Familiarity with Project Type. Some builders don’t love second story additions. Some like to pass on projects with complicated foundations. Ensuring that we match up the builder’s strength with your project needs is key to ensuring that we have an expert team player.
  • Contract Type. Every builder has their own preference for contract type. Fixed fee, time and materials, and guaranteed max are some of the terms we’ll explain to you to help gauge your comfort level. There are pros and cons to each, and understanding how you react to them helps us narrow our list down as well.
    Finding a Contractor – Reviewing Contracts

    Reviewing contracts is one of the primary duties of an Architect in helping select the project team.

  • Budgeting Skills. Remodels and new construction projects are complicated endeavors with a lot of numbers in the budget. Some clients absolutely love diving into the numbers, while others feel overwhelmed and just want to know that they are getting a fair price. Some builders will give us reams of paper, while others will summarize their costs and bills in a much shorter format. Matching client expectations with the general contractor’s approach ensures that surprises are limited.
  • Level of Service. This is probably the least appreciated factor until it is too late. Quite frankly, a higher level of “white glove” service will cost more money. Ensuring that meeting minutes are clearly kept, schedules are up to date, invoices are clear, and the people on site carefully interact with your neighbors are all things that take time and money. It can be tempting to jump down to a general contractor with a lower level of service for the promised cost savings. There are many projects and clients for which this is absolutely the right approach, while others are tempted by the promise of lower cost, but then challenged by the lower level of service. Our job is to carefully walk you through the pros and cons of each option and help you understand and align your expectations with reality.
  • Size of Project. This one has to balance with the expectations of level of service, but often times a very small project, such as a bathroom, will be too small for the builders with high-level service. Smaller projects tend to attract smaller operations that are far more mixed in terms of performance. (There are a lot of amazing ones and a lot of not so amazing ones.) Additionally, a very small team of builders will often not be the right fit for a very large project. Aligning the size of the project with the appropriate builder helps stabilize expectations.
  • Availability. This is one that is far more critical than it used to be because of the booming Seattle economy. If schedule is absolutely critical, you should know that your list of available options will be limited. If you are at all open to adjusting your schedule then we recommend it; however, calling around to check on availability of contractors will be one of the things we do for clients with tight schedules.
    Preparing to build often takes as much time as building.  We like to meet with the full team to ensure that we approach the project schedule with open eyes.

    Preparing to build often takes as much time as building. We like to meet with the full team to ensure that we approach the project schedule with open eyes.

  • References. This is simple enough, but even though our pool of contractors is fairly large, we are still interviewing new teams to partner with. We rely upon their references to help cement our understanding of how they work and so should you.

Selecting a general contractor is something we aim to do very early in the process, as our whole team strongly feels that having a builder on board helps complete the three-legged stool of Owner, Architect, and Contractor. They’re going to take our early budgeting and provide real-time pricing to help adjust our scope as the project evolves. Getting someone on board early who can help provide value, and works well with the whole team throughout pre-construction and construction, ensures that we end up with a happy client and a project that everyone is proud of.

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