Agreeing on a design for your project is a big step towards controlling not only your costs, but the end results of your project. Here are several options to consider:
Hire an Independent Architect:
If you know exactly what you want, you may want to hire an independent architect to draw up the plans and specifications you can then give out to selected contractors to bid on. While this may add an extra cost to the project, you will ensure that everyone is bidding to the same parameters and it solidifies your control over the process. In addition, part of an architect’s job is to make sure the project is completed as designed so you have someone very knowledgeable on your side should the contractor suggest a change or modification. For this option to work, the architect must be totally independent – meaning that he or she has no relationship with a general contractor and works only for you.
Not so Independent Architects:
Many residential architects will have a ‘relationship’ with one or more general contractors. Some design only, but when the consumer asks if they know any good contractors, they refer them to someone they have partnered with. Other architects work for or run companies called design/build which means exactly what it says – they design it and then build it. When you already know who you want as your contractor, design/build relationships offer a great advantage as there isn’t much finger pointing when you’re responsible for both the design and the construction.
The Open Market Approach:
For most residential remodel projects and simple commercial tenant improvements there’s another option that is extremely popular. Most residential and commercial improvement contractors have the capability of providing you with design options. Consumers select this option for several very good reasons – first, it’s usually offered free to their clients. Second, you get recommendations and options from competitive bidders. Third, it gives you the opportunity to determine if the contractor really hears you and your desires. In a variation on this option, consumers will see a design they really like and use it as a basis for others to bid on.
The Home Warehouse option:
Speaking of free, you can’t walk into a Home Depot or Lowe’s (or other home remodeling centers) and not notice that they offer limited design services for kitchen or bath remodels. If you can take reasonably precise measurements of the area that’s going to be remodeled, taking advantage of these design services makes a lot of sense. Keep in mind the store is a ‘for profit’ business and as such, they expect you to order things like cabinets, appliances and fixtures from them. Of course, they’d also like you to use their pre-approved contractors to do the work as they can make additional profits by taking fixed pricing from contractors like me and mark it up to you; the consumer. Even so, still a good source of getting a bid but have your other selected contractor finalists bid on the same design – you can still get the cabinets, etc from the store if you so decide.
Last caution: I do wish to emphasize that for larger, more complex projects – you really want to retain an independent architect for a multitude of reasons which I’m happy to review with you.