Remodelers and architects are notoriously uneasy partners. Interior designers and decorators also often leave contractors leery. For most firms, though, third-party design partners remain a fact of business, and making those partnerships work is essential to completing jobs on time, on budget, and to everyone's satisfaction.
Veteran remodelers say that ideally the remodeling company takes the point position from the start. Andy Hannan, production manager at Mark IV Builders in Bethesda, Md., points out that establishing a position of primacy isn't about wielding decision-making authority. After all, it's the homeowner who ultimately makes the decisions. Rather, Hannan says, it's in the contractor's best interest to ensure that he's aware of anything and everything that might affect scheduling or budget.
“You want to be the one clearing-house for information,” says Michael Walker of Michael K. Walker & Associates in Sarasota, Fla. “Architects typically don't like it, but that's the way the job has to go.”
At PSG Construction in Winter Park, Fla., partner Stephen Gidus says he won't move forward unless the client and architect both agree to PSG's regimented approach to preconstruction planning. The company's multistage process requires that all parties agree on scope and budget before the preliminary plans are drawn and then again before PSG creates the final budget.
A separate contractual agreement binds the client to this process by requiring that homeowners retain PSG's services as a design consultant. Essentially, Gidus says, this contract allows PSG to be a “second set of eyes,” reviewing every iteration of the architects' or designers' plans to ensure the design is buildable, is structurally sound, and is within the client's budget.
Mark Scott, owner of Mark IV, requires that the client sign a design agreement with his company regardless of who draws the plans. That way, Scott says, “The architect has to come to us to get paid.”
DEFINING ROLES Getting architects and designers to buy into these kinds of arrangements may not be easy, but it is essential. PSG and Mark IV hold thorough pre-contract meetings with the client and any designers to clarify everyone's role and responsibilities and to outline the companies' processes from planning through job completion. These meetings lay the foundation for a successful working relationship as the project moves forward, and require equal doses of tact and diplomacy.
“You have to go in with a positive, team-oriented attitude and speak in a very non-threatening way,” Gidus says. “And you really have to respect every partner and their professionalism. We always stress that what we want is a win-win situation all around.”
Gidus says he points out that PSG's role in the design process is not to inhibit the designer but to value-engineer the design. “We explain that we want to make sure we're using the most appropriate building techniques to both enhance what they've designed and to make sure it's economical for the homeowner.”
It's also important, remodelers agree, that before construction begins, the contractor and the designers agree to resolve any problems together and to only inform the homeowner — if at all —when a solution has been found. Gidus says PSG discusses conflict resolution at an additional preconstruction meeting held without the homeowner. “We tell our partners that if something comes up, we won't throw you under the bus, and we expect you to do the same for us,” he says.