Here is what the dialogue might look like:
Remodeling Contractor: So, how are you going to decide who to work with? What is your process for doing so?
Potential Client: Well, we are going to get three free bids and then select one of those contractors.
RC: A lot of people I speak with say they are going to find a contractor that way. What information will you give the contractors to base their proposals on?
PC: We have some sketches from an architect.
RC: Have you thought about how each contractor will end up seeing the job differently, due to the lack of solid information? How will you know they have all included everything? How will you know what is not included? How will you compare their proposals? Frankly, have you ever bought anything, particularly something that requires such a large investment, this way?
PC: Those are good questions. Honestly, my spouse and I have been encouraged by friends to follow the three free bid route. However, we ourselves don’t really know how to sort through the information. And we hate surprises.
RC: I hear that from a lot of people I meet with. Would you be interested in an alternative process that allowed you to find out how it is to work with a contractor, by hiring him to do the "small" job of figuring out the big job (your remodeling project), while not having taken on the risk of having the wrong contractor getting the job? [This is something that oten happens in the three free bid process.]
PC: Yes, tell me more.
RC: Go ahead and interview all the potential contractors. Listen to your gut. If it doesn’t feel right it never will.
Then check the references of the contractor(s) you are still interested in. Ask them for a ballpark idea of the cost of the project. If the references check out and a particular contractor’s sense of potential cost is something you feel comfortable with then engage that contractor as a professional partner to work with you and your architect to ensure that your project is buildable, that it solves the problems that you have with your home, and that it fits, more or less, the agreed upon investment amount target.
PC: That makes so much sense. So by doing this we get to find out if the contractor truly does know what he is talking about and we get to know if he actually does what he says he is going to do. And we learn this without taking on the risk involved in signing a remodeling contract with a contractor.
RC: That is correct. We would only sign a construction contract if our proposal addressed all the items in your scope and we were within reasonable proximity of the mutually-agreed-upon investment amount.
PC: Sounds great. Let’s get started!
There you go. But to make this work, you must be good at figuring things out during the proposal prep process. Some contractors don’t want to fill in the pieces that are missing from a set of plans. They simply want to bid the plans. If you are like that, fine.
If you go to great lengths to figure out the true scope of work and fill in all the blanks than this process is one you might find to be a natural fit and a good way to help those folks who are not really committed to the three free bid process. Only one way to find out and that is give it a try on a smaller sized project, so your risk is minimal. You will never know unless you try it out!