• Duane C. Barney

Architect to Competitive bid – Is this the right approach?


Of course it is, that is the way it is done, you prepare a set of construction documents, find three local qualified contractors and ask them to bid the project, simple.

This is the way it is done….for commercial work, but have you seen a set of drawings and specifications for a commercial project? They are HUGE and that is because they are detailed to the nth degree in preparation for a competitive bid, most residential projects never come close to this level of detail for various reasons:


1. It is cost prohibitive for the project size

2. It is unnecessary

3. Most selections will not have been completed and cannot be included

4. For residential work, changes are quite common, so trying to define every detail is not reasonable.



This is not a commercial project and should not be treated as such but here is one similarity both the commercial and residential contractor are selling construction services; the management of the construction process, the Commercial GC just has the entire project spelled out for them. A commodity to price.


Residential construction is different in that it is more personal, it is the construction of a home, and it should be personal; but let’s get back to bidding. If you are going the traditional design to bid route help yourself out.


· Interview the contractors who are going to bid the project, they are building your home, you will be working very closely with them for a very long time and you need to know who you are working with. Don’t abdicate your responsibility here, you will be the one hiring the contractor, working with them and writing the checks. Make sure these are businesses you want to do business with.


· Get to know how they do business, how much assistance you can expect, how they manage changes to the work, billing, day to day management, completion and project close out.

· For any work you want them to include but have not yet selected provide an allowance schedule, so each bidder includes the same amount.

· If you are going to self-perform or have a specific contractor you would like to use, your broth-in-law the plumber. Make sure that is clear.


Your objective is to know who you are potentially hiring and to receive clear numbers that can give you some semblance of comparison. Your challenge, or that of your architect, is comparing the numbers and understanding why they are different, is something missed, “included by owner” or a simple math error? I mis-pricing painting on a job by mis-typing the location on the decimal point in my equation. Lost the job over my typing skills not my ability as a contractor.


Which bring us to the next point, keep the goal in focus. You are hiring a contractor for construction services, If the drawings and scope of work are clear, or clear enough, then the pricing should all be in the same range, roughly 10%, no contractor has magic pricing dust. The cost is what the cost is, they are just reporting it to you and if one guy comes in 20% low then talk to them about why or drop them from consideration. You are comparing prices for a commodity that is somewhat ill defined, but you are buying a service to build that commodity, your best contractor may just be a poor typist but that is not the skill you are looking to hire.

Questions about how to start your project? We recommend this book as an essential first step.

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