We’ve all heard the nightmare stories; builders taking deposits and never completing the work, botched jobs, miscommunications leading to staggering bills or completely unexpected and unwanted results etc. etc. It can, without a doubt, be an incredibly nerve-wracking task to find and hire a design and build firm, as it’s not only a question of ability but also trust. Having been in the business for quite some time, we’ve heard it all and make it a priority to learn from other’s mistakes. If you’re in the process of looking for a firm to complete your renovation or build project, here are a few questions you should ask them and yourself, prior to committing…
Find Out the Extent of A Company’s Services
When you’re researching various companies, it is important to find out what services they actually offer, as this will determine whether you need to interview one or several different parties. To use Urban Blueprint as an example, we are a full-service design and build firm, which means that we offer all services in house. Urban Blueprint has the ability to take care of everything from architectural planning and construction management to interior design. The other option is hiring an architect, a builder and an interior designer separately to all work together towards the final outcome of the project. This option is not inferior but does require a bit more leg work. That said, we have met with clients in the past who have dreamed of working with specific architects and interior designers, in which case we are thrilled with the opportunity to collaborate!
Inquire About Qualifications and Accolades
When interviewing design and build firms, it’s important to discover what building-specific qualifications they have. One of the most relevant qualifications UB has, for example, is that we are registered with Tarion. In a nutshell, Tarion is a not-for-profit consumer protection organization (previously known as the Ontario New Home Warranty Program) that is established by the Ontario government to protect the rights of consumers and regulate new home builders. It’s also worthwhile to ask whether the company is licensed with the city, as we are, and what kind of education background the team has. At UB we have a team that boasts project management certificates, interior design degrees, MBAs and we are also registered with the ministry of housing.
As for accolades, although they are not necessarily a requirement, they do speak to a company’s reputation. There are a number of industry awards and recognitions such as Contractor of the Year (which UB won in 2018), the report on Canada’s Top Growing Companies (which UB was on in both 2017, 2018 and will most likely be for 2022), Home Builder of The Year, House and Home Interior Designer of the Year and so forth.
Examples of Client-Facing Project Updates on Our Builder Trend Software
Get a Sense of the Company’s Process
A big determining factor of whether or not a company is the right fit for you is whether or not you are onboard with their process and the way they operate. To get to the bottom of things, it’s worthwhile asking how many projects they commit to at one time or what areas they work in to figure out whether or not they have the bandwidth to take on your project.
You should also ask how the selection process works and what systems are in place to ensure selection deadlines are set and made in a timely manner to avoid delays. For example, how will you know when you have to have all your light fixtures selected and ordered? With UB, you will receive selections lists with due dates for things like flooring, faucets, appliances and so forth.
Another thing to consider is who the company in question uses for trade-specific jobs. Is the person who installs your floors also going to be responsible for plumbing? At UB, instead of using a “Jack of All Trades” we make a point of using speciality trades be it tiling, drywall, electrical, you name it! This ensures quality control and client satisfaction.
Understanding who your main point of contact will be throughout the project is also imperative for clear and consistent communication. Are there weekly design and build meetings? Who is spearheading these meetings? What throws budgets out of line more than anything in this industry is a lack of communication, which is why we have assigned site supervisors, co-founder Luca to answer project management questions and co-founder Natasha to take care of client relations and design questions. In addition to our actual team, we are also constantly advancing ourselves and our technology to provide the most cutting-edge service. Builder Trend, as shown above, is an example of just one of the methods we use to communicate project updates to our clients.
Understand the Fee Structure
The biggest recurring problems we hear from clients who have worked with other companies pertain to issues with fees. Before you commit to a company, it is essential to gain a clear understanding of what their fee structure is. Most often, fees are either fixed or percentage based. In addition to the basic fee structure, find out up front how change orders work. At UB, we believe that transparency is paramount and for that reason we work on a fixed management fee so that up front, the client knows the costs involved. These costs do not change unless the scope of the work changes, in which case we issue a change order, which the client is made well aware of.
Remember, it’s all about a relationship!
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that this is a business of relationships! When you commit to a design and build firm, you are also committing to a relationship that can last, depending on the scope of the project, several months or over a year. With that said, ask yourself a few simple questions, “Do we click?! And do I trust them?” Whether it’s UB or another company, these are people you’re going to have to chat with frequently for a significant amount of time and trust with tasks that can be costly so having a good relationship with them makes the process all the more enjoyable.