2 good ways to get a contractor involved on a project…

Please keep in mind that this article is written from my personal viewpoint, which is that of an architect not a contractor.

Although there is a myriad of ways to get contractors involved on a project, I’d like to talk about 2 “good” ways, where good = a way that I would personally recommend  🙂


The first method is probably the most obvious way to get contractors involved in a building project, which is to simply have an architect draw up design plans and then let the owner give the plans to selected builders for them to fight over the job. There are pros and cons to this method. Allow me to elaborate:


  1. You (the owner) are getting contractors to fight over working for you. It goes without saying that this is a good thing. Generally when businesses fight for your business, you end up winning because you pit them against each other to get the least expensive price.contractors are smart
    • When this method is used it is highly recommended to invite contractors that are, well, highly recommended. What you do NOT want to do is open the phone book (if you still use one), or more likely Google the word “contractor” and pick the first three or four that show up. Having contractors bid on your project should be by invite only. Please understand that word of mouth is still far and away the best way to get credible companies involved. Most architects (like us) will be happy to recommend some builders for you that we feel cater to the type of building you are trying to design and have built.
    • Now granted, if you do randomly find contractors off the internet, they may indeed be credible and quite good.
  2. Once a contractor has been selected, you can take the architect’s design drawings in to your bank to make sure your financing is in place and everything is in order.


  1. Erecting a building from scratch is an extremely complicated thing because there are so many moving parts such as: various sub-contractors working in harmony, changes in gas prices (affects cost greatly), availability of materials and labor, etc. Knowing how complex this feat is, the first thing that must happen is to make sure that the bids you are receiving are all apples (meaning you are comparing apples to apples instead of apples to kitchen sinks). Going through bids can get a little tricky because at first glance, one bid could look great compared to another. Then you start reading all the countless “small print” to find out that the reason for the lower price is because one contractor doesn’t include upgraded insulation, or is under the impression you want a shingle roof as opposed to a metal roof, or you want 4″ frame instead of 6″ frame, etc..


This is actually my preferred way just because I think it saves the client time, energy and money. This method involves hiring the architect and the contractor at the same time.  If this method is used I would suggest you preliminarily hire the builder under a contract that can be absorbed if you end up hiring them for the entire project.


  1. You (the owner) are getting pretty much real-time answers to financial questions through this method. Here is an example: you are designing a 5-story mixed-use project and you, the architect, and the contractor are sitting around a table talking about some possible design strategies…basically just brainstorming. The architect says, “hey what if we make a balcony right here?” the contractor at the table can say, “we could and you’d save $40k because you’d save on wall, windows, roof, insulation, etc.”. Or another example: you are designing a large custom home. You explain to the architect in front of the contractor that you’d like to have a grand stair that is curved, floating, and has cantilevered treads made out of 2” slabs of glass lit by LEDs. After the architect jumps up and down out of shear excitement, the contractor will probably be a bit of a buzzkill when he says that a stair like that could cost between $40,000 – $60,000. Now granted, that is an extreme case. In a situation like that any good architect would explain (even without a contractor present) that a stair like that would be extremely expensive compared to a more traditional stair; but having the contractor there would put a number on it.


  1. If you have a contractor involved from day one, then you will never know if another contractor could have done it for less money. Every contractor has their own crew. They have their own subs that they can depend on. Some subs cost more than others. Some builders can build the same building cheaper out of masonry while most could build it cheaper out of frame. Some contractors have “ins” with certain dealers that could end up saving you, the owner, good money. Some contractors buy material in bulk which could also save you money.  This is why most owners don’t choose this route. But again, the reason I like it is because it gives the owner immediate feedback as to whether or not certain parts of the project stay or go depending on how much line items cost: i.e. balconies, crazy staircases, added rooms, varied finish levels, etc. I also like it because even if you go through the design process with one builder, you can still show the drawings to another builder for a bid. You are not married to the first builder because if you decide to go somewhere else the initial builder still gets compensated because he was under contract for that portion of work.


Whichever method you choose please keep in mind that it takes a good contractor a few weeks and about 100 hours to put together a well-thought-out/realistic bid. Please don’t ask a builder to provide you with a bid unless you are seriously considering using their services.