Thursday, April 26, 2012

'To Bid, or Not To Bid...'

That is the question. Everyone wants the best deal they can possibly get - I understand that. But maybe the "best deal" doesn't really involve price. Maybe the best deal involves those intangibles like "well built,"  "cleverly value engineered," or "beautifully detailed."

Let me just go ahead and say it: a competitive bid format for project pricing on a residential project is not in the best interests of the client! Here's why. The bid becomes a "story." All bidders wonder what story the client wants to hear - after all, we all want the work! But the story almost always bears little resemblance to what the project ends up costing, or looking like. Why? Because the client lives in the home represented by the story. This isn't a commercial structure we're talking about here that absolutely has to be built for the lowest possible dollar. This is a home that invariably has "creature comforts" that creep back into the building process! Those creature comforts usually cost more that the original bid projections.

Because competitive bidders all want to win the business, sometimes they cut corners to bring their overall budget in under their competition. Clearly this is not in the best interests of either the Architect or the Homeowner! Below are some examples taken from a remodel we currently have under construction - inadequate materials used and then covered up for us to find twenty years after the initial construction. 

No air duct? No Problem! The Builder decided to have the joist space pretend to be the air duct! Ah.. can you spell Code Violation?
'Maybe if I just cut this flooring out I can get enough return air flow!'
Ignored, and undersized structural details cause....
So what is the best way to make sure that you get the best deal possible? Let's let thirty-four years of experience in the building business make some practical suggestions on how to insure you get the most for your money.

  1. Build a Team. It's your home, it's your project, so you get to be the quarterback! Interview and hire integrity, character, experience, knowledge and a "can do" spirit as you define the various disciplines necessary to achieve your goal of building or remodeling your home. For sure you will need an Architect, Contractor, Interior Designer (unless you have fabulous taste!), and maybe even a Landscape Architect.
  2. Demand a Well Coordinated Plan. The best talent in the world, even with the most sterling of intentions won't efficiently design and complete your project without a well coordinated plan! Efficiency is the key - you will save a lot of money by reducing the "fumble factor!"
  3. Facilitate Strong Communications. Information is power and really good information, well communicated, is really powerful! Is there a mechanism in place for strong communication between the various disciplines?
  4. Challenge the Team to Value Engineer. This is where you will really save the money and get your BEST DEAL! Almost always there is a different way to achieve the same look or feel for less money. Experience, coordination, and strong communications among the team will put money back in your pocket!
  5. Express your Gratitude. Team members really respond to a leader who is grateful for their efforts! You catch a whole lot more flys with honey than you do with vinegar!
But there is one other incidental benefit to following the above prescription: YOU WILL REALLY HAVE A GOOD TIME DOING IT!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

No More Push-ups...

That Ole' Black Gumbo Clay - standard issue in North Texas!
That ole' black gumbo is our enemy. Looks pretty innocent doesn't it? But with a "potential vertical rise" of anywhere between 3" and 18" it has the ability to pick foundations up and crack them like a pecan! Let me put that in english - when wet, the soil can heave (expand) anywhere from 3" to 18" larger than the size it is when dry. The engineers tell us that the soil's "upward thrust" is 10 tons per square foot! Let me put that in english - in some areas around Dallas that means it can take a ten story building and pick it up off it's foundation supports anywhere between 3" and 18"! No wonder we stay as far away from that ole' black gumbo as we possibly can!

'You mean I paid all that money for this foundation? How can I live on a bunch of concrete beams?'
Gumbo is the reason we've only built pier and beam foundations for all these years. Imagine sitting in your Family Room perched above that nasty old Texas clay some 30", completely isolated from the risks and hazards of uplift. Now imagine sitting in your Family Room on a floor that is a rigid concrete slab laying on something akin to rolling marbles. Which do you think will crack first? The worn out joke amongst the building contractors is that concrete is guaranteed to do three things: get hard, turn gray, and CRACK! It's true! But which foundation stands the better chance of not cracking? 

The almost completed "pier and beam" foundation, ready for the framing members that will span from beam to beam across the waiting piers.
Ahhhhhh, but we have a dirty little secret! A void carton. Huh...a what? Down at the bottom of every form board we position a cardboard box looking thing called a "void carton" that lives in the bottom of the beam between piers that are drilled down into bedrock. Over time the box carton rots away and leaves a void space. When the gumbo swells, it doesn't have anything on which to push. Genius - pure genius!

Sittin' high and sittin' pretty! No "push-ups" for this home!
Many of our client's consider their homes a work of art! How do you think that would look with a big ole' black gumbo crack running right through the center of the picture?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Efficiency Rules!

Job efficiency wins out every time! I'm convinced that's how we won The Crawford Residence re-model. Apparently two other bidders were cheaper, but Mindy and Carlos recognized through all of the smoke that we knew what needed to be done; had the people to do it; and the ability to get in and out of their lives quickly so that they can get on about the business of living!

And that's what it's all about. We will bring highly skilled, incredibly qualified and gifted craftsmen to every job for the sole purpose of helping our clients do exactly what they want done - efficiently!!

Through the years my business partner Phillip McCloud and I have marveled at contractors who take the cheapest bid regardless of who that subcontractor is! Why would you want to "train" the lowest bidding subcontractor on your client's job? More importantly, why would you want to put someone you don't know in the same house with your client both during the project, and servicing after the sale? Can anyone really afford that sort of liability?

Both Phillip and I have been stopped through the years by clients who didn't hire us. The story is always the same - 'Boy we wished we'd a hired you guys, our project was a DISASTER!!'

We're not gloating. And the "near misses" are always painful to hear. But the more gray I get in my head, the more our clientele seems willing to listen to our story about efficiency! Our guys aren't the cheapest - until you have to rip it out and re-do it!