Thomas & Co. - Home Renovation Contractors

DesignBuild versus Tender
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By John Thomas


Here’s the situation we’re trying to avoid:

Mr. Jones, homeowner, decides he wants to build a family room addition, but he doesn’t know where to start. After reading some magazines and talking to friends, he decides to hire a designer to draw up plans for the project. The Designer measures the existing building, confers with Mr. Jones on the best layout, and produces plans and some notes to serve as Specifications. He is somewhat limited however, because Mr. Jones, fearing a big design fee, does not want him to spend much time on detail.

Plans ready, the Designer calls several contractors to attend a site meeting and tender a bid for the project. Contractors A, B and C are given ten days to submit a fixed price.

Now the confusion begins. Each contractor interprets the plans and specs differently. Phone calls are made. The Designer sends out an addendum to clarify the plans. Then each contractor returns to the site with subcontractors – plumbers, electricians- and they have more questions. The Designer sends out more addenda. More confusion. More addenda. Time is running out. Finally, the contractors decide to put allowances in their bids to cover the grey areas of the plan and specifications. The bids are due.

Mr. Jones opens the tenders and finds they are all 50% over his budget. He returns to the Designer and the job is re-thought and re-designed. The addition now becomes a mudroom, and the job is re-tendered. The contractors are not happy. They have wasted ten days on unrealistic plans and are now being asked to repeat the ritual and lower their prices.

Finally, Contractor B gets the job. A contract is signed and the job is begun. Before long, however, there are problems. Contractor B’s interpretation of the plans is not what Mr. Jones had imagined. Contractor B says there is no detail on the plans. There are arguments. A compromise is reached. But neither party is happy. The job gets done, but only after many changes and disagreements on what should have occurred.

That, in brief, is the Tender process. A bad-case scenario, yes, but not that uncommon. Sometimes it works well, but, all too often, the left hand often does not know what the right hand is doing. And the entire process is set up to foster a confrontational, disputatious and adversarial relationship between the Contractor and Homeowner.

Our Design/Build Concept was developed as an alternative to the confusion described above. It encourages a collaborative relationship among participants.

The essence of Design/Build is that one company acts as Designer, Estimator, and Builder. Under Design/Build, you sign a contract with us for design, yes, but with that Design, you also get a detailed Specification, and an Estimate guaranteed to fit your budget. This is possible because you establish the budget at the beginning and we design to suit that budget. Because we are contractors first, and estimating is our business, we can guarantee the price. We act as brokers between several subcontractors and suppliers to ensure a good price. But if, at the end of the Design contract, you prefer to go to tender, that is your prerogative. At least you know you can get your project built within your budget.

In the past, we found that misunderstandings and misinterpretations arose from the homeowner’s inability to picture 2-dimensional drawings. They just couldn’t "see it." To overcome this problem, we use a 3-D computer drawing program that enables you to view the project from any perspective or even do a virtual walk-through.

The computer version renders the actual building with surprising accuracy, allowing you to see your addition before you build.

Design/Build, then, is a joint process involving the key participants. Because you, the homeowner, have collaborated on the Plans, the Specifications and the Estimate, your control and the probability of a beautiful and elegant conclusion are dramatically increased.


John Thomas is Renovation Chair of the Greater Kingston Home Builder’s Association and President of Thomas & Co., a local Renovations firm. Call 547-6063, or visit the construction site at
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