What We Do
Over the years, it has become overwhelmingly clear that while most consumers engage in one or more construction projects in their lifetime, they almost universally express various degrees of confusion and frustration about the process. Often times, it is difficult getting the attention of a contractor until both the client and the project are developed well enough to be considered "real". Starting straight in on the design process can be a solution for some, but for others, this route can lead to its own set of confusing choices. Our goal in establishing TCC Solutions, is to advise the client throughout the process from preliminary feasibility through design, specifications, and contractor selection. By doing so, we are able to empower the client to understand and prioritize those drivers most important to them and their project, thereby giving them the tools required to ensure a successful outcome. In short, we help you see both the forest and the trees.
Commencing a residential construction project can be a daunting task even for experienced consumers. Every project is different, and while many considerations are universal, there are almost always special conditions unique to any given project. Identifying and assessing as early in the process as possible, those issues that might create special challenges to a project (or perhaps derail it altogether), can often mean the difference between a frustrating and expensive wild goose chase, and an enjoyable and successful project.
While it is true that just about anything can be built if you have enough time and money, that description doesn’t usually apply to most consumers. Sometimes a vision is only that, and an early reality check while disappointing, can sometimes save a lot of money and substantial additional heartache.
Every site is unique. Topography, zoning, setbacks, access, utilities, soil type, drainage, environmental regulations, etc. all must be considered when assessing whether a specific site is suitable for the intended purpose. Sometimes this assessment is pretty straightforward and quick, while at other times considerable time and expense is required to adequately confirm that a project will be able to move forward as envisioned on a given site.
Guestimating the likely cost of a project that is just a germ of an idea is a difficult and very inexact practice. Nonetheless, many a project has been embarked upon with no real assessment as to the adequacy of the desired budget relative to the specific wants and needs of the consumer. An early opinion as to the likelihood that the target budget is anywhere near adequate for the project envisioned is highly recommended.
Just as a desired budget might be unrealistic for a proposed project, so too might the target completion date. Often times consumers have completion dates in mind that tie to special events like a wedding or graduation. It is helpful in these circumstances to know up front if a project can realistically be expected to reach completion by the target date. There are many moving parts in a residential construction project that can delay completion, but some dates might be known up front to be unrealistic or aggressive. Knowing this and planning for it, might allow both the project and the special event to proceed in a measured and enjoyable manner, rather than in a constant state of stress and uncertainty.
Structure The Planning Process
Where to begin. Should we find a plan we like in a book or online? Should we buy it? What about an Architect or draftsman? Are they the same thing? How do we decide on a contractor? What kind of contract document should we use? How much should we expect to pay all these people? – All good questions, some of which might generate different answers depending on the nature of the project and the specific decision drivers important to the consumer. Identifying these drivers and then tailoring the planning and design process around them will ultimately give you the best chance at an enjoyable process and successful execution of the project.
This is largely up to the consumer, but guidance can be helpful. What are the goals of the project? Additional space? A specific use or feature? Form? Function? From an execution standpoint, what is most important to you? Speed? Quality? Cost? It is reasonable to plan a project around two legs of that three legged stool, but your project would be a unicorn if it scored high marks on all three. How would you prioritize them? Under what circumstances or conditions would you allow one of these three criteria to overrule the other two regardless of the impact to them? What about aesthetics and style. How best to gather and communicate what styles and forms you like. Houzz? Pinterest? Magazines? All are great resources, and a little help organizing and directing your thoughts can be immensely helpful when it comes time to meet with the designer (Architect, Draftsman, Interior Designer, or Landscape Architect).
What approvals might be necessary for the project as envisioned? Do you have by right zoning in place, or will the property need to be rezoned. Does the property need to be subdivided? What are the setbacks? Are soil tests required? Just for shrink swell or for percolation as well? What utilities are available to the site? Are connection fees required? Is there a well present? Does one need to be drilled? What entities have jurisdiction over the project? Just the city or county? What about The Army Corps of Engineers or DEQ? How much of this should be known before additional costs are incurred for architectural design? Can some of this work be done concurrently with the architectural design to save time on the overall project?
Design Build or Separate Contract
There is no one right answer here. A design build firm provides both the design service as well as execution of construction within one outfit. A benefit of this approach is the one stop nature simplifies coordination and communication for the consumer. The drawback to this approach might be settling for a lesser or less well-matched skillset for either the design component, the construction component, or both. Hiring a designer based on his or her talents and compatibility while hiring a separate contractor who is likewise well matched to you and your project might increase your chances for a spectacular outcome, but additional coordination and communication efforts might be required. In the end, compatibility with both you and your project should be the overarching objective when selecting both the designer and the contractor.
Competitive Bid or Negotiated Contract
In a competitive bid scenario, a designer produces construction drawings and the project is put out to bid to one or more contractors. Mistakes commonly (read almost always) seen when utilizing this approach, are incomplete drawings combined with missing or incomplete specifications are delivered to diverse contractors, many of whom are not compatible with either the project, the owner, or the designer (or all of the above). When this happens, the result is almost always a wide variation in the bids, and substantial confusion on the part of the owner. It is virtually impossible to make an informed decision as to which contractor to use based solely on price in a bid process conducted in this manner. Conducted properly, however, with completed drawings and thorough specifications delivered to vetted and comparable contractors any of whom the owner would be happy to work with, this process is an excellent way to find the perfect contractor for a given project. Alternatively, there is also benefit to be gained by interviewing and vetting a number of contractors in advance, and selecting your contractor before the design process has even begun (and perhaps before the designer has been selected). By pursuing this approach, the contractor can be involved in all aspects of the design process which will enable him or her to weigh in on various design details that might simplify or improve the structure or aesthetics, and/or reduce the cost to construct. By being involved throughout the design process, the contractor will also be able to provide budget checks at various design milestones to make sure project creep doesn’t become a problem before it is too late. Also, the contractor would have a head start understanding the intricacies of the project and those elements that are most important to you. Lastly, you get a head start working with the contractor and establishing rapport before the project actually commences. If any problems emerge in style or communication, better to know before a contract is signed and the ground is broken. Both Competitive Bid and Negotiated Contract methods have their place and either can be an excellent and appropriate way to conduct contractor selection.
Plan Service, Draftsman or Architect
A plan service is almost never going to be a complete solution, but can often be a good place to start to get ideas. As to whether a draftsman or architect’s services are more appropriate, it really depends on the complexity of the project, the desired level of detail, and cost. Often times a residential project can be undertaken and executed at a very high level without an architect, and typically at lower cost. There are definitely times, however, where the additional experience and skills of an architect will contribute greatly to the outcome of the project, and in these situations unless the budget just doesn’t allow for it, hiring an architect would be the preferred route to take. As so much in residential construction, each situation is different, and a complete understanding of the project objectives will usually direct the owner to one or the other. As to specifically who to hire whether they be architect or draftsman, it is important to understand the style, capabilities, and compatibility of the individual responsible for the design to ensure a proper fit for a given project. Like any professional, draftsmen and architects often have areas of concentration where they excel, and which might make them especially well suited (or not) to your project.
It is hard to say which professional is more important to a residential project – the designer or the contractor. While nothing can replace a beautiful, well-conceived design, a good contractor can often make lemonade from lemons, and conversely a poor contractor can ruin the very best of design. An experienced, honest and professional contractor is a must if you are to have a good experience and a successful project. No contractor is perfect, and no project is perfect. You are looking for that contractor that has executed projects successfully that are similar to yours both in style and scope, and who is comfortable tailoring the project around those drivers most critical to you.
Monitor The Design Process
Having a good design with well-conceived and executed drawings increases your odds of a successful outcome tremendously. Hiring a designer that is both capable of delivering this and who also aligns well with your tastes and budget is extremely important. Even with the right designer, however, there is substantial value to be had involving a 3rd party who is experienced in the practical aspects of constructing projects similar to yours. The role of this individual(s) isn’t to control or direct the designer, but rather to weigh in on certain aspects of the design as it evolves so as to compliment the services provided by the designer and ultimately impact the design in a positive manner - financially, functionally, and aesthetically.
As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Sometimes a cat can be skinned better for less. While certain design details might be the only clear choice to achieve a desired effect, often there are multiple ways to achieve the same or similar look and afford the owner some potential savings as well. Likewise, some cost savings are not worth the concessions necessary to achieve them. An experienced construction professional often has practical experience that a designer’s day to day work flow might not expose him or her to.
A good and experienced designer will often be shown new products as they are introduced to the marketplace, and can be a good resource for the latest trends in construction. Someone with more day to day experience in the field can usually supplement this knowledge with 1st hand experience with new techniques and products, and can provide feedback as to what works as advertised, and what might not yet be ready for primetime.
Designers are very often artists. The very best ones know that function needs to accompany form, but despite that, designers are human, and they obviously want their work product to look fabulous both on paper and once constructed. That said, sometimes function might be sacrificed for form in the process. This is OK if the client understands and accepts this compromise. The reverse can also be true. Having an objective 3rd party involved who can identify and call out when these compromises are present can keep everyone on the same page before the design evolves past the point of an easy fix.
Depending on the experience and skill set of the designer selected, this may or may not be an area where additional outside input would be helpful. A contractor who has significant experience executing drawings from multiple different designers similar to the project in question, might have seen or executed details that might be worth considering in the project at hand. Ultimately, any aesthetic ideas offered would need to be of interest to the client, and would require buy in and agreement from the designer who would be tasked to make it fit with the rest of the design. Just because it is an interesting detail, doesn’t mean it is appropriate in all instances, but having the opportunity to consider various details whether incorporated or not, only strengthens the integrity of the ultimate design.
An all too common speed bump in the custom residential construction world is when the clients’ lists of needs and wants, once reduced to paper, exceed the desired target budget. An unhappy truth is this is almost ALWAYS the case. It is as natural for a client to dream of all they might want when communicating their vision to a designer, as it is for the designer to seek to deliver to the client the plan of their dreams. There is a difference, however, when the actual cost to build is more than one would like, but is still doable and affordable for the client. It is a much more unpleasant circumstance when the final design is put out for bid, and the cost to construct what was ultimately drawn so far exceeds the desired budget as to either send the design process back to square one, or worse yet, scrap the project altogether. While the actual final cost will not be known until completion of construction, an experienced contractor can help keep the budget at the fore during the design process, such that the design is less likely to take on a life of its own.
Oversee The Bid Process
Negotiated Bid or Competitive Bid? Interview first, or wait until after estimates are prepared? How many contractors to consider? What is the decision criteria to be in selecting a contractor? All these questions need to be considered when structuring a bid process.
Identify Compatible Contractors
Every project is different, as is every client. Ditto contractors. It is extremely important to identify those contractors that match most closely to those drivers deemed most important to the client and their specific project. Just because a contractor was a good match for a friend, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are right for your project. Finding likely candidates and conducting candid interviews will go a long way towards determining whether a particular project might be better served by a negotiated bid rather than a competitive bid.
Organize Bid Package
Optimally, the bid package should be as complete and thorough as possible. This would include completed/final drawings (including site plans), a comprehensive list of specifications and selections, and only minimal reliance upon Allowances. This is especially true if budget is an important decision criteria. Where final drawings and specs are not available prior to pricing/bidding, it is important to provide sufficient information (to include realistic Allowances) such that the resulting estimate(s) have some basis in reality.
Control Bid Process
If a competitive bid process is desired, creating a realistic bid schedule and coordinating contractor and subcontractor meetings such that all parties are receiving the same information is vital. This is especially true if the Bid Package is not comprehensive.
Review and Clarify Bids
Regardless of the detail included in the Bid Package, and despite best efforts to control the bid process, if a Competitive Bid process results in estimates from two or more contractors, there will inevitably be the need to reconcile apples to oranges. Even if a Negotiated Bid is conducted with a single contractor, it will be necessary to clarify many details of the estimate to ensure that the contractor’s understanding of the scope of work matches up with the client’s expectations.
Troubleshoot/Support Construction Effort
Troubleshoot and Support
In an ideal world, once a project is commenced, things would go according to plan exactly. In reality, nothing goes exactly to plan. Maybe a detail isn’t matching a client’s vision, or perhaps things seem to be going slower than expected/desired. While a good contractor and a reasonable client can and should be able to work through most issues as they arise, sometimes a 3rd party can play a constructive role.
Collaborate With Owner and/or Contractor To Seek Creative Solutions
A good contractor can often find a resolution to a challenging situation on their own. Likewise, many clients , while not experienced day to day in residential construction, will often have a very good grasp of what they like and what they don’t. That said, even working together, there are almost always additional solutions available in any given situation. If the contractor and client can’t seem to agree on a suitable solution, sometimes having a 3rd set of eyes can unearth some ideas that haven’t been considered.
Offer Opinions Related To Homeowner Concerns
As they say, “The client is always right”. Hopefully your contractor lives by this adage to a large degree. Sometimes, however, the client would be well served to consider what the contractor is recommending, even if it runs counter to the client’s desires. Having a knowledgeable resource who can either support the contractor’s position or refute it, can help confirm that the contractor does in fact have the client’s best interests at heart.
Mediate Disputes Between Homeowner and Contractor (Non-Binding)
While hopefully never necessary, there is always the possibility that a client and contractor come to an impasse in a given situation. Having a trusted intermediary might allow each to compromise in order to reach an outcome acceptable to each.
From the initial conversation to talk about the concept through the project's final completion, TCC made us feel as if we were their most important customer.
Aggie and Richard Cullen