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Why Design Build Contractor Firms Reduce Risks

By . November 7th, 2014. Posted in design build contractor, Washington DC

Back in July we posted an article to our blog on the “Benefits of Hiring a Design Build Contractor.” Washington DC’s Hanlon Design Build provided reasons for hiring a single contractor to take responsibility for your custom home build from architectural design through construction.

A recent letter to the Washington Post in “Real Estate Matters” illustrates well the issues that can arise if you are not working with a soup to nuts design build contractor. In the letter to the Post, a family had entered into a contract with a builder for a custom home that was to have included certain important features, such as a three-car garage and porch. The builder indicated he could provide those features and then later came back and said he couldn’t – after the contract was signed. The family, of course, felt he was in breach of his contract. Whether this is technically the case is of course a matter for legal experts.

We see in this a teaching moment. What could different parties have done differently to mitigate this very situation?

Zoning laws in their neighborhood were not likely well understood.

It’s important for land owner, architect and builder to understand the laws and regulations that govern construction in the neighborhood where the new home is to be built. As we explained in our article on zoning basics, many neighborhoods have setback requirements that define the total foot print that your house can have on the property. This is, for example, one way to keep the land owner from building to the edge of the property line and encroaching literally and effectively on their neighbors’ property around them.  In many neighborhoods, this also ensures houses aren’t built too close to the road.

The architect should have known in advance about these restrictions and designed the house to specs that maintained those boundaries.  If the space for a three-car garage and porch were a priority, during the design process the design architect would be able to help the owner evaluate priorities and make the trade-offs on the rest of the house to accommodate the top priorities of the buyers.

Builder and architect weren’t in synch on the project.

Architects aren’t builders and builders aren’t architects. Some house plans require a bit of interpretation, and architects and builders don’t always use the same language.  A good working relationship between builder and architect is important to making sure that a job goes well. Some architects make themselves highly available to builders to ensure a project is implemented smoothly but that isn’t always the case.

Builders too should reach out to architects before signing off on a contract to make sure they understand well the plans and whether they can be implemented as is or whether they need to be modified. Perhaps the buyer had the plans designed before finding a property, or a neighbor challenged the boundaries of the property after the fact. If you’re not using a design build firm that is responsible for the project from end-to-end, the buyer should make sure that the architect and builder meet.

With a design build contractor such as Hanlon Design Build, designer and builder have typically been working together on many previous projects and know each other well, leaving less room for ambiguities or misinterpretations of plans. They often work together, in fact, to make sure the plans guard well against any major issues such as the ones encountered by the family that wrote the letter to WaPo. Any that do surface can be handled together in consultation with the client to make sure the priorities are reevaluated if need be.


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