Pulling Together

Terry Pommett
Like making a movie or launching a business, building a house is a collaborative affair. Here are some tips for partnering with builders, architects, and designers.

Those of us in the design and building trades enjoy having clients rely on us. But trusting your architect, designer, or builder is not the same thing as abandoning your dream to them. I've seen dreams become nightmares when homeowners had one idea and the people they hired worked in different directions.To ensure a better outcome, keep the following in mind.

Different approaches and personalities can combine to create something beautiful, but not without agreement on who's doing what when. For example, if you hire an architect who's great at concepts but not details, you'll want a builder with the experience and personality to nudge the architect for specifics before there's a crisis.

Are the team members communicating? When the architect specifies a certain interior trim style, do you know exactly what that means? Are you and your designer sure the trim choice matches your interior plans? Does the builder know how you expect the trim to look, and can he or she accomplish that within the time frame and the budget? The goal: no surprises.

When the builder's ready to lay the floor, it's not the time to look at flooring samples. And when the tile should be going in, you don't want that Italian craftsman you hired at extra expense to twiddle his thumbs on the clock, waiting for a last-minute custom order to arrive.

If there's a decision-making vacuum, someone will step into it―often the builder, who has to keep paying people. You may be OK with your builder picking the faucets, the deck stain, the fixtures. But then why pay designers?

Like most general contractors, we have a list of categories that require decisions―everything from countertops to doorknobs. Use such a list at one of your first team meetings, and agree when each decision has to be made.

Architects usually specify makes and models of appliances and fixtures. When I get those specs, I assume the architect has gone over each choice with the client. But I've had to rip out thousands of dollars worth of countertops, fixtures, and flooring because clients didn't like the real-life look of something they saw in a catalog or that the architect chose.

Somebody has to eat the cost of that mistake, and even if it isn't you, well, you don't want angry people designing or building your dream home. So visit showrooms or homes where the product is already in place. When you find what you love, write down every detail―color, style, product number―to aid the builder.

Consider builders' cautions. Chances are, they have the most experience with local conditions and with how certain materials and products perform. Pay special attention to what they have to tell you about doors and windows. Don't experiment with your home's openings to the coastal sun, wind, and rain.

I keep a mental list of places to show clients―ones that required expensive solutions to problems resulting from not respecting time-proven methods and materials. To avoid that fate, get your team to anticipate choices, provide regular progress reports, and, above all else, communicate.

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