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.

By Michael Haigley
May 13, 2004
Terry Pommett

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

Different approaches and personalities can combine to createsomething beautiful, but not without agreement on who's doing whatwhen. For example, if you hire an architect who's great at conceptsbut not details, you'll want a builder with the experience andpersonality to nudge the architect for specifics before there's acrisis.

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

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

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

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

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

Somebody has to eat the cost of that mistake, and even if itisn't you, well, you don't want angry people designing or buildingyour dream home. So visit showrooms or homes where the product isalready in place. When you find what you love, write down everydetail―color, style, product number―to aid thebuilder.

Consider builders' cautions. Chances are, they have the mostexperience with local conditions and with how certain materials andproducts perform. Pay special attention to what they have to tellyou about doors and windows. Don't experiment with your home'sopenings to the coastal sun, wind, and rain.

I keep a mental list of places to show clients―ones thatrequired expensive solutions to problems resulting from notrespecting time-proven methods and materials. To avoid that fate,get your team to anticipate choices, provide regular progressreports, and, above all else, communicate.