Design/Build Firms and Custom Builders – What’s the Difference?


Is there a difference between design/build firms and custom builders? Do they do the same things? In comparing design/build firms vs. custom builders, we can see that most are custom, or personalized, to a point.

Many companies will come in as a team, with a general contractor and a designer/architect who works with or directly for the general contractor.  These are usually full-service design/build companies.  If the client already started with an architect, often the architect will recommend a builder or two with whom he or she has previously worked.  Inevitably, there is a competitive bidding process with the builders. This can become difficult, because builders will bid to the specifications they’ve been given.  It’s like you’ve given them the rules of the game with the specs, and they’re saying, “Okay, you asked me to play a game and gave me the rule book, so I’ll play it your way, good or bad.” The bidding contractor is under no obligation to change specs, offer suggestions for value engineering or discuss conditions.  He is simply following the rules and bidding on the current plan that’s on paper.

Homeowners need to know that they not only need to compare prices, but also specs. Design/build organizations come with both contractor and designer in the same package, and they work well together because they are familiar with each other’s styles and requirements. They are of like mind for customer service, and they can visualize what the other professional is describing. They are also designing toward a specified budget that they’ve established with the homeowner.

Customization doesn’t have to be expensive. If you have a team of professionals customizing your home addition, you can get more bang for your buck. You also get more of a one-stop shop with a design/build firm, and it often comes with a lower design price tag and an even lower total build cost.  Start with an experienced contractor who has been in the business with the right designer. Develop a relationship with both of them, then watch your addition take place!


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