How Many Bids Are Enough?

By Tom Barrett
Professional Member, APLD

As a design build contractor we are often asked to provide competitive bids on a designer's project. While my staff and I understand that most designers would prefer to work with only selected contractors, many times their clients drive the request for several prices. This request from clients must be balanced with each designer's efforts to get reliable contractors to want to work with them, as after a few missed bids, a contractor may lose interest.

I see several dynamics at work. From a designer's point of view, I see the importance of representing your client's best interests. While recommending the low bid to your clients may seem like you are representing their best interests, this is not always the case. Often times the extra management time to oversee a low bid contractor can work against yours or your client's bottom line.

I know several designers that use unlicensed and uninsured or underinsured 'contractors'. This happens primarily when the clients cannot afford the 'big picture dreams' that we each strive to create. These workers offer the ability through lower pricing to 'stretch' the amount of work that the designer can offer. Sounds great on paper and, as long as nothing goes wrong, seems to represent an efficient business model. The minute however that a designer co-mingles their services with these 'off the books' workers, that designer assumes the risk of being liable if things go wrong. If an uninsured worker gets hurt while on your project, the consequences can be devastating. It is extremely important to use licensed, bonded and insured contractors and subcontractors, even if that overhead makes their bids higher.

When designers attach greater importance to recommending the bid from their most qualified contractor, several really good things can happen. As trust builds between the designer and contractor, that contractor will often be happy to visit with the designer at their client's site free of charge in the early stages of the design. When this happens, there may be design efficiencies added based on your client's budget and your contractors insights. This can be very helpful! Also by recommending the most qualified contractor with the most complete project bid, you will likely enjoy the consistency that comes with that experience, including the ability to work together 'massaging' the bid package before you present it to your clients.

A qualified contractor may present you with a higher bid, but if that bid means you will need to provide less 'oversight' or possibly gain more 'insight' into the construction process, I believe that is a win/win for clients and designers alike. Your clients will enjoy knowing that the process and execution of their project is efficient, and each designer may gain insights into the construction process that will help them be better designers and sales people.

What do designers gain by providing less oversight? Using qualified contractors often results in fewer site visits, and better back and forth communication from the project lead to the designer on a daily, or at least timely basis. This is a definite stress reducer for the designer and with that stress reduction comes more free time. When designers know that their projects are being executed with competence, they can use that increased free time for marketing themselves or to work on new design contracts they may have.

In summary, I say once designers locate a good contractor, they should eliminate the 'three-bid' concept, and enjoy the confidence and loyalty that using a 'favored' contractor brings into your lives.

Happy gardening one and all!