"Thoughts and Observations on Architecture and You"

Topics of importance for people about to build or renovate

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Insight when Selecting Your Contractor

One of the most important factors affecting a building project’s success is the proper selection of a general contractor. If the contractor’s personal values and the characteristics of her / his business organization are compatible with yours and appropriate for your project type, there is an increased likelihood that the project work will be completed in the manner you wish.

When projects are small in scope, and contracting firms are modest in size, the importance of this compatibility is greater. There is less financial room for project error, and individual mannerisms and attitudes will have a larger impact on every project discussion and action. You will not be dealing with an anonymous corporate entity.

One or more of the following questions may be useful to you during your contractor interviews as you attempt to develop insight into the organization and the individuals to whom you will entrust your building effort and resources, and with whom you may have to work under stressful project conditions:

Questions about the Contractor and Her / His Company

  • How long has your company been in business, and what do you think has been the most important factor for your staying in business?

  • Describe the way that projects are typically organized and managed in your company. Who does what, and what role do you play in any one project?

  • In your absence, or if you are unavailable, is there anyone in your company who is authorized to make final project decisions for you and the company? If so, who is that?

  • What was your prime motivation for starting your business? Has this motivation changed over time and, if so, why?

  • Is there anything that clearly and strongly distinguishes your company and its building work from competitors? If there are no strong distinguishing characteristics that separate your company from others in the field, in what ways do you feel that your company excels beyond the competitors you most respect?

  • As the business owner, how many of your personal values do you feel have become the values for others in your company? If there are some, what are they?

  • What would you say are the two weakest aspects of your company with respect to your business operation and management, and with respect to your current personnel?

  • What is your company’s most important current business goal, and its most important future business goal? Why are these goals important to you?

  • How do you think that you and your company are described by past customers? What reputation do you seek, and do you think that you have it now?

Questions about Projects

  • In your experience, what are the three most important things necessary to achieve a successful project result? Is “success” defined differently for you personally and for your company? What is project “success” for most of your customers?

  • What has been your most successful project and why do you consider it to be so?

  • What are the most common project problems or difficulties that you have experienced in your renovation and building projects? What have you done to try to eliminate or alleviate these problems for your company and your customers?

  • Is there any particular reason why you have expressed an interest in working with us on our project, aside from simply securing future business?

  • In the initial phase of a project, when much information has yet to be developed, how can costs be estimated accurately? Historically, what do you think your level of estimating accuracy has been when you have had only schematic drawings and very general building information from which to make initial cost projections?

  • In your opinion, are final construction costs generally higher than initial construction cost estimates and, if so, why? Have you developed a method, or a special approach, to more accurately provide preliminary cost estimates?

  • In your opinion, what is the best management approach and / or contractual arrangement to minimize project cost? To achieve a fair financial result for both your customers and your company? To achieve the highest quality project work?

Questions about Customer Relationships

  • What do you consider your biggest strengths in dealing with people?

  • Based on your experience, what are the most important characteristics of an ideal customer with regard to achieving a successful project result? Can you discern these characteristics when initially meeting potential customers?

  • How have you found you handle a confrontational situation with a customer whose position on a project issue appears to be both unwavering and unreasonable, although not necessarily wrong? What have you found you do if the customer is wrong as well?

  • How do you feel you can most quickly develop a trusting relationship with a customer?

  • What role do you think that the project architect can play, if any, in a dispute or a difference of opinion that you may have with a customer?

John McLean, Architect
San Francisco
(415) 777-9767