By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer

Unfortunately, many homeowners think undertaking a remodeling project means picking up the phone and calling a contractor.

If you have read any of our columns over the past several years, we hope you have picked up on the principle of involving a design professional before calling a contractor.

Architect may be valuable in bidding phase

By knowing the plans and understanding the bidding process, architects can help make sure your remodeling project stays on budget.

So now you’ve teamed up with a creative and caring architect. Together you have worked through your priorities, budget and aesthetic issues to create an excellent set of construction drawings, along with a written specification of all the materials and equipment (plumbing fixtures, appliances, etc.) that will make up your fabulous home in the near future.

Now you are ready to collect construction bids and select your contractor.

Last week we talked about the basics of the contractor selection process, but today we will discuss how an architect can be a valuable resource, specifically in the bidding process.

If you are bidding a remodeling project out to general contractors, we generally advise that you give it to at least three contractors.

With only two bids, you may get one high and one low; the third bid usually helps to validate one or the other. In addition, every good mind that you have looking at your project is a bonus; one contractor may see an issue the others have overlooked. The goal is to confront and deal with as many issues as possible before the first shovel of dirt is turned.

When you receive the bids, you will probably be confused, since any three bids will come in three different forms.

The first thing you will look at will be the final numbers at the bottom of the bids, which are easy to compare but difficult to interpret.

You are definitely not looking for the lowest number as your final decision-making factor. There is a lot more to consider before you select your general contractor.

Outside of comparing the three bottom-line numbers, it becomes a lot like comparing apples to oranges when you delve into the details.

Some general contractors put a line item in for profit and overhead; others divide it up and add it to each of the other itemized bids.

Some of the numbers may be hard bids while others may be estimates or allowances (often depending on how much information you have provided in your construction drawing package).

Some bids may have missed an item altogether, while others may have included something you identified as “owner-supplied.” (For instance, you may have a brother-in-law who is a tile layer, so you have held that portion of the project out of the general contractor’s bid.)

While these multiple bids are always tricky to compare, as architects we have had years of experience interpreting various types and styles of bid submissions.

We are practiced in analyzing the bids, and in separating the standard issues out in spread-sheet form to enable a clearer comparison of each portion of the construction process.

Since your architect is intimately familiar with the construction drawings that were issued to the contractors, they are able to spot items that contractors have missed or misinterpreted.

By submitting questions to each contractor, holes can be filled and excesses removed, all to the end of making the final numbers accurate and comparable.

The questions from the architect will also help you see how carefully each contractor reviewed the drawings while compiling their bid.

Your final decision will be based on a number of facts (contractors’ references, bid numbers, etc.) and on the experience you have had with each one of the contractors throughout the bidding process.

In the end, it may be a decision of the heart as much as of the head, but this should at least be based on a careful and thorough comparison of the bids submitted by each contractor.

You may not be old enough to remember the story “Mike Mulligan and The Steam Shovel,” by Virginia Lee, but the moral of the story is that everyone does better work when someone is watching them.

This applies to contractors when they have clients who are involved in the bidding process, especially when the clients have architects who add their experience and expertise to the final analyses of a complicated process. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

Architect can be valuable in bidding process