Who Comes First: the Contractor or the Design Professional?

Although your first inclination when starting a construction project may be to contact a contractor, this is usually not the best way to begin a project.

Let’s set the record straight: selecting a contractor prior to construction is not a bad thing. Having that contractor give you estimates on construction costs prior to hiring design professionals, however, can be a very bad thing. Far too often, a client comes to us with a project they are wanting to construct with a contractor (or sub-contractor) selected and a budget in hand.

The inherent problem with this approach is that contractors may have developed the budget for the project based on estimated square foot costs using projects they have completed in the past or some other comparative cost estimation method as a guideline. However, no two projects are alike. The requirements for one building may be very different from a similar building even if the buildings are geographically close to one another. These differences can substantially increase the overall budget.

Inevitably, projects that follow this path rarely adhere to the initial budget given by the contractor. Local and federal codes and requirements are often not considered when estimates are given. No client wants to be informed that their project will now cost 1.5 times the initial budget estimate. This looks bad on the contractor, and it makes the designers and local authorities look like the bad guys.

A Better Solution

By hiring design professionals at the start of a project, you can greatly reduce your risk of budget shock. Design professionals know the building codes. Architects and engineers have worked extensively with local building officials on numerous projects. They understand when a fire wall or sprinkler system is required and how to design them. They understand that your HVAC systems require fresh air and can adequately size systems based on calculations and code requirements, not just rules-of-thumb.

Design professionals will work with the local authorities during the design process to help identify any code-related concerns or questions. The design team can then locate the elements and requirements in your project that may have the greatest affect on your budget, and can offer solutions to minimize the impact on the overall project costs.

The Modern Solution: Construction Management

In the past, a common path for a construction project had three steps: design, bid, build. The architects and engineers would develop and refine the project’s design, the design would be scrutinized by multiple contractors each giving their bid for the work, and finally, a contractor was selected and construction would begin. While this process is still used today, Construction Management projects are becoming increasingly prevalent.

With a construction management project, the design professionals and the contractor are selected at the beginning of a project. They work together from the start, the design team developing and refining designs to meet owner requirements and all applicable codes, and the contractor modifying the budget as the design progresses while giving valuable cost analysis information to the design team. This method often minimizes budget surprises and costly change orders during construction.


Ideally, your design team and contractor should work hand-in-hand throughout the design and construction of your project. This will ensure that your project meets all the required building codes, that the project is built as intended, and that the project stays within budget constraints. If you are ready to start a construction project, contact us and let us help from the start.

Share This

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email