Archive for the ‘Construction’ Category

Picking an Architect

Although I’ve spent a bit of time over these last several months researching and interviewing architects, the complexity of picking a firm didn’t hit home until I realized how different each one is from the other. Being a designer myself, I felt a rapport with almost all of the 8 firms I talked to, and I had even “soft settled” on one of them for a couple of months, based mainly on how much I like the principals personally and how great their portfolio was.

As the prospect of building became more and more certain though, I felt I still had some homework to do, specifically around the subject of pricing. High end custom home architects have an awful reputation for designing without cost consciousness in mind. I’ve talked to people who’ve gone through it first-hand as clients as well as other people in the construction industry and most seem to agree that although architects are very important to the process of building a house, most are not overly concerned with building you a nice house as economically as possible, but rather building the most impressive house they can, with overspending as the main by-product. I know not all architects are this way, but from personal accounts, I also know that many are, and that’s why I have to be extra careful. Since I don’t want to spend a million dollars on construction, finding the most cost-effective high end architect has quickly become the most important part of this project.

Following is everything I’ve learned about architects over the last several weeks:

→ Read the rest of this entry

Remodel or Build from Scratch?

When you buy a property with an existing house on it, you have several choices ahead of you. You can:

  1. Move right in and accept the house as is.
  2. Do a classic “remodel”, putting in new floors, carpeting, bathroom fixtures, and/or kitchen appliances.
  3. Tear the whole thing down and start from scratch.
  4. Tear 99% of the thing down, start almost from scratch, and call it a remodel.

Options a and b are pretty straightforward and if your house already has a great footprint and layout, you probably don’t need to think about c or d. But what if you need to completely reinvent the property? What is the best way to accomplish a total transformation with as little friction as possible?

In the United States and other countries with similar building conventions, it’s usually option d. All cities are slightly different, but generally if you keep even a single wall up, it officially counts as a “remodel”. I’ve even heard stories of people keeping a tiny portion of an existing wall up, calling an inspector out to bless it, and then knocking the wall down and rebuilding it within 24 hours.

If you get your project blessed as a “remodel” by your city’s planning department, you save yourself a lot of extra permitting, extra costs, extra arguments with the city and/or neighbors, and extra time. You’re also more likely to get special “out of code” allowances from the city if you need them. For instance, the carport in my current structure does not conform to code anymore (it’s too close to the street) and the western-most edge of the house is technically in an environmentally critical zone. If I built from scratch, the chances of getting approval to re-create these out-of-code elements would be small.

Zeroing in on One Design

Last Friday’s meeting was all about zeroing in on one design/floorplan and going over initial cost estimates. At this point, I’m very happy with the general floorplan and how the house looks from the back (the view side). The front of the house and the cost, however, need a bit of work. Below are the latest renderings and schematics:

Back side

Front side

Main floor

Upper floor

I think the back is looking really great. The major addition since the last renderings is the rooftop deck with the hot tub. We’re still figuring out how the roof access is going to work, but a hatch seems like the most cost-effective, least obtrusive (albeit a bit ghetto) solution.

The floorplans are also looking good, with the main floor really opening up, two flexible locations for the dining room (west edge or north edge), and an upper floor that accommodates the requisite three bedrooms. I still have a punchlist of things for Build to nudge around in the floorplans but nothing major.

The front of the house, however, is still not quite doing it for me. It just hasn’t achieved the Feng Shui that the back of the house has yet. I don’t know if it’s the angles, the paneled siding, the colors, or what, but it’s just not there yet. We’re going to experiment with some siding and color options as well as modifying the angles and lines until we achieve curb appeal nirvana.

And now for the costs.

Ohhhh the costs.

Let’s just say they are too high. It’s not Build’s fault as they are just estimating materials and labor for a house of this size and finish, but as the house is currently spec’d, it’s about $400k over my anticipated budget.

That’s a lot.

I’m not sure what we are going to do about it yet, but I’m glad we’re having this conversation at this stage rather than mid-construction. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about architects underestimating projects only to have the homeowner vastly overextend themselves in order to finish the project. In Build’s words, they are trying to “make sure any financial surprises we run into will be positive ones”.

I like that.

We’re going to meet this Friday to discuss packages of things we can possibly save money on.

With the stock market sinking a whopping 18% last week, I have major questions in my head about what the cost of construction labor and materials will be come spring when we break ground. I have thought for the last several months that the cost of construction would decrease as the economy soured but have been told that so far, that hasn’t happened. That’s all well and good because before last week, the decline in the economy was a slow bleed, but last week was extremely damaging. It wasn’t just damaging to wall street fat cats and hedge funds. It was damaging to anyone and everyone who has any money invested in the stock or bond markets. In my opinion, it was the sort of calamity that is going to finally cause people to really watch their spending.

Everybody is always so quick to talk about how the American consumer borrows and spends above their means, but I think this episode shook a lot of people to their core. I think it canceled a lot of vacations and certainly canceled a ton of construction projects — indefinitely. When I think about how many construction projects will break ground in my neighborhood this spring, I think there is a real possibility that I’ll be the only one. Who knows.

Although the financial crisis we’re going through right now is a terrible thing, I’m hoping the cost of building a house during it will be commensurate with the reduction in wealth we’re seeing in the equity markets. If anyone has any good web sites at which to track the cost of materials, let me know. I know the cost of both lumber and copper have plummeted, but beyond that, I have no idea.

Asbestos, Lead Paint, Demolition, and The Economy

As you can probably deduce from the title, there are several unrelated things to cover in this post. Some more important than others.

First things first: I had NVL Laboratories check the house for asbestos and lead paint last week, and as expected, there’s a significant amount of both (mainly under floor tiles and on the exterior of the house). None of it is airborne, so that’s good, but it presents a bit of a challenge when taking the house down. You’re supposed to have a professional abatement team come in and dispose of the stuff in a special way.

That brings us to the subject of demolition. Build hooked me up with a great local non-profit organization called RE Store that is actually going to “deconstruct” most of the existing house piece by piece and sell the re-sellable elements as “vintage” building materials. Not only will this option save me a significant amount of money in demolition costs but it will save 52 tons of material from going to a landfill. This is really the best type of building decision: the kind that is environmentally friendly and saves you money. As if that wasn’t good enough, I can also write off the market value of the donated materials — $8500 — and get a nice tax refund out of it. It’s a win-win-win.

With regard to the timing of deconstruction/demolition, there is an opportunity to do it as early as December but my feeling is that it should occur as close to construction time as possible (spring). I just don’t like the idea of tearing down a house before the plans for the new one are even approved yet. I also don’t want my across the street neighbors to get too used to their newly sweeping water view. I think they may actually end up with a significantly better view than they have right now by the time I’m done, but their best view is clearly when my house is just a hole in the ground.

So that brings us to the economy. I could probably do a whole post on this, but the long and short of it is as follows: the market and the economy in general have gone from bad in early 2008 to worse in mid 2008 to near catastrophic in October. I’m invested about as conservatively as you can get (mostly cash and muni bonds, very little equity exposure), but even with that conservative allocation, October and now November are really making me fear for the future of the economy. I remember clearly the 1987 crash and the dot-com bubble bursting, but in neither case did I think another Great Depression was possible. When you start to worry about whether your bank deposits are safe, how many millions of people are going to lose their jobs in 2008/2009, and how our government is going to deal with all of it, you reflexively move into “batten down the hatches” mode a bit.

My feeling as of now is that if things stay where they are at or get better, there shouldn’t be any change in my plans, but if the economy dives further off the cliff or I don’t think things have sufficiently stabilized by the spring, I may re-examine my construction schedule. I’ve prepared Build for this possibility, and they of course understand, being plenty in-tune with the markets and the economy themselves. It’s still game-on for now though. Permits are being applied for, documents are being submitted, and the project marches forward. Let’s hope Barry O. has the calming influence on the country and the economy that we think he can and let’s hope the market stops trading “like a lunatic on ecstasy”, as my favorite CNBC guy Steve Liesman likes to say.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Lead and asbestos testing$1,014.44

Plans Submitted to City, and Other Updates

A few days ago, Build submitted the official architectural plans to the City of Seattle for approval. There are still some details outstanding like the placement of an extra door, some railing specifics related to the upper stairs, and of course all of the interior details, but apparently unless the outstanding items are significant from a structural or safety standpoint, it’s ok to change them later. We ending up using Sw√©nson Say Faget as our structural engineering consultants and their fee was $2915 (Kevin at Build also has a structural engineering background so it was good to know there were two sets of eyes at work). The non-refundable cost to apply for the demolition and construction permits ended up being $5460.75 and was based on the estimated construction cost of the house. In other words, the more expensive the house, the more the permits are. I’ve been advised that the permitting process takes about six weeks, but since no one in their right mind is building now, it could be quicker.

After initially inspecting the property (at a cost to me of $116.25), the City also required me to submit a full, written geotech report with my application. You may remember that I already paid $350 for a “verbal” geotech report before I bought the property, but I guess when you ask them to write something official up, it’s much more expensive. I used Icicle Creek Engineers this time and the charge was $2700.

Other matters

I don’t have a whole lot of new renderings to display, but here’s one of a proposed ceiling treatment for the living room:

I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, but it — or something like it — will be necessary in order to dampen the echo caused by the vaulted ceilings. The idea is to put something visually nice on the ceiling and pad the area above it with a sound-dampening material.

Also, I’m getting to the point where I need to start thinking about sinks, lighting, appliances, and other interior details. Does anyone have any recommendations as to where the best places to shop online for that stuff is? I’m interested in sites which showcase hardware, lighting, and appliance design as well as retailers where you can actually buy the stuff.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Miscellaneous expenses$223.67
City of Seattle initial site inspection$116.25
Written Geotech inspection$2,700.00
City of Seattle Demolition and Building Permits (Deposit)$5,460.75
Structural engineering services$2,915.00

City Issues

It’s been about two months since plans were submitted to the City of Seattle and we’re finally nearing approval. The Department of Planning and Development has really been scrutinizing the hell out of everything, probably because the amount of applications flowing through right now are minimal. The fine folks at Build have dutifully made all of the “clarifications” and modifications the city has requested and we’re entering the home stretch.

As part of the extra scrutiny, we had to do a little more geotech reporting at a cost of $350 and structural engineering at a cost of $2,642.50.

More troubling, however, is a contract the city wants me to sign not only absolving them of any liability related to damage that may occur to my property (because it is near an “environmentally sensitive” zone) but actually indemnifying them against claims made by others for issuing me a permit.

Initially, even the first clause scared me but I’ve been advised that they are still culpable for negligence. So for instance, if they run a sewer line such that it dumps 10,000 gallons of water right onto my property causing the entire cliff to collapse, I can still seek damages. We may need to clarify language around this though.

The second clause is more concerning though. It essentially says that even if a neighbor sues the city for issuing me a permit, I must pay to defend the city and also pay any judgements or penalties against the city, if there are any. That seems extremely onerous to me, especially since I have no control over what sorts of crazies might want to sue the city. At least when I indemnified the family who sold me the house, it was for a very specific situation that I knew had a 99.9% chance of not mattering… not to mention, I quickly nullified my liability by having the only potential litigious party sign a litigation waiver.

Because of this latest issue, I’ve decided to seek the advice of a real estate attorney, recommended to me by a friend. It’s probably a good time to get to know a good real estate attorney anyway, since there will be plenty of contracts to execute moving forward. Hopefully, I’ll have an update on the situation soon.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Structural engineering services$1,705.00
Printing/Reprographic Fees$630.81
Additional geotech work$350.00
Structural engineering services$1,937.50
Printing/Reprographic fees$101.91
Printing/Reprographic fees$33.78

Rethinking Natural Wood Siding

While waiting patiently for the construction permits to get issued, I’ve been thinking really hard about the ramifications of using natural stained wood on heavily exposed areas of my house. It’s been a concern of mine from the very beginning, but only after seeing in person what happens to Brazilian Ipe after a year in the sun and rain have I started to really question whether or not I want so much exposed wood on the outside of my house. Ipe is such a dense wood that you aren’t even supposed to stain it, but in order to keep it from silvering, you pretty much need to oil it down every year. Considering that part of this wood will be inside and part will be outside, I’m just not convinced I can maintain anything close to a uniform, “newish” appearance no matter what I do (and I don’t want to oil or stain a good portion of the house every year).

This concern seems to fly in the face of a lot of modern architecture lately, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Take a look at some really nice wood-heavy modern designs from the last few years:

Build LLC

PB Elemental

Scott West

SkB Architects


While all of these houses look spectacular, I just can’t help but wonder what they will look like in 5 or 10 years, especially in a climate like Seattle that gets quite a wide range of weather. From what I can tell, it’s the sun more than the water which makes wood fade or go silver, so maybe in that sense, Seattle isn’t so bad.

Because of my concerns, I’ve been exploring alternatives including the following:

  1. Using another wood like mahogany or cedar, which may be easier to stain when it starts to fade
  2. Painting the wood from the get-go, or at least being ready to paint it if and when its appearance goes downhill
  3. Using a synthetic wood paneling system which should hold up indefinitely to the elements
  4. Using a plastic-aluminum cladding system and tucking a bit of wood accenting in sheltered areas of it

If anyone has any experience that could be helpful, I’d love to hear it. Once again, here is the mostly-final design we’re talking about:

Permits Issued!

Almost 5 months after applying for building and demolition permits, the City of Seattle finally granted me my documents last week. With barely any permit applications going through the City these days, one would think things would have gone quicker, but in reality, I feel like the lack of permit flow caused more city scrutiny in the end. The main issue that dragged things out was something I wrote about a little while ago: indemnification.

In short, since part of my property is in an “environmentally sensitive area” (i.e. near a cliff) the City insisted that I sign a covenant running with the land that did many things I felt were overreaching and unnecessary. I understand why the City’s standard procedure is to ask for this (and most people accept it as is) but it contained two particular things that my attorney, Patrick Moran, was thankfully able to negotiate out:

  • A clause stating that if anyone sued the City for anything relating to the issuance of my permits, I had to indemnify them and pay for all legal fees, judgements, etc.
  • A clause stating that this covenant ran with the land and if I ever sold the property, the new owners would also be burdened by it.

The first clause was reduced such that the indemnification only covers actual damages caused by construction. This means that if a neighbor decides to sue the City because they don’t like the look of my house, I’m not on the hook to defend anybody or pay anything. The second clause was modified such that the indemnification ends if and when the property is sold. This is key in preserving value, as I would flinch if I was buying a property which transferred such indemnification to me.

A lot more language was clarified as well, and I feel like the $1049.50 I owe my attorney in fees has been well worth it.

During these final stages of preparing for construction, I’ve also completed a few more tasks and spent a little more money:

  • We had the asbestos abated for $2,335.64 by Partners Construction, Inc.
  • Some additional structural engineering work from Swenson Say Faget was completed for $2,192.29.
  • Some additional geotech work was required by the City and performed by Icicle Creek Engineers for $600.
  • The additional City of Seattle fee to complete the permitting process was $3,450.75 (bringing the total permit fee to $8,911.50).
  • Printing fees of $172.91 for some additional drawing sets.

So with that, we’re almost all set to build. I’m still waiting for my refinance to close, but after that it’s all systems go. Unfortunately, the place that is going to deconstruct and recycle most of the existing house is a little booked up right now so we may be looking at July.

It’s also interesting to note that the official amount of investment it took to get to the point of breaking ground has been exactly $78,543.85.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Structural engineering services$2,192.29
Additional geotech work$600.00
Asbestos abatement$2,335.64
City of Seattle Demolition and Building Permits (Completion fee)$3,450.75
Legal fees to negotiate building permit$1,049.50

To G.C. or not to G.C.

As design stage neared completion, it was time to turn my attention toward the construction stage of the project. My architects at Build LLC specialize in what is called “Design/Build”, which is exactly as it sounds: designing the house and then building the house. Design/Build proponents will tell you this is the most efficient and cost-effective way to build a new house because it centers all responsibility in one place and eliminates many arguments, inefficiencies, and other overhead associated with using a separate traditional architect and general contractor. Both traditional architects and general contractors, however, will tell you that this back-and-forth between architects and contractors is what gets you the best quality house possible. Their argument is that the architect keeps the G.C. honest and the G.C. keeps the architect honest… all on your behalf. For instance, if an architect specifies a certain material and the G.C. tries to sub in something inferior, the architect will point it out and make sure it is remedied. Conversely, if an architect specs a material that is 5x as expensive as something just as good, the G.C. will alert you to this and ask if you’d like to use the more cost-effective stuff.

Both arguments make sense to me and I’m sure there is merit to each. Addtionally, I can see either situation working out very well or very poorly. A great Design/Build firm will provide a great all-around experience without the need for checks and balances whereas a crappy one will deliver you a poorly designed poorly constructed house. Conversely, a good architect/G.C. combo will give you a great finished product with minimal friction, but if either the architect or G.C. is a weak link, the entire project can turn out poorly.

One thing that doesn’t seem debatable, however, is price. The Design/Build process would seem to produce a less expensive experience in most cases, but as my attorney pointed out to me, it also involves more risk. The reason for this is that in a typical Design/Build arrangement, you never sign a G.C. contract at all. Instead, you sign what is called a C.M. (construction management) contract. This type of contract essentially just specifies the fee you’ll be paying your construction manager and the fact that they will be “advising” you throughout the process. Now… “advising” includes a lot of the things a G.C. would do like coordinating subcontractors, getting bids, supervising the site, etc but the two key things it doesn’t provide are blanket liability for the project or cost guarantees.


In a G.C. contract, if something bad happens during construction, the G.C. is ultimately responsible for it. If it’s a problem caused by a subcontractor (more common than not), the G.C. will attempt to assign blame and remediation to that subcontractor, but in the event it cannot be assigned for some reason, the G.C. assumes it. This is a valuable service, in my opinion. It’s nice to know that no matter what happens on site, you’ll never even have to hear about it.

In a C.M. contract, the construction manager will also attempt to assign blame and remediation to subcontractors when appropriate, but if that fails, it’s on you, the client. One of the reasons it’s cheaper to use a C.M. than a G.C. is that the liability insurance isn’t there, but the downside is more risk for you so you need to get cool with that if you’re going the C.M. route.

Cost Guarantees

There are three ways a G.C. can bid your project: Fixed bid, cost plus, and cost plus with gmax. Fixed bid is just as it sounds: a G.C. tells you he or she will build your house for X dollars and that is exactly the amount you pay. If it’s tougher to build than expected, the G.C.’s margins suffer and if it’s easier, their margins increase. A cost plus contract basically says you will pay whatever the house ends up costing to build, in time and materials, plus a fixed fee to your G.C. (either a flat fee or a percentage of the cost of construction). A cost plus with gmax is the same as a cost plus except the G.C. gives you a maximum amount you will be on the hook for no matter what happens.

While the certainty of a fixed bid contract seems nice, I have two problems with it. Firstly, since the G.C. needs to make sure the project is profitable for them, they are highly incented to pad the number, almost guaranteeing you are paying more than you should, unless things go terribly wrong… at which point they eat it and aren’t going to be happy anyway. Secondly, change orders inevitably come up and I imagine this can cause arguments between clients and G.C.s as to whether or not the fixed bid should be affected by the change.

The cost plus method seems the riskiest but also has the potential to save you a lot of money if things go well. The cost plus with gmax improves this option by at least giving you a ceiling you know you’ll never go over. Although again, fighting over changes can surely result in disputes here.

My situation

Anyway, my attorney advised me to look into going the G.C. route because he feels more comfortable with the liability protection they provide. Although I had planned on using Build for both designing and building, I agreed with my attorney’s concerns and met with a couple of reputable G.C.s in Seattle to see what they could do for me.

It is important to note that I did not talk to any one-man shops or otherwise unestablished firms. I’m sure I could have gotten plenty of low-ball, unrealistic bids if I did. Instead, I picked one G.C. based on what I knew about their reputation and another G.C. based on some great work I had seen from them. My experience speaking with each firm was different.

When I called the first firm and inquired about them building my house, I ended up spending an hour or so on the phone with one of the principals and we got along great. He was a very knowledgeable guy and explained to me in great detail the benefits of going the G.C. route and what his firm offered. By the end of the phone call, I told him I’d love an estimate at which point he asked me to send the plans over. I emailed the plans over a day or so later and his response surprised me a little. He essentially said that the plans were “so complete” that it would actually make the project harder to estimate. I guess Build does such a thorough job spec’ing everything out that it requires more of a G.C.’s time to examine than if it were just a sketch. Given this, he asked me if a quick ballpark bid would suffice for now and if the fit felt right, they would do a deep dive. Absolutely I said, not wanting to waste anyone’s time. Two full weeks later, I got a bid from them and it was shocking. They submitted a “low end” (best case) number and a “high end” (worst case) number.

The low-end number was 86% higher for the total project cost than Build’s! And the high-end number was 155% higher!

I’m not just saying their fee was higher. The entire project, if contracted through them, would cost between 86% and 155% more. I’m not sure any amount of liability protection is worth that. It’s simply an obscene amount of money. So what accounted for all of the extra costs? A lot of stuff, including a higher fee and a bucket called “General Conditions” that essentially includes a construction management fee on top of the standard G.C. fee. This G.C. pitches their “fee” as being 12%, but it’s really a bullshit number. If you add in the fee they charge for their project manager and superintendent, it’s more like 20%. This is fairly standard practice, so I’m not implying any dishonesty here. I’m just saying, when you’re pricing a project, you need to really dig into the numbers and find out what you’re paying for. As a point of comparison, Build’s proposed C.M. fee would be a flat charge and it would amount to approximately 11% of the cost of construction, pre-tax, pre-contingency.

With this sort of cost differential, there is no way I could ever justify using this G.C. With no hard feelings of course, I sent an email to the principal informing them how much higher their bid was and that as a result, I could not justify a relationship with them. That’s when things started to get a little weird. The principal asked me to keep their bid confidential, and I told him that I planned on talking about the bid on my blog but that of course I wasn’t planning on mentioning his firm’s name because I’m not trying to make anyone look bad. I thought that would be the end of the discussion but he then felt the need to clarify that he wasn’t afraid of looking bad but rather that he doesn’t want his competitors learning about the way his firm bids and that “ethically” he would never ask for information on his competitors either.


I asked him what could possibly be unethical about inquiring about your competitors and why was he so concerned with obscuring his business practices? I told him that one of the things that attracted me to Build in the first place was their transparency, honesty, and desire to remove the mystery from the profession. He told me his was decidedly unimpressed with that and wished me good luck on my project. Very strange… and very much NOT a good fit for me, obviously.

The second G.C. firm I met with was a smaller shop (about 40 people) whose work had impressed me and seemed to build a lot of great modern homes in the Seattle area. The firm is Dyna Contracting and I’m mentioning their name because they’re just as open about their practices as Build and they said they didn’t mind being mentioned even though I didn’t end up moving forward with them. In other words, they are my type of guys.

My initial meeting with Dyna went great and when I walked out — without even seeing an estimate yet — I knew this was a firm I would be happy to work with. They are into modern architecture, their overhead is smaller than some of the bigger firms, and they strike me as the type of people that are more interested in working on cool projects and providing value than capturing every potential dollar that could hit the top line. They also seem like great “value engineers”, meaning they are vigilant about looking for cost savings wherever possible in order to reduce your projects costs and thus make you a happier client.

While the first G.C. firm took two full weeks to get me a rough estimate that went into no detail, Dyna produced a detailed breakdown of every single cost anticipated in the project, right down to the door hardware and cabinet pulls. There were pages and pages of details about everything, including an entire section on “qualifications” spelling out things like “existing downspout locations assumed to be adequate”. Like the first G.C., they commented on the completeness of Build’s drawings and even said they were among the most complete they’d ever seen. Go Andrew!

What Dyna produced exceeded my expectations as far as completeness goes, and it took them only a few days to turn around. Amazing.

At the end of the day, however, it’s the bottom line that matters most, and I had to stack Dyna’s numbers up against Build’s. Dyna came in a very respectable and reasonable 16% higher, while of course being much lower than the other G.C. Most of the additional cost was in a higher fee and once again a higher “General Conditions” bucket that included a separate project management fee. Again, this appears typical in the industry so it’s not a big deal, but you just have to add it to the equation.

The decision

At the end of the day, my decision came down to whether or not liability protection was worth an extra 16% to me. Since neither Build’s nor Dyna’s estimates were fixed cost, I risked going over on either number, but I assigned a high honesty score to each, so I assumed an equal chance of overage with either route. This point should not be underestimated. An estimate is just an estimate and if you don’t trust the estimator, the estimate isn’t worth much. Through my many months of working with Build, they’ve done nothing but increase my trust in them and when I called their references to ask how well they stay on budget, they got glowing reviews. Although I hadn’t had any experience working with Dyna yet, they just felt very honest to me (and I tested them a bit) and I’m sure if I called their past clients, that hunch would be validated as well.

In the end, my decision was to stick with Build, mainly because they have given me no reason not to. I realize not hiring a traditional G.C. is a bit of a leap of faith, but the past several months have given me the faith I need to take that leap, and hopefully save some moey in the process. I am convinced that the Design/Build process Build goes through indeed saves money and produces great results. I accept that if my project goes off the rails in a way their projects never have in the past, I am a bit more exposed than I would be under a normal G.C. relationship, but at the same time, I’ve heard of plenty traditional architect/G.C. relationships that get out of hand as well.

In the end, you need to trust the people who have given you reason to trust them, and Build has given me that in spades over the last year. That said, if you’re looking for a great G.C. in the Seattle area, I would start your quest with Dyna… and of course if you’re looking for a Design/Build firm to design, build, or remodel something, you know how I feel about Build.


  1. Wow, 2400 words. That was a long post.
  2. We may end up using Dyna as a vendor for some major elements of the project, including plumbing, electrical, and other things.
  3. Big ups to both G.C. firms for not low-balling and not responding to my declining of their services by lowering their own bids to unrealistic levels.
  4. My sample size of G.C.s was very small. I do not mean this as any sort of referendum on G.C.s as a whole, although as mentioned above, I do believe that the Design/Build process — although requiring more risk — generally results in lower costs in the end. We’ll see if this proves true. This is just the sort of thing this blog is for!

Costs accrued during this stage:

Construction management services$95,000.00
Legal fees to examine construction management contract$416.00
Printing/Reprographic fees$1,188.93

The Live Cam is Now Live!

I’ll have a more complete post on this later, but the live construction cam is now live. The house is coming down! Click here for the latest image (the image will update every minute).

It’s going quick…