How do I decide which builder to use?

How do I decide which builder to use?

This is often one of the first questions we are asked by clients contemplating a new project.

We tend to answer this by way of questioning the client as to what is most important to them – either Time, Quality or Cost?

  • Time – Do they require the project to be completed quickly?
  • Quality – Are they striving for a particular quality in their project?
  • Cost – Is cost certainty the most important factor?

Invariably the answer will be a combination of these factors.

The different forms of procurement, i.e the way you enter into contract with your builder, will determine which of these factors is given more or less importance. The most common agreements / forms of contract we deal with are Traditional, Negotiated and Design & Build. Their principles are are quite different.



Fully detailed drawings and specification are prepared for all elements of the building works. This clarification of the client’s exact detailed requirements clearly takes a reasonable period of time. This information is then tendered to a selected list of preferred contractors, usually 3-4 known firms. The tendering contractors then price the building works. The returned tenders are then evaluated, often the successful contractor is selected on the basis of the lowest price following a period of clarification & negotiation. The client achieves a high degree of cost certainty & enters into contract knowing their exact requirements are the basis of their agreement with the contractor. The risk of additional cost to the client is minimised. Client changes during the build period do occur and these are priced individually and adjustments made to the contractor’s final contract sum, certified by the architect. (Cost & Quality are given more importance than Time).



A preferred contractor is typically introduced to the project far earlier than with a traditional form of contract. Often client, architect & contractor work together to develop a design which meets the client’s aspirations whilst suiting the contractor’s skills and experience. The architect’s information is developed hand in hand with the contractor over the life of the project. This allows the project to start quickly without the need for a lengthly detail design period. Often the contractor and client begin this process by agreeing both an estimate (guide price for all elements of the project) and the contractor’s profit on the project. An ‘Open Book’ process is often adopted whereby the client can see all costs incurred by the contractor. As the project proceeds the estimate can be checked against actual costs accrued and savings targeted to ensure the project remain in line with the original budget. Time is reduced in this process by allowing the contractor to get on site quickly, however the total cost is not confirmed until the end of the job. Quality is dependent upon the skill base of the originally selected contractor. (Quality is given more importance than cost or Time).


Design & Build

In this relationship the client’s design requirements are slightly less cast in stone than in a traditional form of contract. The client’s and architect’s guiding requirements, specifications and timescale are detailed and the contractor offers their own proposals to meet the client requirements. The contractor’s proposals need to recognise both the client’s requirements and any planning permission conditions for the development. The final cost of the project is given most importance in this form of contract. The client’s requirements are often performance based, giving the contractor more free rein to alter building products, provided they perform to a similar standard. Arguably quality could suffer as the architect’s input is less significant in this form of contract. Importantly, cost-risk is placed with the contractor, i.e responsibility for unforseen problems and their remedy can be placed with the builder. (Cost is given more importance than Time and Quality).

Over the last twenty years Grainge Architects have worked with many different clients to complete numerous projects. We have gained a strong local knowledge of many different Devon Builders, indeed builders throughout the South West, from small local builders to large regional contractors. We invariably assist our clients in their contractor selection and advise on types of building contracts and are therefore happy to discuss these issues with anyone contemplating a new project.

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