In a perfect world, building your dream home should be an exciting and rewarding experience with a house just the way you imagined it at the end of the process.
However, most people have probably heard a story or two about things that have gone wrong during both the design and construction stages, and subsequent arguments with contractors over anything from the type of faucets used to the quality of the doors. Those kinds of disagreements may seem almost inevitable.
But, some companies are now moving firmly in the direction of design-and-build projects, enabling more centralized control over the whole process and fewer headaches and disappointments for both builder and client.
While differing a bit in the execution of design-and-build, companies cite similar advantages with this method of construction.
James Whittaker, founder and CEO of NEXT Design & Development, which specializes in LEED-certified homes and emphasizes sustainability, explains there are two construction options in Cayman: general construction, involving separate architects, engineers and general contractors; or design-and-build, which entails one company overseeing the entire process.
Referring to what his firm does as design-manage-build, James says a major advantage is that one single entity is in charge of the vision from start to finish.
According to Chris Burke, owner of Cornerstone Group, design-and-build simplifies the process for the client. “A big advantage is that it is all done under one roof,” he says. “There is no separation between the design team and the building team.”
He adds that this method is less expensive and faster because there are fewer mistakes and change orders.
Design-and-build company, NCB Project Management, has access to eight different service lines under NCB Group, including design, electrical, plumbing and geothermal cooling.
This streamlines the whole construction process, explains managing director Matthew Wight. However, the client can choose professionals outside of NCB if they want, he adds.
“We offer a one-stop shop which encompasses taking it from the initial plot to handing the owner a set of keys,” says Matthew, describing the process as seamless for the consumer.
Using a general contractor – even after the client is happy with the architect’s plans, the mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers have submitted their drawings, the planning department has approved the construction and the contractor has begun work – the future homeowner is still very much involved in the process.
“There will still be an entire range of decisions left on flooring, windows, doors and everything else,” James explains. “There are some people who enjoy it, and like to manage this process themselves. But we find most people don’t have the time or experience to do it.”
To accommodate these consumers, NEXT has a dedicated project and client manager, who facilitates the decisions that need to be made by presenting all the options to the client, and why James refers to their offering as design-manage-build.
He also points out that the contractor has to interpret the architect’s drawings, which can easily lead to disagreements and misunderstandings.
“We have one single team working together from day one – architect, engineers and contractor – so all of those questions will have already been answered a long time ago,” he says.
Chris explains that while Cornerstone doesn’t have an architect in-house, they will make recommendations or the client can independently make that decision. If an overseas architect provides the drawings, his company has the expertise to tailor the design for the conditions in Cayman.
He adds that Cornerstone is part-owner of a contracting company, Titan Development, and fully owns Adion MEP and interior design firm, Liberty Designs, so they can provide all the other necessary services for the building process. Liberty can also custom-design all the furniture, or offer predesigned packages in different styles.
“The contracting and design teams work together,” Chris says. “Before we even put a foot on-site, everything has already been decided.”
Though each of these three companies either has all the necessary professionals in-house or relationships with the essential firms, they still offer the flexibility for clients to choose their own.
“We are not married to the idea of doing everything within the group,” says Matthew. “It makes sense to do it that way, but it is not necessary.”
All note the importance of having the right contractor for the job and each provides this service, putting the overall responsibility for a project with one entity. These companies have longstanding relationships with subcontractors so they are confident in the professionalism of providers of everything from roofing to tiling.
With the building process controlled in this way, the client need not worry about which company will be putting in the plumbing or if they are getting a good quote for the job. All three firms emphasize that they make sure to get several bids for each job among their trusted subcontractors.
“This limits the liability for the client,” Chris stresses. “There is one point of contact and the buck stops with the design-and-build firm.”
The system also confers a financial advantage, according to James. “We offer economies of scale,” he says. “We can get discounts on products and services because of our volume of work with manufacturers and service providers. Our clients benefit from all of the projects we have already done.”
Additionally, at the outset, the client and the design-and-build firm hash out what can be built for the customer’s budget. The company then has the responsibility to keep within that price, providing a much greater level of financial protection than if separate subcontractors were dealing directly with the client.
“We set the budget from the early stages.” Matthew explains. “In this way, you don’t get caught up in a house that you can’t afford to build.”
Keeping to budget is a consistent theme among these design-and-build firms since cost-control can become an absolute nightmare for individuals building homes on their own.
James emphasizes that it is a major part of his job is to take away those concerns.
“When we build, number one for us is to give our clients the maximum quality for the best price – value for money,” he says.
“We hold their hands through the entire process. We want our clients to say at the end that that was fun.”