Solicit bid from builder...and then long?

cpackerJanuary 2, 2013

We sent our house and site plans to some builders three months ago. Only one has been in touch with us to indicate that he is working on a bid. Can I assume the others have plenty of work and are not interested?

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No, you can't assume that. There are other reasons that they may not have gotten back to you. Like maybe there are unrealistic budgets or timelines involved in the build. Or it's not spec'd out enough to be able to give a real bid.

How many builder's did you submit the plans to? And were they actual plans wirh proper specs for everything that you want included and not just a floorplan with vague specs like "hardwood floors and tile bathrooms"?

If you sent these plans to a number of builders and only one is showing any potential interest, it's more likely to be due to insufficient information included in the bid package than any other reason.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 11:23AM
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I think it's a better idea to meet with the builders in person and show them your preliminary plans and budget and just talk with them to see if you'd be a fit for each other. Then, if your budget is unrealistic, you'll know right away. You want to make sure you're not just going with the cheapest guy- you want to make sure you're going with a guy who you really "click" with and check out his houses and references.

I'm not sure where you're located, but in my experience 3 months is a LONG time, and I would take that to mean they probably aren't interested (or are unable) in working with you.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 11:33AM
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We've always received bids or a rough bid withing 3-5 weeks. We met with each builder to go over the full set of building plans and then they came back to present the numbers 3-5 weeks later.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 12:09PM
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If they didn't get back to you by your response deadline that's a pretty strong statement of non-interest. Unless you just mailed out plans and hoped for a response.

We used a process where we first got recommendations and then met with builders to assess overall fit and interest, then sent a bid package that included final drawings, *detailed* specifications (down to part numbers for every faucet and switch plate, what kind of fasteners to use, etc), a draft contract, a bid sheet that broke the project down into about 40 specific line items for bid, and a letter outlining the bidding process that included a due date about 5 weeks out. After 10-14 days we scheduled a walk-through and Q&A session with each builder. We summarized all the questions and answers from each builder and sent them back to all the builders to keep everything apples-to-apples. This worked pretty well, not perfectly. We ended up with three good bids and two drop outs.

In retrospect, it's impossible to put too much time and detail into the specifications, that has been the go-to document in virtually every discussion we've had subsequently.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 1:23PM
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I should have stated more clearly: Our plans were produced by an architect with whom we worked for 10 months and paid appropriate bucks. Same with our surveyor/site planner. One would assume those products are builder-ready, right?
On checking my records, I see that of the eight builders to whom I've submitted the plans, five of them have had the plans for three months. Except for the one I mentioned, I'm ready to write them off. The other three have had them for 4-6 weeks, so I'll hold my breath some more.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 4:05PM
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By now, I've contacted a total of 11 builders and only two have followed up. The main reason for lack of interest appears to be that it's an undeveloped lot where a well has to be dug and a septic system put in. Charles County, Maryland is an area where subdivisions are ramping up, giving builders plenty of work on already-prepared sites. Also, since it will be the first house in a "minor subdivision," there are additional permit hoops to jump through with regard to the connection of the access drive to the public road. Another reason might be that some of the features I want are too novel. The two builders who are pursuing the project have come up with different HVAC contractor responses to the geothermal spec. One says sure, the ground loop can be run horizontally underneath or alongside the driveway, as I want. The other says, no, there's not enough area for that, so the ground loop must be placed vertically (an solution that will make geothermal prohibitively expensive). And when the second serious builder candidate called the Warmboard manufacturer about radiant floor heat, they said, Oh yeah, we know about that house, "everybody and his brother" has contacted us about it. Suggests that some builders initially interested may have gotten cold feet (no pun intended)...

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 4:44PM
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Frankly, Warmboard has not been doing you any favors if they're telling your potential builders that "everybody and his brother has contacted us about that house. By doing so, they're signaling to the builders that you send the project out for bid to a HUGH number of contractors which means their chances of winning the job are pretty low from the get go. In that case, why should they bother spending all the time/energy necessary to put together a bid.

I think you need to start over and contact the builders you think you might actually be interested in working with and set up a preliminary meeting with each one. The point of the preliminary meetings is get to know them and decide whether or not you think you canwork with them. There will probably be one or two that, by the time you've talked to them for half an hour you'll KNOW that you don't ever want to be in the same room with them again! Something about them will make your skin crawl or you'll get a sense that they're just not honest or something.

Also at the preliminary meeting, let each one know that you will be asking for formal bids from THREE (or at most, FOUR) builders. This lets them know that, if you ask them for a formal bid, they have a reasonable chance of winning the job. Ask each one to take a quick look at your plans and specs (right there in the meeting) and let you know if anything jumps out at them that would be problematic or that they feel they would need more information about in order to give you a solid bid. Also ask each one how long it would take them to prepare their bid IF you should ask them to bid.

Do not give your plans to the builders at this initial meeting. If you give your plans to the builder right at the meeting, he's going to assume you're doing the same thing with every builder you talk to...which means you weren't serious about only getting bids from your top 3 to 5 candidates.

Once you've narrowed the field down, send (or take) a copy of your plans and specs to each builder and request a formal bid... and also set a time limit for getting the bids in to you based on the longest time frame given to you at your initial meeting. Let them know that if the bid is not received by the deadline, they are out of the running. (If a builder can't get his bid in on time, he won't do anything else on time either!) And, let them know your timeline for making a decision once all the bids are in.

If the builders say they need three weeks to submit the bids, I'd give myself twice that long after receiving the bids to make a decision. That way if someone flakes out and doesn't submit a bid, you still have time to seek additional bids from alternate candidates so that you're not stuck without alternatives.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 5:41PM
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You could try cost-plus with a reputable builder. If both parties are fair and honest this can be a good working relationship especially when there are unknowns and incomplete specs.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 5:47PM
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Robin Goodrich

I am surprised you have let this go on for three months, as there is no way I could be that patient! I definitely recommend setting up sit down meetings at their offices. Lay it all out there! These are the concerns other builders have mentioned with this build, this is my budget, this is my lot, this is the house I want and these are the finishes I expect. Tell them you wanted this house built yesterday and don't have time to waste! They should know you've been dealing with this for three months and want someone who has time to get to it immediately. If they are interested, set up a time to walk the lot with them and find out exactly how long it will take to price it out. Keep in touch with them while they're getting bids so you know they haven't decided they're not interested.

We had a shady builder promise us a great price on a cleared lot and house, which ended up not working out and wasting a lot of our time. After that, I really went with the above approach and found out which builder wanted to do it rather quickly. The day after we met, he was already at the county office to get more information about the status of our septic permit. You need someone like that who genuinely wants to do it. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 8:48AM
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You've waited so long that contacting any of them let's them know you haven't received enough qualified bids to award a contract which will probably motivate them to give you an excessively high bid.

If a system is controversial it should be removed from the competitive bid as an Allowance so you can get good bids on the rest of the project.

Your architect should have taken charge of the bidding process and prevented this unfortunate result.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 9:57AM
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I had a custom home built in your neck of the woods, if you would like a recommendation, send me a message!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 5:21PM
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I didn't send out my plans to all 11 at once! I only sent out more as time went by and I didn't hear from the earlier ones. They were all recommended to me by either my architect, the surveyor, or the original property owner. I cited the recommendation in my cover e-mails or initial phone calls. I disagree with the assertion that I should ask for a meeting initially. In my opinion, it's the candidate builder's obligation to ask for a meeting as an indication of serious interest. Anyway, I've got two strong candidates who did just that. I don't fault the others for effectively passing on a project that's probably a lot more complicated than the subdivision work that's showing signs of getting back into high gear in the area.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 10:04AM
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