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By Gary J. Caruso PE of Criterium-Caruso Engineers
Planning is the first step in any construction project. All repair projects start with a problem that must be resolved properly.  The complexities of the problems vary from a simple painting project to a water intrusion problem requiring a multi-disciplinary approach.  In both cases, a solution must be developed first through the use of professional expert consulting. Depending on the project, you should have a professional engineer (PE), architect or construction expert involved from the beginning.  These professionals can help design, plan and manage the project.  Their advice along with a competent contractor will make the project run as smoothly as possible.
Once the best solution to the problem is identified, a scope of work is developed and bids are solicited.  Without a clear picture of the problem and a well thought out remedy, the project should not be started.  Using contractor proposals in an attempt to identify the solution without a clearly defined scope of work can be a serious mistake in the process.  This path usually leads to confusion, a less than satisfactory result and possibly legal complications.
The owner of the property or his representative should utilize the best information possible to develop the scope of work.  The information that is needed may come from various professionals, specialty contractors and manufacturers or trade organizations depending upon the work item under consideration.  Once a sound scope of work is developed, it is time to plan the solicitation of bids. Plan the format of the bid form that you will be sending out.  It will be invaluable in analyzing the bids later.
Preparing a bid requires a clear picture of the desired result as well as the means that will be needed to get to that result.  The bid process generally seeks to determine who is the best contractor to perform the desired work for the most competitive dollar amount.  The bidder with the least dollar amount bid is not necessarily the best one for the project.  The bid document should answer many questions for the contractor and owner.  For instance:

  • Where does the work begin and end?
  • Will specific materials be specified for use or will equal products be allowed?  Who approves the use of any equal products?
  • Is there a requirement for a certain performance of the completed project?  Does the owner want any specific warranties?
  • If no products are specified, who selects the materials that will be used?
  • Will the work have to be completed on a certain date?  Are there times when the contractor cannot work?
  • Will some or all of the work be performed on a time and material basis?  If so, on what basis will the costs be determined.

Many more details regarding payment schedules, legal stipulations and the method of resolving disagreements should be covered in the contract once you have selected a contractor.  Careful attention to a clear scope of work will make the contract preparation phase much easier. The final scope of work should be incorporated into the contract either directly or by reference. Consult your legal advisor or use standard contract forms.
Once you receive several bids from experienced contractors, it is time to analyze the bids.  If you have prepared a bid form outlining the general scope of work items, the analysis will be simplified.  Review the best two or three proposals. Ensure that they are bidding on the same scope of work.  Be careful to note any exceptions on the bids.  Note any cost saving suggestions by the contractors.  These suggestions are frequently very valuable and can be a source of significant savings.  A brief discussion with the representatives of the contractors with the best proposals is recommended to ensure that they understand the project and the scope.  As always, check references and insurance if you haven’t already done so.  On large projects, you should determine if the contractors are bondable or check them out on a financial reporting service such as Dun and Bradstreet.
Congratulations, you have made a careful selection of the best contractor to perform the work on your project.  Unfortunately, no amount of planning can eliminate all of the problems and misunderstanding involved in any construction project.  However, good planning in the beginning will keep surprises to a minimum.
*This article had been posted in the Fall 2013 edition of The Examiner.