The Value of Pre-Construction

If you’re planning a new construction project, be it a new ground up building, or a tenant improvement project in a new office space, you’re likely caught in a conundrum.

On one hand, you want to get multiple quotes from contractors, so that you can choose the one most likely to complete the project successfully on time and on budget. On the other hand, you’re concerned that something may get missed in the design and specifications, and you’ll get hit with extras and overruns during construction.

Many construction companies offer pre-construction services to help you plan and create project specifications. People sometimes hesitate to hire a contractor during the design phase because they worry that it will lock them in to a general contractor and they won’t get the best pricing. However, if you choose the right partner, the opposite is usually true. A construction company can help you highlight problems early, identify things that are missing in the design, and find ways of adjusting the design to build more cost effectively.

Here are four reasons why:

1) No drawings are ever perfect, nor coordinated from discipline to discipline i.e. the architectural plan may not match electrical, which may not match plumbing, which may not match mechanical and so on. We’ve all heard the horror stories of getting mid-way through a project, only to discover there was detail missing from the drawings. An experienced construction team can help spot these early in the design process, as they will constantly be asking themselves “what do we need to know to build this?” and “what information is missing?” While these might get caught during a bid process, there’s a risk it won’t. Either way, the earlier the omission is caught, the cheaper it is to fix. The further you get into design, then detailed design, then engineering drawings, and so on, the more expensive it is to make a change.

Be sure to have multiple design reviews, and involve your contractor in as many as possible. The contractor may highlight things that may push the construction over budget. Discovering these early in the process will help you avoid surprises and redesign fees later in the project.

2) Your contractor may be able to suggest time and cost savings. Through being exposed to different materials and different techniques, the construction team may be able to spot areas in the design where a small change nets a huge cost savings. We’ve literally saved clients tens, and even hundreds of thousands of dollars by suggesting a change of material or simply different means and methods of putting them together.

A good pre-construction team will be constantly asking “how are we going to build it?” and looking opportunities to fast track the project and save money. For example, can you save time by tackling multiple tasks at once while you already have a wall or slab open? How does the cost of materials, such as steel vs. wood, compare, and are they changing over time with commodity prices? How will the availability and lead times of materials impact the schedule? Can we pursue partial permits to start construction while the rest of the design is in plan check?

3) Involving the construction team early helps them to understand the background and vision for the design. We’ve all been involved in projects, in construction or simply in business, where the vision of the project gets lost the further the project progresses. By involving the builder earlier in the process, they will be a part of the discussions around project vision, and the decisions made that shape the direction of the project. Having that context means the builders will make better decisions in the heat of the project by having early knowledge.

4) A bid doesn’t tell you anything about what the construction company will be like to work with. Other than what you can glean from reading the bid, and maybe a few meetings with the construction company, you really don’t know what they will be like to work with until the project starts. By engaging the builder in pre-construction services, and inviting them into the design process, you’ll see first hand how they respond to challenges and how engaged they are in the process. Construction can be the longest phase of the project, and it’s the worst time to find out that they’re not the right fit. Pre-construction services let you test-drive the builder before you start construction.

The most common objection to working with your builder pre-construction that we hear is “doesn’t that lock me in to working with that company?” Not if you set expectations up front and are careful in writing the pre-construction contract. A good construction company will want to clearly delineate the pre-construction project from actual construction, and leave the owner the option to seek other input or other bids before construction starts. A good contractor will also want to get to know you as much as you want to know them to make sure they’re the right fit. In the worst case, you’ve had more experienced eyes on the challenges, and a design that has been thoroughly vetted by a builder that is now more likely to be complete.

Whether your project is commercial TI, industrial, residential, we would be happy to chat with you about our pre-construction services, and how we can potentially reduce cost and risk in your next project. Call us anytime at (805) 910-8300 or email us at