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Design & Build vs Individual Contractors - Which is Best For Me?

Updated: Jan 29

Design & Build vs Individual Contractors

Are you trying to reduce the cost of your office fit out or refurbishment? Perhaps you’re planning an office relocation, but are on a very tight budget? If so, you may have wondered whether it would be better to use individual contractors for your office project. Do the benefits provided by a design & build company outweigh drawbacks?


In this article, we’ll explain exactly how your project process will differ, depending on which you choose. You’ll then learn about the 3 key ways these options differ – cost, convenience, and compliance. By the end, you’ll be able to decide if a design & build company is best for you, or if working with specialist contractors is a viable option.


Although we’re a design and build company, this article is not to persuade you to use a company like ours. It’s to educate you about the differences between the two approaches and to help you make the best decision for you.


Individual Contractors

When using the individual contractor model, you work with many specialists. You research potential designers and appoint your preferred option. They then help you to define your brief and develop an initial design concept based on that. Once you are happy with the concept, they develop a full design package. This includes drawings, visuals, and design specifications.


You then appoint a project manager to develop detailed specifications and tender packs. Your surveyor will invite multiple tenders for each trade package, and award contracts to the most appropriate contractors. Nearly all projects will involve build-out contractors electricians, and furniture installers. Most projects will also involve joiners, fire & smoke companies, HVAC engineers, and signage installers. Specialist consultants may also be required, such as structural engineers.


During project delivery, you will coordinate all of the separate contractors. This will involve ensuring the qualification of all contractors and health and safety compliance. You will also need to create and maintain a project programme, manage all communications between contractors and resolve issues that arise during your project.


Design & Build

With design & build, you deal with one company throughout your project, from initial consultancy to aftercare. Once you’ve decided on a rough brief and budget, you reach out to several design & build companies. They will work with you to define your exact brief, and then develop an initial design concept along with a budget quote. You then select 1 or 2 of these companies to develop a full design and cost package. This includes drawings, detailed quotes, and a programme of works.


Once you’ve chosen the best design & build firm for your needs, they will finalise the package. This will involve finalising all subcontractor quotes, getting approval from necessary authorities, and creating a detailed project programme. They will then manage all the subcontractors once on site, managing and adapting the programme, and dealing with contractor issues. They will keep you updated through regular meetings and take complete care of managing the project. To learn all about the design & build process, read this article.


Cost

Cost is the key reason many companies consider using individual contractors instead of a design & build company. By taking out the middleman you can save up to 20% of your initial project costs. You may also be able to create further cost savings by purchasing some materials yourself, such as carpets and furniture.


However, design & build companies can generate cost savings that you won’t be able to. These firms will build up relationships with subcontractors over time, meaning they will get better rates. Many suppliers of flooring and furniture will not supply “end user” companies. A design and build company will also get a better discount on these items than "end-user" companies.


It is important to remember that initial costs are only part of the picture. Every project will encounter unforeseen circumstances. The cost of raw materials also rises regularly. Working with individual contractors will offer no protection against mid-project price increases.


Time

The most significant difference between the two options is the amount of your time required to manage the project. Office fit outs are large and complex projects. Designing, planning, and delivering a project successfully takes a lot of time, energy, and experience.


Working with a designer and quantity surveyor to plan your project will take you 10-20 hours per week depending on the size and complexity of the project. During the pre-start and delivery phases, you would likely need to spend 20-40 hours on your office fit out. This would include managing subcontractor communication, scheduling deliveries, programme management, and dealing with issues. If your project is very complex or over 10,000 sq/ft, these time commitments could be even bigger. Of course, this could be spread between multiple members of your team, but this is a big time commitment.


If you choose to use a design & build firm, this time commitment will be much less. Nearly all the precontract and project management work will be carried out by your design & build firm. Your input will be needed to make major decisions and give feedback on the design. Throughout the project, this commitment will be 3-8 hours per week, depending on the complexity and size of your project.


Compliance

Another way these two project management models differ is in compliance. This includes both during the project and the finished product. If going down the individual contractor route, your will likely have principle designer responsibilities. This means you are responsible to make sure the design meets all required building control standards. Depending on your project, you may also need planning permission and/or listed building consent. Failing to ensure the design is compliant will probably invalidate your insurance. Your local authority can also take you to court.


If you use specialist contractors, the principal contractor role also will fall to you. This makes you responsible for both creating a health & safety plan, and ensuring it is adhered to. Other elements of the principal contractor role include ensuring subcontractors are qualified, providing adequate site welfare, and preventing unauthorised access. Failing to meet health & safety regulations can result in fines from the health & safety executive (HSE).


If you appoint a design & build company to carry out your project, they will be the principal designer and principal contractor. They will probably be a lot more knowledgeable than you about building and health & safety regulations. As a result, they can manage this responsibility much more efficiently. This will make the whole process a lot simpler and mean there is a lot less risk for you.


Which is Best for Me?

Choosing whether to use individual contractors or a design and build company is an important decision. Neither option is right in every situation. It depends on the complexity of your project and your experience in managing construction projects. The availability of company time and funds is also important.


Making the right decision will ensure your project is not only a success, but achieved with as little disruption as possible. The wrong choice could lead to higher costs, contractual difficulties, and project delays, not to mention a worse end product. In most cases, working with a design & build company will be a better option. While it may have a higher cost, it is lower risk, will take much less of your time to manage, and the finished workspace will be of a higher quality.


Now that you know exactly how these two options differ as well as the 3 key aspects that will affect what’s best for you, you’re able to make your own decision. Which is best for you – a design & build company, or individual contractors?


The reason you’re probably considering using individual contractors in the first place is to reduce the costs of your office fit out. However, this isn't the only way. Improving the value of your package is also important. To do that, read 3 Ways To Reduce The Cost Of Your Office Fit Out and What is the ROI of Office Fit Out?


To learn more about fit out costs, download the Office Fit Out Costs Guide 2023. While every project is different, we’ve analysed a wide range of office fit outs to give you a guide as to what you may need in your workspace, and what you can expect to spend to get it. Download your copy here.



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