Key Benefits of Having an Owner’s Representative on Your Project

In addition to serving as a mediator between all parties, I use my decades of custom home building experience to make sure the critical steps of the process are managed correctly.

Sometimes I speak to clients who think, “I can do this myself, or I can count on my construction team to do it collectively.” Unfortunately, we often have these conversations much later, when they call for help after the project has entered hot water. So what can you expect from an owner’s representative?

Put simply, the crucial tasks of the Management Contract for an owner’s representative are to:

Keep budget in line

The owner’s representative is given the responsibility of monitoring and advising on design choices as design evolves. The owner’s representative will provide preliminary cost estimates for options being considered, looking at the repercussions of design and building choices.

Why this matters: Seeing into the future impact of changes requires cross-functional knowledge, because seemingly small changes in design or materials have long-term impact. This work supports designers and builders to work together and avoid surprises.

Ensure value engineered drawings

The owner’s representative works with outside consultants such as structural engineers, lighting designers, mechanical/heating designers, and interior designers to ensure that there is coordination and value engineering between these consultants and the architects.

Why this matters: In a word, communication! Things can get lost in emails between teams, or in the owner’s inbox. When there isn’t one clear point of communication, decisions can get lost, muddled, duplicated and override without anyone noticing until much later.

Ensure timely approvals

The owner’s representative manages the process of submittals and meeting dates for government agencies such as Planning and Building Departments. The schedule is set with the input and agreement of architects, and modified as needed to meet the client and architect’s design process.

Why this matters: Nobody wants to go through multiple review rounds to pass approval of Design Review Boards and government departments, yet it happens! This is a tremendous waste of time for everyone, and it can be heartbreaking for a client to fall in love with a design only to hear that it fails to meet local regulations. This is an important step not only to stay on budget and on time, but also for team morale. (I’ve spoken before about the importance of local knowledge when building in the Bay Area—here’s my recent article.)

Before starting a custom home project, gather your team together and ask who will be responsible for these three elements. If you see a lack of clarity or confusion, you know exactly what an owner’s representative can do for you.

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Yes, definitely, but it must follow a process that gives the owner control, accountability, and a roadmap with scheduled reality checks.


The owner needs one person in charge of the entire process, to monitor the budget and ensure the groups communicate and work in harmony.

Who would that be?

The owner’s representative. This type of role is common sense in other types of projects, and it’s no different with a custom home project.

Why would this be an improvement to an already complex group?

Some owners have the time and skills to oversee their own construction project, including watching the budgeting and change orders, making in the moment decisions around materials and staff, and thinking through the long-term implications for every course adjustment. If the owner doesn’t have the time and skills, they’ll want a construction expert on their side to oversee the process, from the start of design to completion.Construction project manager owners representative marin - 27

The problem with custom home building today

The typical process for building custom homes is stressful for everyone, especially when the budget starts to spiral out of control and the choices pile up. That’s because there are many different parties working on the project, but communication between them can fall apart.

A convoluted, expensive project that goes over budget and over deadline hurts all involved, including owners, realtors, designers, and good builders. No one group feels at fault or fully understands the situation, but everyone loses.

This can be fixed. Any major project needs team-wide accountability and a start to finish process that is clear to all, with controls and reality checks at scheduled times and as the design evolves. This is what an owner’s representative does. And all the team members benefit! An owner’s representative works on behalf of the owner, but helps support the work of architects, builders, and other parties to complete the shared vision.

Design and budget conflicts hurt everyone

The all too common result of custom building is an unpleasant and stressful situation for clients who find themselves with building plans that significantly exceed their intended budget. This tends to happen mid-way through the project, when the owner is forced to decide whether to make compromises to the design (which they have now grown emotionally attached to), or to cancel the project. Design changes usually lead to a reduced quality of materials, or looking for cheaper labor options, both of which lead to bigger unpleasant experiences and long-term home problems.

Bay Area custom homes are unique

Home owners in the Bay Area benefit from many environmental regulations to keep our environment safe. Marin and the East Bay also have a number of local regulations around open space, view obstruction, and other local guidelines. Finally, Marin Design Review Boards may have additional preferences or requests in order to approve a project. This is local knowledge that not all builders and architects are familiar with, and review can become a complicated process with several rounds of revisions.

If the building team is not familiar with California zoning and environmental regulations for custom homes, there can be additional late-stage changes and delays. At best, there will be missed opportunities to build an environmentally friendly home and save on long-term expenses by using appropriate materials.

One of the great benefits of building a custom home in the Bay Area is the diverse and beautiful building sites, but owners need someone who is familiar with the area, including the environment and review boards.

A solution for custom home building in the Bay AreaConstruction project manager owners representative marin - 65

West Coast Project Management offers a complete construction project management service, guiding the process from the beginning of design to final construction completion.

After decades as a custom home builder in San Diego, California and the mountains of Telluride and Aspen, Colorado, Richard Wodehouse has the expertise and complete project knowledge to guide even the most unique and complex custom homes to completion.

Richard’s methodology is successful because of his continuous monitoring of the budget, expertise and support for builders and architects, and deep knowledge of custom home projects of all types.

When to call West Coast Project Management

We can facilitate at any stage of the construction project, but it’s best to start from the beginning. The design is when most of the budget will be set, and when structural decisions will be made. That being said, West Coast Project Management is often called in mid-stage to help. Contact us to see how we can help make your California dream home happen on schedule and end with a positive outcome for all.

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If You Want Confidence You Have a Good System in Place When Building a Home

By hiring me a your owner’s rep early on in the process you can be assured of having a great process that will give you peace of mind and save you lots of money during the entire construction process. (And design, if you bring me in early enough.)

Here are four duties I can perform that will give you confidence that you have a good system in place:

1. Verifying that the Budget is appropriate and sufficient for the planned work.

  • Become familiar with the plans and specifications
  • Analyze the contractor’s budget line by line item and compare to others
  • Comparing the budget values for costs compared to the proposed construction schedule

2. Vetting the contractor

  • By checking on his financial and professional standings
  • Inquire and verify as to his/or her’s commitment and availability for this project
  • inquire and vet the key management and support personnel. (If any)
    • In the case of the one man contractors:
      • Establish his/her experience, knowledge and skills
      • Establish what systems if any will be used for budget and schedule management.
    • If needed, supplement contractor’s capabilities with Owner’s rep’s systems for tracking budget
    • Create and update our own schedule.
    • Verify with contractor that key steps such as site utilities are planned for.

3. Vetting the major sub-contractors and verifying they can fit our construction schedule.

4. Verifying plans are complete and all permits are processed

Here are other tasks I can perform during the construction process:

  • Create preliminary schedule for the entire process from design to move in
  • Ensuring, building and design remain within budget
  • Substantiate Status of permit processing, facilitate as prudent.
  • Verifying that the Budget is appropriate and sufficient for the planned work
  • Analyze the contractor’s budget line by line item and compare to historic data
  • Comparing the budget values to the proposed construction schedule duration. (e.g: is supervision enough)
  • Review all plans and specifications
  • Review all contracts with all subs and owner paid consultants
  • Compile budget encompassing all hard and soft cost envisioned for the entire project
  • Keep all encompassing budget up to date
  • Work with contractors, and designers to provide detailed construction schedule
  • Keep construction schedule up to date
  • Weekly site meeting with Owner’s Rep and Builder.
  • Twice monthly meeting with Owner’s rep, Architect, Contractor (owner invited to all key meetings)
  • Substantiate all temporary and permanent utilities are planned for
  • Additional subcontractors recommend as needed
  • Green building features and materials suggestions
  • Review and negotiate proper change order issues
  • Giving options to the design team when needed to potentially save money, including alternative construction techniques, and reviewing other areas of cost saving.
  • Scrutinize all invoices, explore questions in invoices and approve proper invoices.
  • Managing final close out at completion:
    ▪ Collect all lien releases
    ▪ Collect all warranties
    ▪ Manage final payments to subs and contractors
  • Prepare Operating Manual for owner’s future use and maintenance with emergency preparedness.
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Sonoma County Fires Will Cause Scarcity of Contractors and Subs

We feel deeply for all those that suffered tragic loss in Sonoma and Napa this October 2017. One of the many unfortunate outcomes is that the construction industry in Northern California including the San Francisco/ Bay Area will become stressed even beyond the overheated conditions we have currently.

Even more than in the present contractors and subs will become difficult to acquire and more costly. There will also be material shortages and price hikes.

As your plans for your rebuild in Marin, Sanoma or Napa County get developed consider hiring and securing as many subcontractors and large materials as you can purchase.

Napa & Sonoma County Fires 2017

Napa & Sonoma County Fires 2017

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The Process of Building a Custom Home: Part I

The Process of Building a Custom Home: Part I

The Process of Building a Custom Home: Part I

The process of building one-of-a-kind custom structures contains many pitfalls that can derail the project. There are too many bad experiences due to budgets being overrun and delayed completion. However, with the proper controls and an informed plan, building a home can be a series of predictable, controlled activities from the start of design all the way through to an enjoyable first night at your new home. The key is to form the right team to work for you, including the owner’s project manager.

This Custom Home Building series is a Q&A to answer many of your preliminary questions about selecting a designer and builder, setting a budget, and creating a construction timetable. These are true wherever you build, and I’ve included some details specific to homes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Developing a Budget and Making Sure it Sticks

Which should I pick first, the designer or the builder?

Create a team to work on your behalf. First hire an owner’s project manager (OPM), that you trust and feel comfortable with. That person will become your trusted ally to help you choose the design team and building team best suited for your particular wants and needs.

Should I hire a design-build firm?

In places where design styles are similar, and sites are not too challenging, this can be a good option. Subdivisions where homes are fairly similar to each other tend to be (but are not always) easier for this option.

A team that includes an architect and a separate builder is more prevalent where design styles are varied, architecture is more adventurous, and/or building sites are more challenging. This is often the case for homes in Tiburon, Belvedere, Sausalito, and also along the coast in Big Sur, where building sites are more complex.

Start with budget before design

The wants and dreams of the owners and the design of the architect will soon bump up against the budget limit. This is where you want to give your OPM the authority to be the “guardian of the budget.” The earlier your OPM is given a contributing role as part of the team, the more influence he can have on the cost outcome. Make it his role to compare the design evolutions against the budget. A thorough “get real” meeting with the entire team should take place and the budget total should be agreed upon.

All projects are driven by cost considerations, whether it is a $250 per foot residence or a $1500 per foot castle.

The earlier costs are identified and a realistic target budget established, the better the chance for a smooth process. Initially, square foot costs can be useful as a guideline for the cost. However, line item budgets eventually need to be developed. After all, you don’t compare the price of a Mercedes to a mid-grade Chevy by comparing the cost per pound!

  • Between 80 and 90 % of the project cost is determined by the complexity of the design. The OPM will ensure the design is developing within a realistic budget.
  • Typical factors in a real budget
  • The challenges and nature of the building site
  • The size in square feet of the envisioned structure
  • The cost of the design including all outside consultants such as engineers
  • The choice of products such as windows
  • The complexity of the structure
  • The amount of heroic engineering
  • The envisioned quality of finish (using other homes and photos as samples helps)
  • The builder’s fee
  • Site costs, such as landscaping and bringing in utilities
  • Permits and hook-up fees for utilities

Ask for a written set of guidelines prepared by the OPM that includes clear responsibilities and accountability for each member of the team, including the owners, leading to a guarantee of a realistic cost that is within the previously agreed upon budget.

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Are the horror stories true that many projects are way over budget?

It is true that a huge percentage of dream home designs are significantly over the desired budget. Perhaps as many as 70% of designs are over budget, often by as much as 30% in cost. Even in luxury homes, budgets are a big consideration.

Usually, when the budget is missed, the next step is a harrowing process of “chopping things out” of the desired design, as well as compromising with a lower level of quality in products and finishes.

The trouble is, once the dream is visualized it is hard to imagine doing without. What typically happens is these items find their way back into the project as change orders during construction, which is much more costly in time and money.

Sustainable home features

The “chop” stage is, unfortunately, where green building features usually get eliminated, though that doesn’t need to be the case. It is possible to have a green home and stay within budget if the plans are well coordinated from the start to include energy and water efficiency designs and features.

It’s also short-sighted to eliminate eco home designs, because they often pay for themselves over time. An integrated approach to design and material selection can result in fewer materials consumed, higher performance over time, and stunning design.
How do I avoid the mess of losing synergy between designer and builder?
A key ingredient in pre-construction is value engineering–researching alternative methods and products that attain the design intent. This is one of the OPM’s primary functions.

Overall, hiring people who will act as a team and making them accountable is the most important choice you will make and can preempt most troubling scenarios.

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Point Reyes Visitor’s Center

Point Reyes Visitor’s Center
Elephant Seals sunbathing at Point Reyes

Elephant Seals sunbathing at Point Reyes

I recently visited Point Reyes visitor’s center and was surprised at how professional the building and information services are. The lighthouse closed due to high winds, but they directed us to a place where there were still some elephant seals sleeping in the sun. I recommend you drive to the visitor’s center and chat with a ranger, who can point you to where the animals of the season are or use this Point Reyes Wildlife Viewing page.

Last Existing Marine Railway

Last Existing Marine Railway

We also went over to the Point Reyes Lifeboat Rescue Station at Chimney Rock, which was built in 1927 and has the last existing marine railway on the Pacific Coast. The lifeboats are on display inside.

There’s a unique Marin historical event in July. The Night of Nights is a commemoration of the last day of Morse code in the US, which occurred right at Historic RCA Coast Station KPH. From 3 pm to midnight each year on July 12, the station at 17400 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is open to the public and begins broadcasting at 5 pm to commemorate maritime radio. Members of the Maritime Radio Historical Society will broadcast and receive signals from ships and other participants.

Point Reyes Lifeboat Rescue Station at Chimney Rock

Point Reyes Lifeboat Rescue Station at Chimney Rock

Something else I’m thinking about getting involved in is the project for Marin Marine Protected Areas Watch. It’s a volunteer opportunity to participate in citizen science by taking a walk on the beach twice a month to record what you see. Upcoming trainings are at Corte Madera Marsh and Drakes Beach, and they also cover Point Reyes, Estero de Limantour, Duxbury Reef and other areas.

Point Reyes also has a need for volunteers to help with habitat restoration and remove invasive plants through the Habitat Restoration Program at Point Reyes. Group work days are on Sundays and Thursdays.

We’re fortunate to have preserved land like this in our backyard. For more ways to explore, here’s the Point Reyes calendar of events.

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