Construction project manager owners representative marin - 11The process of building one-of-a-kind custom structures contains many pitfalls that can derail the project.  There are too many instances of  bad experiences due to budget overruns and delayed completion. However, with the proper controls and an informed plan, it can be a series of predictable, controlled activities from the start of design to an enjoyable first night at your new home. The key is to form the right team to work for you.

This Q &A will answer many of your preliminary questions about selecting a designer and builder, setting a budget, and creating a construction time table.

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

Actually, 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 regions where design styles are similar sites are not too challenging, this can be a good option.  A team that includes an architect and a separate builder is more prevalent where design styles are varied, architecture is more adventuresome, and building sites are more challenging

How do I get a budget to begin with?

teak-172642_640The wants and dreams of the owners and the design of the architect will soon bump up against the desired 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 starter 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. Involve an OPM  from the beginning to ensure the design is developing within a realistic budget.

The following items are typical ingredients in the establishment of 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 the outside consultants such as engineers
  • The choice of products such as windows to be used
  • The complexity of the structure; the amount of heroic engineering
  • The envisioned quality of finish, using other homes and photos as samples.
  • The builder’s fee
  • Site costs, such as landscaping and bringing in utilities
  • Permits and hook-up fees for utilities.


Richard Wodehouse can put the experience and knowledge gained over 37 years of building fine homes to make your experience predictable and enjoyable.  He will become your trusted adviser giving you informed guidance through the entire process.