When it comes to selecting a remodeling contractor, homeowners have a lot to consider. At a bare minimum, you want to find a company that is permitted and insured and who has plenty of experience pleasing their customers. But another important consideration is: What type of remodeling contractor should you work with?

Home remodeling contractors generally come in two varieties: Residential general contractors, who focus on managing the construction phase of a residential project, and full-service design-build remodeling contractors, who manage the design process in addition to executing the construction.

Unsure of whether you should be working with a general contractor or a design-build remodeling contractor? Below, we define each role in greater detail and offer our views on why design-build remodeling might make the most sense for you.

General Contractors vs. Full-Service Design-Build Contractors

A residential general contractor is a remodeling professional who typically becomes involved in the construction phase of larger home remodeling projects that require extensive coordination and organization. Remodeling projects which leverage a large team of professionals to complete, or which involve multiple different trades, will often require a general contractor to make sure that everything happens according to schedule and on budget. They are responsible for managing the people, processes, and materials associated with the construction phase of a remodel or renovation.

A full-service design-build contractor typically performs all of the same duties as a general contractor—planning, scheduling, and execution of a remodel or renovation. The key difference is that full-service design-build contractors get involved much earlier in the process: In the design phase of a project. After the design process is complete, that same team sources the materials required to complete the remodel, and actually goes about turning that design into a reality. 

For projects that require little to no customization, where use of prefabricated solutions and elements will not become an issue, a general contractor may be a good fit. If, on the other hand, your remodel will require a custom design or functionality which is unique to your home, then a full-service design-build contractor will likely be better to your needs. At Innovative Construction, for example, we work directly off of our client’s wishlist in order to create custom solutions that fill those needs. 

Below, we explore the major benefits of the design-build process.

What Are the Benefits of the Design-Build Process?

A design-build remodel brings with it a number of benefits because you’re working with one team throughout the entire process. Material selection is easier, design choices are settled before construction begins, and it is possible to get a truly custom design that typically is not possible otherwise. We explore these and other benefits here.

1. You’re working with one team.

If your remodel is going to include custom design elements, then you’ve typically got two options: Either hire a designer to create the design, and then take that design to a general contractor who will put that design in place, or hire a full-service design-build contractor to manage the whole process. For obvious reasons, working with a single team from the start of your remodel through the completion makes things much easier. Communication is streamlined, and you’ll find that you won’t need to re-explain your vision over and over again to both the designer and general contractor. 

2. Material selection is easier.

During a design-build remodel, one of the first pieces of information that the design team will ask you for is your budget for the entire project. Knowing your complete budget will allow the design team to narrow down the materials that they present to you so that only materials within your budget are presented. In addition to helping you stick to your budget, removing options which are clearly out of range for your budget will mean you are evaluating and comparing fewer options, ultimately making for a more streamlined process.

3. Materials may be discounted.

Quality full-service design-build contractors will typically belong to a number of industry associations that allow them to source materials at a substantial discount for the projects they work on. They also likely have an extensive network of connections to leverage in order to realize discounts as well. These industry discounts are typically passed on to the customer/client, which allows your dollar to go further than it otherwise might be able to go.

4. Design choices are settled in advance of construction.

When you work with a full-service design-build contractor, all of the design-related decisions are made and settled far in advance of construction. This includes the actual design, as well as ancillary considerations such as material selection, etc. Having the design settled far in advance of construction makes surprises less likely, and is typically much easier than trying to make an important design decision when construction has already begun.

5. You can get a truly custom design.

If you are working with a general contractor on a remodel, they’ve probably got a portfolio of preselected designs that you can choose from. While this might be fine for your needs, if you want a truly custom design then you will need to work with a designer; general contractors simply typically do not have the design skills required to generate a custom design. Full-service design-build contractors can be especially helpful in situations where multiple different styles need to be blended harmoniously together—for example, when one spouse likes a particular style and the other likes a different style. 

6. You can visualize your space before construction.

As mentioned above, when you work with a general contractor on a remodel you are likely selecting a design from a book or portfolio, which they are then going to work to apply to your particular space. When you work with a design-build contractor, a custom design will be generated for you. Thanks to today’s technology and design tools, most designers will be able to generate a 3D rendering of your space with the new design applied to it, which will allow you to better visualize the design and make any required adjustments before the construction phase begins.

7. You can “test out” the company during the design phase.

When you work with a general contractor, it’s hard to know exactly what you are signing up for in terms of customer service, communication styles, organization, etc. The contractor may say one thing during the contracting phase, but it’s impossible to know exactly what the relationship will look like until work actually begins. At that point, you might well be stuck with a subpar customer experience.

When you work with a full-service design-build contractor, your project will be split into two distinct phases: The design phase, and the build phase. Because the design phase takes place before construction, this phase gives you the perfect opportunity to “test out” the company before construction actually begins. If you find their customer service, communication style, or organization lacking, it’s possible for you to end the engagement and take your project elsewhere for the actual construction phase of your remodel. 

8. You don’t need to worry about schedules, trade partners, or timelines.

Working with a general contractor or a design-build contractor will be tend to be easier than trying to manage a complicated remodel on your own. That’s because the contractor will be responsible for organizing all of the trade partners, timelines, and schedules. 

Making the Right Decision for Your Remodel

Whether you choose to hire a general contractor or a design-build remodeling contractor for your home remodel will depend on what you are looking to get out of the engagement. If you are looking for a truly custom design and want a streamlined, straightforward process from start to finish, a design-build contractor probably makes more sense; on the other hand, if you are happy without a custom design, a general contractor may be the better path forward.