What’s the Difference Between a General Contractor and a Design Build Firm?

If you are looking to build an addition to your home, do some remodeling or have a new home built, you may be considering whether to use a general contractor or a design build firm. But how do you know which is the right option for your project?

General Contractor vs. design build

A general contractor is typically more concerned with the construction aspect of the project. They may subcontract some of the work and will have the actual design and plans for the project completed by an outside firm. This may take more time to complete and isn’t a seamless process, as plans are designed by someone outside the project.

A firm specializing in design build in Austin, TX, however, has an umbrella approach to construction, housing the full process of design and construction under one company. They start the process with design, creating your plans in house, which often allows for a faster and more seamless approach to the construction phase. Designers and construction experts work hand in hand on the project from start to completion, offering a turnkey product.

During design build in Austin, TX, quality is at the forefront during construction, as all of this has been predetermined in the design phase of the project. Because everyone is working together on the project, it goes smoother from start to finish. A design build also has architects on staff who follow the health, safety and code compliance of the project. They are up to date on all code requirements and ensure the project follows them, every step of the way.

Benefits of design build

There are several benefits to working with a company specializing in design build in Austin, TX. This is typically a faster process than using a contractor. A design build firm has all the resources to complete a project faster, while a general contractor may need to subcontract certain parts of the job, which takes time to coordinate.

From start to finish, there is quality control with a firm that offers design build in Austin, TX. Because the designer and contractor of a design build firm are working together for the same company, they don’t have the same disputes that a general contractor finds himself in with subcontractors. A design build firm is able to control the quality from the very beginning, ensuring the finished product is done to your expectations.

By going with a design build firm, you will also enjoy cost savings over the course of your whole project. Because the design and construction are housed together, a design build firm is able to offer considerable cost savings over a general contractor, which can’t always control the costs of subcontractors.

With a company specializing in design build in Austin, TX, you will be able to find everything you need for your home construction project under one roof. They will provide you a design for your project and control the quality of the construction throughout every phase. Watermark & Company is an award-winning design build firm serving the Austin area with custom home building and residential remodeling services. We’ve offered design, renovation and building services since 2004, and look forward to assisting with your project.

Eight Steps To A Successful Renovation, Part II: From Finding A Contractor To Commencement

In Part I of Eight Steps To A Successful Renovation we covered finding your inspiration, setting your budget, coordinating your financing, and securing architectural plans for your remodeling project. In Part II we’ll look at the remaining four steps necessary to ensure that your home renovation is successful.

Gather bids and select a professional renovator.

This topic is critical, and we cannot emphasize enough the significance in selecting the right contractor for your renovation. This information could be the single most important step you take in finding the best fit for your project and, ultimately, reducing your overall risk.

Once you are set on the scope of your renovation and have detailed drawings for your project, it is time to search for a qualified contractor. A professional remodeler provides you with excellent customer experience, efficient project management and high quality results; therefore, selecting the right contractor is crucial to the success of your project. What follows is our insight into finding and selecting the best contractor possible for your renovation.

A. Where To Find Your Contractor

The following sources can help you find qualified contractors:

  • Friends & Neighbors. Ask friends and neighbors that have recently renovated. You are more likely to get an unbiased assessment from them and you can often view the work that was completed. If you are on a neighborhood email group, posting your questions here will usually generate a number of responses from neighbors.
  • Search Online at NARI. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) has local chapters throughout the country and is the only major trade association solely dedicated to the remodeling industry. They are an excellent source for locating qualified renovation contractors in your area.
  • Review Websites. Searching review websites is a fantastic place to find information on contractors. Look for positive reviews listed on sites like Angie’s List and Google. After reading just a handful of testimonials, you will get a much clearer picture as to how each particular business operates and if they have satisfied clients.
  • Home Tours. Keep an eye out for local home tours through NARI, the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin (HBA), American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Cool House Tour by the Texas Solar Energy Society. Visiting the various renovated projects highlighted on these tours will help you with conceptual designs and you will often get to meet the contractors, architects and designers that made it all possible.

B. What Should You Look For In A Contractor?

  • A History Of Success. Renovation is a field with low barriers to entry. Anyone can pick up a hammer and claim to be a remodeler. Choose a contractor who has been around for a number of years and who has a substantial number of positive references. Ideally, the contractor should be affiliated with organizations like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), the Texas Association of Builders (TAB), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin (HBA) or the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Awards from local or national organizations also speak well of a contractor’s experience and credibility.
  • Experience. Past successes are always an important factor in selecting a contractor. Determine if the contractor has completed any projects that are similar in scope to your planned renovation. Check out their portfolios and see if they can personally take you to view any similar completed projects first hand.
  • Good Communication. Timely, accurate answers from your contractor are the foundation of a successful project and a solid contractor-client relationship. If the contractor doesn’t communicate clearly and effectively from the outset, you are more likely to encounter frustrations – both emotional and financial – as the project continues.
  • Detailed Proposals. Without a detailed, fixed-sum proposal there are no guarantees against budget overruns that could cost you greatly. Knowing exactly what the contractor is bidding on will help you determine if your concept matches up with the proposed work and limits the need for change orders for work that the contractor may claim was not included in their bid. We do not recommend “cost plus” contracts, as they leave little incentive for the contractor to remain within your budget.
  • Proof Of Insurance. Be certain that any contractor you choose to work with carries a General Liability insurance policy of at least $1 million. Confirm that they can offer Builders Risk insurance if necessary. Request a paper copy of the contractor’s insurance certificate for your records.
  • A Firm Construction Schedule. Without a strong commitment to a completion date, you could find yourself unable to return to your home when planned, which could cause you additional financial hardship as well as headaches in determining where to reside until the work is completed. A reputable contractor will provide you with a firm completion date.
  • Accessible References. When making your final selection for a renovation contractor, be sure ask for a minimum of 5 references and do the legwork of checking them. A contractor without references is one to be avoided.
  • A Reliable Warranty. The work performed by the contractor is something you will have to live with for many years. Be certain that there are protections and remedies in place should something go wrong down the road. The contract should contain a warranty description that states clearly what is covered.

C. Selecting Your Contractor

After you have done your research and have narrowed down your potential contractors, your next step is to interview and select your contractor. Before you make your final selection, though, you must ask yourself if you feel comfortable with this potential contractor working on your home and trust the information they are giving you. If the answer is not a definitive yes, then we strongly recommend that you continue your search. The owner-contractor relationship has to be positive and based on trust in order for your renovation to be successful.

Execute the contract.

Now that you have selected your contractor, it’s time to put all of the details in writing. The contract should include – or reference – the following minimum requirements:

  • Detailed scope of work
  • Any necessary drawings and specifications
  • Design selections, including tile, paint, cabinetry and other items as

  • Payment schedule based on completed work
  • Construction start and completion dates
  • Warranty information

Before executing the contract, be sure to read it carefully and determine if you are satisfied with the scope of work that is described in the agreement. Are the contractor’s responsibilities clearly defined? And if you have a question about the project that the scope does not clearly answer, it would be wise to include this information in the contract to avoid confusion and additional fees down the road. Does the payment schedule (aka draw schedule) appear reasonable to you?

Consider living arrangements.

Remodeling a home can lead to significant upheaval in your daily routine and, depending upon the scope and nature of the renovation, it may be necessary to consider lodging elsewhere for some portion of the project. Even if you intend to occupy your home for the duration of the renovation, consider the following:

  • Are you going to store your belongings – and any furniture that must be moved to accommodate the work – on-site in a portable storage unit or off-site?
  • Have you coordinated with your contractor about the construction schedule? What are the start and finish dates for the renovation? Are they specified in the contract, and what remedies are their if the dates are not met?
  • Have you established working hours for the renovation? Is work scheduled for weekends? If so, does that fit with your own schedule?
  • Have you asked your contractor if there will be any major interruptions to electricity, water, sewer, gas lines, etc. for longer than a day? If so, ask the contractor to provide you with notification at least 24 hours ahead of time so you can make other arrangements if necessary.
  • Will the contractor provide a portable toilet for the tradesmen, or are they planning to use your facilities?
  • How does the contractor handle dust containment? Ask the contractor to hang plastic sheeting over doorways and openings to help contain as much dust as possible.
  • How will jobsite debris be dealt with? How often is the debris removed from site?
    These are all questions you will want to discuss with your contractor before the project begins in earnest. Understanding the answers to each of these questions will make your life easier during the renovation.

Additional Topics For Discussion.

As with any project, communication is critical. Asking the following questions of your contractor is crucial for a successful renovation.

  • Is a permit needed for your renovation? If so, ask the contractor to handle permit acquisition.
  • Do you want lien releases from the contractor and his subcontractors? If
    so, be sure to notify the contractor before the project starts to allow him
    time to notify his subcontractors.

  • Was your home built before 1978? If so, all painted surfaces or materials
    to be removed or disturbed must be tested for lead based paint by a Lead-Safe certified firm per EPA regulations. Additionally, the firm completing the demo or removal work must be EPA Lead-Safe certified.

After the project has been completed, and prior to making or authorizing the final payment, create a punch list of items that need attention or touch up and give a copy of this list to the contractor.


We hope that you find these Eight Steps To A Successful Renovation helpful as you undertake the great adventure that is remodeling your home. Watermark & Company is dedicated to making sure that all homeowners, not just our own clients, are well-educated and thoroughly prepared for the renovation process.

If you have any questions regarding this guide, or would like to discuss our own Design | Renovate process in further detail, please feel free to contact us at your convenience.

Eight Steps To A Successful Renovation, Part I: From Goals To Plans

A renovation can do amazing things for your home, from increasing its potential resale value to making it an even more delightful place to spend time. Like any serious endeavor, remodeling should always start with smart planning. Whether you are making drastic changes to one particular space, transforming your entire house into your next dream home, or adding on some much needed space, a little due diligence up front will make all the difference for a stress-free renovation.

Based on our many years of experience and feedback from our clientele, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of steps to take for a successful renovation.

Determine your goals & inspiration.

What are your motivating factors for remodeling your home? Do you have a detailed, specific picture of your desired outcome? Knowing what you want, and communicating that vision in as much detail as possible will help you achieve the most out of your remodeling project.

If you are in need of ideas, we recommend searching design magazines, books and websites like Houzz and Pinterest for current trends as well as various styles that meet your design tastes. Visiting with neighbors, friends or family who have recently renovated can also be an inspirational source for gathering ideas. Ask them for their unbiased feedback regarding various features and/or finishes that were used on the project. Their insights can help you decide what’s right for your home.

Set a realistic budget.

Be honest and realistic when determining the budget for your renovation. There are many variables that go into completing a large renovation, and you’ll need to not only factor in the renovation costs – which can vary widely – but also the cost of any architects, interior designers, and new furnishings needed to complete your renovation. Be sure to account for expenses associated with lodging in the event that you will not be occupying your home during the renovation.

Meeting with a professional renovation contractor can help you determine a ball park figure for the total construction costs. Most architects will also be able to provide some rough figures for the renovation, but we always recommend confirming their numbers with a general contractor specializing in this type of work.

Lastly, it is imperative that you include an additional of 5-10% of the total project amount as a contingency budget. All too often home renovations – especially those on older homes – uncover unexpected structural issues that require repairs which can easily lead to budget overruns. Even if you are lucky enough not to need the funds set aside for contingencies, your renovation will be much less stressful for having them available.

Coordinate the financing.

If you are planning to finance your renovation project, please be aware that it typically takes 30-60 days to secure funding. This process frequently takes longer than expected.

A large majority of renovations are financed using home equity loans, construction loans, lines of credit, and personal loans. Personal savings often augment these methods of funding. Experience has shown us that it is vital that you begin the process of securing any type of financing before you hire an architect or general contractor to transform your concepts onto paper. This will confirm how much you can spend on your renovation and will allow the project to get underway without any delays.

A common approach to determining the budget needed for a project goes back to meeting with remodeling professionals to gather ballpark proposals.

Secure architectural plans.

Once your budget has been confirmed with ballpark proposals from contractors and you have coordinated your financing, the next step is to get architectural drawings prepared. These drawings should spell out the construction details of the project.

Whether you work directly with an architect or with a design build renovator that can provide architectural services, having your concepts translated to a set of detailed blueprints will provide an excellent starting point for gathering accurate bids from contractors. Accurate cost projections are important when sticking to your budget. An experienced & qualified architect will listen to your ideas and provide you with suggestions for an aesthetically pleasing design as well as ball park costs for the concepts you would like incorporated. When interviewing design build firms or architects, make sure you are clear with your needs and that they are able to address your concerns and wishes for the final product.

If you plan to work directly with an architect, you will want to confirm that their design is in line with your budget. We often receive architect-prepared blueprints that do not realistically match the budgets for our clients’ projects. In this scenario, the scope of the design exceeds the intended scope of the project – in materials, design elements, size, or some combination of these elements – which translates to higher than expected costs. To avoid the pitfalls of such an “over- designed” project, we strongly recommend that the architect prepare a conceptual sketch or design and have it reviewed by a qualified remodeler to confirm your budget prior to developing the final construction documents.

No matter how you go about developing your remodeling plans, remember that having detailed blueprints and design selections equals fewer change orders once your project gets underway. And having fewer change orders makes it significantly more likely that your project will remain on time and within your budget.

Continue on to Part II: From Finding A Contractor To Commencement

Green Building The Austin Way

normal_Austin Energy Green Building logoWe all know that Austin is a green city. From our exceptional single stream recycling program to our numerous water conservation efforts, Austin and its residents go to great lengths to protect the beautiful environment that makes this such an amazing place to live.

Add to these efforts the Austin Energy Green Building Program (AEGB) – the oldest and most successful sustainable building program in the nation – and you’ve got one of the greenest cities in North America.

Launched way back in 1990, AEGB focuses on promoting the design and construction of more sustainable homes and buildings. Or, as the AEGB website puts it, their mission is “to lead the transformation of the building industry to a sustainable future.”

The AEGB has developed its own Austin-specific one-to-five star rating system to allow them the flexibility to carry out Austin’s aggressive climate protection goals. These ratings guide and direct energy and building code changes that reduce building energy use.

So if, like Watermark & Company, you’re looking to build green, the AEGB has the information and assistance you need. And if you’re looking to buy green, the AEGB’s five-star rating system can help you find the environmentally-sound home of your dreams.

To quote the AEGB website again, homes built in conjunction with AEGB are:

  • Beautiful, functional, and comfortable.
  • Durable, easy to maintain, and economical to operate.
  • Energy, water, and materials-efficient. Healthier and safer.
  • Good for the community and the planet.

That sounds great to us!

If you’d like to learn more about the AEGB, they have full calendar of events for homeowners at their website.

Photos Of Our Recent Remodels

Watermark & Company is always happy to show off photos of our home remodeling projects. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s get to the photos!

Be sure to check out our full gallery as well as the photos we have up on our Houzz profile to see even more photos of our kitchen remodels, bathroom remodels, room additions, and whole home renovations.

Reach Remodeling Goals With Planning

This article, which ran at the Houston Chronicle, covers something that every homeowner needs to know when undertaking a home renovation: the importance of advance planning.

The ultimate goal of a professional remodeling company is to fulfill the client’s dreams and vision, and to give the best service, down to the last detail. With a detailed and accurate set of plans, this goal can be achieved.

The most important part of any project is the planning stage, and unfortunately, that seems to have the least amount of importance to many clients. Without direction or vision, how can remodelers comprehend or project the end results?

Having plans for a major remodeling project is no different than a surgeon who orders X-rays or MRIs prior to a surgery. If you participated in a team sport, the coach always had a game plan. In everything we do in life, there needs to be some direction if you plan to be successful…

Read More

Savings Or Loan? Paying For A Remodeling Project

The early stages of planning a home remodeling project is the best time to think about how you’re going to address the costs associated with such an undertaking. This article from Yahoo will help get you started:

People who dream of renovating a home – or redoing just the kitchen or bathroom – might wonder how other homeowners finance a home remodel that can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Paying for a home remodel sometimes involves a new loan, but more often, homeowners have cash on hand from other sources, says Steve Klitsch, owner of Creative Concepts Remodeling. Klitsch says the majority of his customers last year used cash from personal savings to pay for remodeling projects, though two families received substantial gifts from their parents and two others refinanced their mortgage and cashed out some of their equity to finance a home remodel…

Read More

Watermark & Company Begins Another Custom Home Project

Watermark & Company has partnered with Línea Architecture and Greenearth Engineering on a new custom home project in Central East Austin.

The home, located at 1303 Deloney Street in Austin’s MLK neighborhood, will be a 2,429sf two-story house and has been designed to have a 5-star rating with the Austin Energy Green Building Program. The house will have a beautiful view of Downtown Austin from its rooftop deck and Givens District Park and Recreation Center sits just at the end of the block.

The home is available for purchase and you can see design drawings and get status updates on this project, as well as many of our other building and renovation jobs, at the On The Boards section of the Watermark & Company website.

Remodeling News Round Up, Early June Edition

The internet is chock full of great articles, videos, and all kinds of other content with remodeling tips and insights. Every so often your friends at Watermark & Company like to round up a few recent pieces for your reading enjoyment. And today is one of those days. So without further ado, let’s get clicking!

Read something interesting about remodeling? Drop by our Facebook or Google Plus pages, or give us a shout on Twitter, to let us know so we can share it with our blog readers in the future.

The Conditions Are Right For Rising Home Values

Across the country, and here in Austin especially, a combination of factors is leading to a potentially strong environment for home values once again.

As Steve Sjuggerud notes in a recent column at the Stansberry & Associates website:

There aren’t enough homes for sale right now. In January, housing supply reached a 13-year low. Meanwhile, demand is high. (My colleague Brett Eversole is buying a house as I write. His mortgage company – a nationwide bank – says it will take 45 days to close on his house, because it’s swamped with buyers.) Houses are cheap. We are coming off the greatest bust in housing prices in our lifetimes! Thanks to record-low mortgage rates (at around 3.5% for a 30-year mortgage), housing is literally more affordable than ever.

Conditions like these indicate, among other great things, a fantastic time for home remodeling, since a healthy market tends to support even higher Return on Investment (ROI) for renovation projects.

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