Dallas: 8 Houston: 5
I’m always on the lookout for good residential contractors. As an Architect, knowing who to call and who to count on to successfully build a modern project is paramount. I recently posted about a trip to Houston for a modern home tour (see coverage here). I guess that many of the tour participants were awed by the homes and their variety of spatial arrangements. On one level I was as well. But all that appeared well and good to a casual eye appeared a mixed-bag of successes and failures to me when I looked at things with a more critical eye.
Yes, I was that guy looking closely at an odd corner or trim detail on some piece of millwork. A few of the houses did it right – well executed detailing and a high level of craftsmanship throughout. But several didn’t exactly meet muster. I recorded a few images in this post of things that might not stand out when you first look at it, unless you view it through the lens of a well-trained Architect. Note: I’ve attempted to make these images plain enough that you may not be able to tell where they came from, out of respect to the tour organizers, the homeowners, and the builders. Mouse-over the images for a description of what’s wrong.
In thinking about these issues, 4 things come to mind.
1) The designers may not have thought things far enough through. Avoiding conflicts and issues and doing it well ahead of time is the hallmark of a good Architect. I don’t care how large or small your project budget is – I will do my best to examine every inch of a project I design for you to make sure issues are few and far between. And I’ll do this before construction even starts!
2) The plans may not have been adequate enough. I didn’t see a single drawing of the finished houses so this is purely a guess, but if details aren’t worked out and drawn for the builder to work from, how is he/she supposed to have a strong chance of getting it right? If I have worked a special item into your project, you can bet I’ll fully detail it out so it can be built right. I’ve been known to go overboard on drawings for any given project – it’s my need to work everything out so that what I design is really able to be built.
3) Specifications checked or overlooked? Did anyone quality control (QC) that stuff? The bad paint finish on an uneven cabinet door and doors with dings or chips on the corners really got me. Mad. You (the eventual owner) put up a large amount of money for any home. Doesn’t matter if it is a spec home or one that you have built for yourself. The architectural process should a) dictate the acceptable level of quality and b) ensure you get what you pay for.
Meaning I’m out at the construction site observing the work. Did someone take the easy way out and face-nail a special wood panel in place when it should have been hung on concealed fasteners? Won’t fly on my designs. My clients paid for a blemish-free wood panel and I’ll ask that it be redone to spec so you get what you expect – great design, good execution.
4) Someone was in over their head or flat ran out of time. These can happen in a lot of places. Maybe this was the first modern project built by the builder. Building a well-detailed house isn’t for every builder out there. There is little use of moldings and trims to hide blemishes, gaps, holes etc. Things are supposed to come together with crisp alignments. It takes a certain skill to plan for, and execute, modern projects. I’ll work with you after the drawings are done to help find suitable builders for your projects.
Then there is the schedule. Maybe you want to move in by Thanksgiving and it is already November 3rd. Plenty of things still to do, and the builder may be tempted to work faster to get you in. This may work, but it might mean quality suffers as speed increases. Remember the proverbial Quality – Cost – Time triangle (e.g. pick any two but you cannot have all three)? Remember it as you make every decision. It’s hard to raise the cost, time is what it is, so quality may suffer. I wonder if this is why some of the paint work I observed was splotchy or so new it still had wet paint signs on it. Either way, you should have good quality work for the contract sum you agreed to. My field observations and discussions with your builder can head-off these issues before it is too late.
Which brings me back to the 8 to 5 score above in favor of Dallas. While this is based on very limited observations in Houston and more robust experiences in Dallas, I’d say the nod goes to Dallas area builders for “who builds it better.” If you disagree, don’t sue me. There are great examples of quality in both cities, and I definitely saw some grade-A construction in Houston. And I’ve seen some less than desirable outcomes in Dallas over the years. So let’s call Round 1 in favor of Dallas general contractors. Round 2 (maybe 2015?) is anyone’s guess.