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By: Joe Contreras

December 18, 2020

As we discussed in our article, selecting the right contractor is one of the most important decisions that a building owner can make to help ensure a successful construction project. As a follow up, we are going to discuss the post-bid interview process and ways that building owners and property managers can use this tool to better evaluate and familiarize themselves with a contractor prior to awarding the project. Contractors: there is some useful information in the below article to help your organization stand out from the crowd during the interview process, which may help you land your next project.

During the post-bid interview stage, it is likely that all bid documents have been distributed and thoroughly reviewed by the bidding contractors and the contractors have had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the building and the scope of the project. We can also assume that the building owner has received multiple bids from solicited contractors and that there was a bid leveling process to help compare the overall pricing and line item pricing. At this time, building owners typically discard the outlying bids and invite the remainder of contractors to attend an interview at a predetermined time and place.

The post-bid interview process gives the building owner an opportunity to become acquainted with the contractors and contractor’s team members that may be participating in the interview. Here, the Building Owner or Property Manager can ask relevant questions to better understand the contractor’s organization, their capabilities, and their limitations, as well as discuss project specific constraints; the Contractor has an opportunity to  set expectations as to what a successful project looks like, and relay information that may have not been communicated during the bidding stage of the project.

During the interview process, Sullivan Engineering recommends that building owners and owner representatives ask the contractors specific questions about their company, which can include requests to describe the organizational structure and the level of mastery performing similar scopes of work. It is prudent to ask the contracting firms about their annual revenue and relevant work history within the past 5 years.

The Contractor’s responses will provide the client with necessary insight on how much work the firm executes each year, as well as provide a baseline of comparison for competing bidders. When evaluating the Contractor’s annual revenue compared to previous years, owners can infer whether or not contractors are growing at a pace. For instance, if their annual revenue volume has grown exponentially, the interviewing contractor may not have the resources available to complete the project in accordance with the owner’s expectations. An example of this would be a contractor taking on more work than what their project team is able to successfully handle.

Another excellent and leading point of discussion is to have contractors compare the project they are bidding on with the size and scope of their current active projects. Depending on how the contractors answer this question, building owners can then determine if their project is in the contractors’ areas of expertise. For example, let’s assume that the project at hand is a historic restoration project on a limestone cladded building. If a contractor’s answer suggests that they are only accustomed to working on non-ornamental brick facades or curtain wall systems, they would likely not be the right company to execute a historic restoration project. However, if the Contractor can provide information that suggests they have successfully completed similar historic restoration projects in the past, then they may be capable of executing the project efficiently and competently. Owners should also ask for references from contractors and follow up on these references to better understand the interviewing contractors’ capabilities.

Owners should familiarize themselves with the contractor’s organizational structure. As a building owner, you should never hesitate to ask the contractors about their levels of project management or for examples of a typical communication flow that could be expected if they are awarded the project. To this point, owners may ask how information regarding the identification of an unforeseen condition would be communicated throughout their organization.

It is common for contractors to have various levels of project management, which can range from onsite an foreman to the involvement of direct supervision by the owners of construction companies. In a typical construction organization, the foreman may communicate the unforeseen condition to the Project Superintendent, and the Project Superintendent may then bring this up to the Project Manager who would be responsible for communicating this to the Design Team and the Building Owner. During the interview, owners should be able to gain insight and determine if there is a comfort level with the contractor’s proposed chain of communication.

For a project with a varied or complex scope of work, it is very likely that there will be various trades responsible to achieve project completion. We encourage clients to inquire if there will be portions of the project scope that will be sub-contracted. In our experience, contractors often state that they will complete all work in-house; however, this may not be in the Owner’s best interest, as a firm that specializes in a facet of historic restoration may not be experienced with installing a specific roof assembly. As building envelope consultants, we commend contractors that know their areas of expertise and have the confidence to state that they sub-contract other work to others who are trained and proven in those areas of specialty.

More often than not, even the most straight forward construction projects face challenges and potential delays. A couple of prudent questions for the client to ask the contractors are “what will they foresee as the largest potential issue on the project?” and “what will they anticipate being the most difficult part of the project?”. These questions often reveal whether or not the contractors have thoroughly evaluated the prospective job. Owners should be cautious of the statement: “we don’t foresee any issues.” Almost every construction project has complications, even if they are minor ones, but by taking the time to think through a project, a competent contractor will be able to identify these potential issues ahead of time and curate proactive solutions to achieve the desired end result.

We encourage building owners, property managers, and contractors to incorporate this query process as a guideline for the post-bid interviews. Building owners should have the opportunity to be empowered by a knowledgeable design professional or qualified construction management firm to assist with navigation through the contractor selection process. A wise decision in choosing a qualified contractor on the front end of the project can save both time and money on the back end.

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