bidding process

Dodge the Costs of the Unknown and Unseen

Drive-thru:

  • Working with GCs who complement your style helps reduce the work you must do to find unknown and unseen aspects of projects.
  • Considering details of the proposed contract will shed light on whether the project is really right for you.
  • Dig deep into the design documents and do your due diligence to uncover some of the most notorious unknowns and unseens.

Subcontractors often find themselves short on time when it comes to reviewing project specifications and doing site visits before bidding. Relying solely on a prime contractor’s verbal assurances that there aren’t any surprises, or on the reviews and inspections of other participants, is risky. Here are best practices to eliminate possible surprises from your subcontractor bid process.

Know the GC

General contractors come in many types, and they use business tactics that reflect those used by the people who hire them. If a prime contractor regularly works for developers who hold back on negative information about their projects to keep bids lower, there’s a chance that general is using the same tactic with its subs. A GC regularly takes on last-minute projects that leave little time for scrutiny before bidding? There’s a good chance that if you decide to bid on one of their projects, you’ll have to pull numbers from the air and hope for the best.

When you see the words 'incorporated by reference,' it's a sign there are unknowns of which you need to be aware. Click To Tweet

There will always be subcontractors willing to work with the worst of the GCs. However, if you’re not one of them, then it’s time to start focusing on quality. Do your research on the GCs behind the bid packages to find the ones that do business in ways that complement your own style.

Know the Proposed Contract

It’s possible the proposed contract will reference some contract documents that you might never see. Still, you are bound to the general contractor just as the GC is bound to the owner. That means you will be responsible for what’s in those referenced contract documents. When you see the words “incorporated by reference,” it’s a sign there are unknowns of which you need to be aware. If the referenced documents aren’t attached, it’s time to start asking questions.

Standard contracts usually require your assistance in reducing congestion and resolving workplace conflicts.

You should also question items referenced in ‘general conditions’ and ‘special conditions.’ Are there any unusual environmental or safety requirements? Standard contracts usually require your assistance in reducing congestion and resolving workplace conflicts together with other project participants. You might find those tasks more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, depending on the other trades involved or on the complexity of the project.

Whenever contractual clauses introduce third parties that will affect your work, it’s wise to consider how you will deal with the delays they might cause. You might switch to other work on site or move crews to another job. You might add another layer of notifications to third parties in order to reduce the chance they’ll be late or miss an appointment.

As you consider ways to avoid the unpleasant consequences of unknowns arising from the contract, you will gain a deeper appreciation of just what’s going to be required of you if you win the bid. That might lead to building in more contingency funds or even rethinking your involvement altogether.

Know Your Scope

Take a good look at the design and engineering documents. This is often your first chance to view the real scope of the project. It’s also your first glimpse into the quality of the design and engineering. If you can see glaring holes in the design at this point, you can assume you’ll be in for a rough ride.

The specifications tell you what materials and methods you’ll work with. The more unfamiliar they are to you and your crews, the more challenging.

The specifications tell you what materials and methods you’ll work with. The more unfamiliar they are to you and your crews, the more challenging. What about sources of material supply? A project requiring custom items or large amounts of common items introduces the question of where to get them and at what cost.

Next, consider the scope of your work and how it blends with other trades. Do you see a lot of places where it is unclear? Are the design documents missing components or showing duplicated requirements across different trades? Is the GC clear about the extent of the work it is subcontracting? A thorough review of the design documents while also scrutinizing the contract documents will give you the best view of what you’re signing up for.

Exercise Due Diligence

Carefully consider the not-so-obvious aspects of the project, and investigate. Here are a handful of conditions that are easy to overlook:

  • Environmental history
  • Soil conditions
  • Drainage
  • Typical weather patterns during the expected dates of construction
  • Potential client delays like those related to financing
  • Permitting and inspection turnarounds
  • Elevation overviews
  • Site access, parking availability, and potential delivery issues
  • Availability of onsite storage, and its proximity to the work you’ll perform
  • The existing conditions of the onsite utilities

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