Keeping Design Projects Under Control The Secret to Containing Costs

A good redesign of an outdated, obsolete, or run-down common area in your co-op or condo building can be a thing of beauty. Spiffing up a lobby, hallway or elevator can not only inspire residents to take more pride in where they live, but can help maximize property values as well.

Regardless of the benefits however, undertaking any design project presents a certain amount of risk—including the possibility of going over-budget. Serious overruns can lead to a special assessment; something that will likely cancel out any goodwill the gorgeous new common area might have generated among the building residents. And if financial headaches weren’t enough, there’s also the fact that if a project goes over budget, chances are it’s taking longer than expected to complete as well, and likely inconveniencing residents on top of costing them money.

Horror stories abound of contractors who take too long to get a job done, come up with surprise costs in the middle of a project, or who simply do shoddy work. Any of those scenarios means money is being wasted. But there are plenty of good contractors out there, and plenty of ways to keep on top of a project underway in your building. With some due diligence, your board/mana- gement team can hire a competent contractor at a reasonable rate, and take measures to help control costs and get your project done on time.

Do We Have a Bidder?

According to Bernd Allen, a partner with Manhattan-based real estate law firm of Allen Morris Troisi & Simon LLP, design projects start with plans and specifications from an architect. The plans are then sent out for bids (usually three), and then board members choose the most attractive bid and hire that contractor.

But what constitutes the “best” bid? There are no hard and fast rules, but Allen says a common practice is to dismiss the lowest and highest bids—though he adds that even that rule “isn’t cast in stone.” Getting multiple bids can help give you an idea of what’s reasonable, particularly if the highest one seems unusually high or the lowest one looks too good to be true. (Hint: it probably is.)

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