Re: Finding General Contractors
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Thu, 7 Mar 2013 23:28:37 -0800 (PST)
Cornerstone Cohousing in Cambridge, MA, is now a little over ten years old.  We 
use two different processes:  the "proposal" process, and the "competitive bid" 

For a proposal-type process, we know we want something, but are not sure 
exactly what.  So we find a couple of appropriate (sub)contractors — plumbers, 
carpenters, painters, whatever — tell them what we think the problem or the 
goal is, and then let each one explain how s/he would approach the project, and 
what s/he would charge.  In its simplest form, the proposal process includes 
only one candidate, one who is trusted to offer good advice, good service, and 
a fair price.  The challenge is that two or more candidates may have totally 
different ideas about what to do and why, and offer totally different prices.  
So we are comparing apples to oranges — and have a strong tendency to believe 
that the cheap apple is far more delicious than the pricey orange.

For the bid-type process, we know pretty much exactly what we want, and it's 
all spelled out in drawings and specifications.  We then seek competitive bids 
— in writing — from three qualified contractors; since we are now comparing 
apples to apples, it usually makes the most sense to accept the lowest price.  
This is the process we're using now for a major interior renovation in the 
mid-five figures, and so far it seems to be working well.  The challenge is, 
How much "extra" should we spend to get the drawings and specs that spell out 
exactly what we want?  Our community — like other condo associations, and 
homeowners generally — is quite divided on this topic.

Either way, so far our range of candidate contractors has come from the 
historical experience of our membership, not from Angie's List.  Over the 
years, we've had a couple different property management companies.  Even so, we 
are a very hands-on, do-it-yourself community, and are currently self-managing 
(saving about $10K a year in management fees).  This, too, seems to be working 
OK, or at least better than the managers we used to pay.

R Philip Dowds AIA
175 Harvey Street, Unit 5
Cambridge, MA 02140

On Mar 5, 2013, at 1:34 PM, Dave and Diane <daveanddee [at]> wrote: 

> Hi everyone in coho-land!
> What process do you use to find general contractors for various  
> building improvement and repair processes? I'm assuming you do not go  
> to and type in "general contractor." Do you use  
> an RFP process? Get it done through your management company? Ask a  
> local architect? Funnel requests through the design committee? Talk  
> to friends and neighbors? We're trying to find a general contractor  
> to manage various projects for us and would like to know how other  
> cohousing communities do it.
> Diane Simpson
> Jamaica Plain Cohousing, Boston MA 02130
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