Some community associations simply call three companies, get three proposals and quotes, and go with the lowest bidder. That sounds easy, but buyer beware – there is much more to the bidding process than many Board members realize. For example, sometimes when you choose a vendor simply by its low price, you get exactly what you pay for. Of course, reasonable fees are important, but there are many other considerations your association should weigh before making selection, like experience, qualifications, certifications, reputation, communication – and that’s just for starters.
“For many associations, the bidding process can become complicated and turn into a huge project on its own,” said Louis Pincus, Vice President, FirstService Residential in Florida. “And all too often, even after going through many steps to find a qualified vendor, the results may not be what they hoped for, and may even create other issues.”
So what’s answer? Streamlining the vendor selection and bidding process. By standardizing your procedure and focusing on what’s important, you can reduce hassles and increase your chances of getting better results. How do you simplify this complex process? If your community is professionally managed, ask your property manager for guidance and support. And to help get you started, here are five proven guidelines from the pros:
1. Invite the right companies to bid.
Different contractors offer different types of services, which can make the selection process even more complicated. Take construction companies, for example. Some offer comprehensive design/build services, while others only offer design – and if you go that route, you’d have to hire a building contractor as well. Another option is to select a construction manager as your direct vendor, who would then be responsible for putting together a team. No matter which option you choose, be sure all your bidders submit proposals that include the same scope of work. If one prospective vendor is bidding on design only, it’s going to be difficult to compare that proposal with a design/build package submitted by another company. An experienced and knowledgeable property manager will be able to guide you accordingly.
2. Come on over.
It’s important to make sure each of your prospective vendors visits your community and sees exactly what you need. Schedule individual walk-throughs with your community association manager and each contractor. That way, prospective vendors can ask questions that may affect the scope of work – and you can ask them questions as well. A site tour can also is an opportunity to get to know your candidates a little bit better and see what kind of rapport develops.
3. Get your docs in a row.
When soliciting bids, it’s important to request certain documents from your prospective vendors – and be sure to obtain the same documents from all of them, so you can compare and evaluate. What should you ask for? A list of the company’s qualifications, prior experience, past projects, lists of subcontractors (if any), and applicable certifications. Do your due diligence – double-check your companies for licensing, bonding and insurance, and ask for references and call them. And don’t forget to check online, including social media sites, for any complaints from previous clients (but be sure these are legitimate complaints from actual customers). An experienced property management team can offer guidance on the proper documentation and fact-checking you need at every phase to ensure there are no risks or liability.
4. Focus on more than price.
We can’t say this enough. Once you have all your bids in hand, you may feel that choosing the lowest-price option is the way to go. While your commitment to financial stewardship is certainly admirable, don’t award the contract just yet. You’ll want to assess each vendor company based on the value it brings – its fees compared to what it offers. Sometimes it’s worth it to pay a little more to work with a quality company that offers benefits you can’t put a price tag on, like relevant experience or a great reputation. Besides, you may find that instead of asking, “how much will it cost?,” it may be better to ask, “how long will it take?” or “will it be done right?”
5. Ask for help.
The bidding process can be overwhelming, so it may be worthwhile to seek assistance. Technology can help, and a simple web search will turn up multiple bid comparison applications and software that can automate much or all of the bidding process. You may also find that your property management company can provide you with much-needed guidance and insight and save you time and frustration. Community association managers can ask the right questions, consult with the right prospects, and move the process forward quickly and effectively while you focus on other association business.
Navigating the vendor selection process is the necessary first step to getting things done in your community, but sometimes, it can take on a life of its own. But by following these helpful steps, you can streamline and simplify the bidding process and connect with the best contractor to fit your needs – and that goes a long way towards getting the job done right. For more helpful tips on simplifying the vendor selection process, contact FirstService Residential