By: Sheila Malchiodi, The Inside-Out Company, and Angela Williams Duea, LMS
Capital improvement projects are often started in the spring, and annual maintenance work is beginning now. The first step for an association is to obtain bids or proposals for the work. Some association boards have specific requirements on exactly what they want, but other board members lack industry knowledge and clarity in their request. If you do not have a streamlined system, you may not be getting the most out of your Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Here is a look at the entire process, along with some tips about how to better use RFPs in your procurement process.
1. Establish a calendar of events and project timeline.
Consider all of the projects your association plans to complete for the calendar year and list them in priority. Once you identify what projects are most important, you can start to establish individual project timelines.
Identify steps in the process that will require hard dates: RFP distribution, pre-bid meeting, proposal submission, vendor selection meeting and a preferred production timeframe.
Something to keep in mind when organizing your timeline, specifically for exterior work, is how long will the project take. The Midwest climate and variable weather plays a large role in the scheduling of projects. Planning, flexibility and realistic expectation-setting is crucial to meeting deadlines.
2. Determine if you are looking for short or long-term solutions.
Generic requests will produce a plethora of submissions, some providing short-term solutions and others long-term. To ensure that you are comparing apples to apples with your bids, make sure you tell each vendor the same list of expectations for the end result.
For example, if you have an older property with metal balcony railings that have been painted multiple times in the past and are currently failing (flaking paint, rusted posts, etc.), do you just need a quick scrape, spot prime and topcoat to make them look presentable for another year until the association can afford to replace? Or are you looking for more extensive preparation, welding repairs and a full prime coat / two topcoat systems that will ensure the railings look presentable and are protected for the next five years?
By establishing clear expectations you are more apt to receive effective proposals, which will ensure you have accurate information to match the right contactor to your community’s needs.
3. Provide a clear scope of work.
It is important that you provide vendors with a clear scope of work. This includes a full list of component and preferred products (brands and grades). Note whether repairs or work to be completed should match existing structures or change to something new. This can be a difficult task if you are not familiar with the required preparation or latest products on the market. If you are unclear of how to go about setting a clear scope of work, consider hiring an engineer or asking a product company to write the scope of work for you.
If you have a large-scale project that requires multiple contractors, has problems needing specifications, or one requiring a large portion of the association’s money, utilizing a professional in that field will safeguard your association from errors right from the start. The extra upfront cost may save you from larger additional expenses that may be incurred during the project.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
4. Host a pre-bid meeting and over-communicate your expectations.
This meeting should be mandatory, where all potential bidders are present. The scope of work, alternative options, goals, and deadlines should be discussed. This also gives bidders the opportunity to ask questions, propose cost-saving solutions and give alternate suggestions prior to bid submission. Many times, this pre-bid meeting uncovers defects, areas of concern and a multitude of other things that could have a significant effect on the outcome of your project.
5. Ask for references.
Even though we know most companies will give their best clients as references, have a list of specific questions to ask regarding timeliness, cleanliness, reliability, and so on. Do not be afraid to ask the hard questions. This will uncover areas of concern that will affect your decision.
6. Review proposals.
Some associations choose to create a spreadsheet that includes all of the bidding companies. This is a great tool to be able to look at competitors pricing side by side. With that said, it is still important to review proposals submitted in their entirety. Things to look for and consider: additional options, areas not included, end result disclaimers, current conditions, supervision levels, warranties and products. This will assist in determining who your top three companies will be.
7. .Interview your top three companies.
Many times, the lowest price is not the best option. Use this time to discover the alternatives, suggestions and product offerings of each individual bid. Utilize your property manager and their area of expertise with selection.
8. Hire the company that best suits the association’s needs and budget.
Now that you have collected facts, created your plan and interviewed your top contractors, it is time to make your decision. Through preplanning and education, you are sure to find the right contractor for your project that will meet your needs, expectations and budget.
Not all RFPs are hard to create. When you utilize professional partnerships and their expertise, associations can accomplish otherwise overwhelming tasks without undue distress. Property managers are able to seek credible vendors, gather extensive information related to the job at hand and make help associations make hard, but necessary, decisions that will ultimately result in the success of a project.
A well-executed RFP can make the difference between a process that flows and one full of problems. If your system is not honed, consider the steps listed above and see if you can streamline your system.