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12 Things Your Contractor Isn't Telling You
Comments () | Published April 1, 2011
2. You and I aren’t envisioning the same quality—or the same result.
A contractor who bids low may cut corners not just by using cheaper labor but by using builder-grade materials.

“Some homeowners are paying for a Kia and expecting a Cadillac,” says Steven Smitson, executive director of the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. “Especially now, when work is slow, we see so many contractors getting in trouble because they’re underbidding jobs. There’s a wide range of quality, and contractors could do a better job of explaining that—‘I’m offering this price, but this is the quality of materials and of workmanship.’ ”

Says Tom Gilday of Gilday Renovations in Silver Spring: “Clients are greedy. They talk to someone like me, who has been in business a long time, and we say the job is $100,000. Then they talk to someone who says the job is $60,000. But he takes twice as long and the quality isn’t the same.”

Want good quality, a low price, and a fast turnaround? Gilday says you can get two out of three but rarely all of them.

“Everyone wants the magic guy who is going to deliver the right job at the right price in the right time,” he says. “Maybe two out of ten can deliver that job; the other eight you’re going to have problems with. People get duped by the cost.”

Suppose you’re remodeling a kitchen. You get one quote for $45,000 and another for $60,000. Why such a difference?

One reason, says Peggy Card, a kitchen and bath designer with Tabor Design Build in Rockville, could be that you’re not comparing apples to apples.

On the $45,000 bid, she says, they may say, “ ‘We’ll give you an allowance for cabinets of $5,000.’ Then you go pick cabinets and they cost $15,000. The same is true with flooring, appliances, the countertop. When contracts don’t stipulate exactly what’s included, that $45,000 project that looked so good at the beginning cost you $60,000 because you got what you wanted.”

On the $45,000 bid, she says, they may say, “ ‘We’ll give you an allowance for cabinets of $5,000.’ Then you go pick cabinets and they cost $15,000. The same is true with flooring, appliances, the countertop. When contracts don’t stipulate exactly what’s included, that $45,000 project that looked so good at the beginning cost you $60,000 because you got what you wanted.”

Before getting proposals, it pays to go online or to a store such as Ferguson or Union Hardware to research what you want and what those materials cost—keeping in mind, says kitchen and bath designer Dee David, that materials are generally half the project’s cost; the other half is labor.

Then try to get bids—not to mention the eventual contract—to spell out as much as possible. A kitchen-remodeling quote might include the type of cabinet (maple? oak?) and even make (Wood-Mode? KraftMaid?), the countertop material (granite? quartz?), and appliance brands (GE? Sub-Zero?). Will painting include the walls, ceiling, trim, and doors—or just the walls? Will old pipes be replaced? If you don’t yet know the kind of cabinets or appliances you want, your research will at least tell you if the allowance is adequate.

Detailed bids let you see what one firm included and another didn’t.

Glenn Tobias says his company recently bid $395,000 for an upscale renovation and addition on an Alexandria house. The homeowner got another bid that was $160,000 higher, while a third quote was $130,000 less.

“The poor homeowner had no idea how to gauge this,” Tobias says. “Here’s why some of that happens legitimately: There can be confusion on the scope. One contractor will leave out a second zone of heating and air conditioning. There’s $30,000 right there. Companies just do things differently.”

And sometimes, he says, a contractor doesn’t want the job but bids high, saying to himself, “For $500,000, I’ll take it.”

Get estimates in writing, and beware bids off the top of a contractor’s head.

A Maryland architect recalls a time he accompanied a contractor to a client consultation: “It was one of these meetings where a builder comes to your home and you discuss the addition you want. The guy doing the construction said, ‘It’s going to cost $200,000.’ How he knew that I have no idea—I think he made up the number. And he said, ‘We can get it finished in six weeks.’ I knew it was going to take three or four months. I did a quick sketch on a napkin, and we left that night with a $30,000 check. I asked him, ‘Is this unusual?’ and he said, ‘It happens about 50 percent of the time.’ You’d be amazed at how gullible some homeowners can be.”

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Posted at 09:00 AM/ET, 04/01/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles