masonry contractor weird conversation

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I am looking into having a 6' masonry fence constructed (about 50').
I had one contractor come out, take notes, called me the next day with his estimate.
I ask him for a copy of his write up.
Guy says, call around, get more bids, when you're ready to really move forward, I'll type up a formal estimate with a breakdown of all the work & material we'd be using.
I'm willing to give this guy a benefit of a doubt. Perhaps his way of looking at is, he's not interested in spending his time to make up a materials list that I can shop around to others.
However, I would think contractors would expect consumers to acquire multiple bids on work.
I am probably going to pass on this particular contractor due to this proprietary attitude.
Is this type of contractor response common place ? (or is this guy just a bad apple ?). He did invite me to his other jobsites to take a look at the "quality" of his work though. And admitted outright he's not the cheapest guy, but tooted his own horn about how great his work is, blah, blah, blah.
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He gave you a price if you like his work go with him, he doesnt want to waste time writing out bids if you are still shopping, so shop and get bids. What he is doing is normal since he is busy.
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ransley wrote:

Amen to that. A working contractor has to expect a certain amount of window shoppers wasting his time, but doing a materials takeoff and formal bid is a lot more work than a quick on-site estimate based on square footage and experience. True in spades if your area requires engineering plans to pull a permit for masonry fences, since footers are involved. Some contractors get around this by charging for formal estimates, with the cost credited toward the work if you go with them.
Can't address the 'tooting his own horn' part- I'd have to see his other work. But the really good ones don't advertise much- word of mouth gets them all the work they can handle. I'd ask friends and coworkers who have had work done- who did they use, and were they happy? Or just drive around on a Saturday when people are out in their yards, and if you see fresh-built work, stop and ask. Most suburban esquires LOVE to talk about work they have had done.
-- aem sends...
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I can't speak as to the commonplace in the masonary/construction field, but as a landscape contrator, I can certainly respect his attitutude. Often times on estimates, I try to feel out the enthusiasm a potential client has for a project before I decide how involved I will get in the estimate at first. If I get the sense that they are either price shopping or don't have any real idea of what a project should cost, I will hold off before spending lots of time selling the project. Like your contractor, I am rarely the cheapest because I will only do the project if I can do it right and do it well. I probably wouldn't have been as blunt as the contractor in your situation, but the end result may have been the same. I should say, however, that I don't know how you behaved during the meeting. If I got the sense that you were interested in have quality work done, had a good idea of what you were going to pay, I would have taken the estimate out further and tried to sell myself to get the job.

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I would assume you discussed during his time with you what the basic materials were to be. My prime concern would have been footing design and steel. He has already spent at least an hour with you plus driving time two ways to see the job. He has spent another hour assembling material quantities and current pricing (some of this stuff changes daily). How many dollars do you want him to spend on you with only a slight possibility of a job?
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Well put!!! T
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Don't be so quick to pass on him. Get the other bids and find out what they propose, then talk to him again. He just may be the best of the lot. If he is a good craftsman, he may be very busy. Rather than waste time doing a formal proposal that you can use to pass on to others, he's going to wait until you decide you want a quality job.
Check a few jobs he's done before you make a decision.
I know other contractors that have that kind of attitude and they are booked up with work for half a year or so. They do good work and don't waste time writing up proposals for window shoppers. Often people request a quote expecting $3000 and when they find that the typical cost is $12,000, they pass. Meantime, the contractor spent a lot of time for nothing.
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Your appear to be uninterested in the "quality" of his work. If you are not interested in that, you are asking for trouble. As someone else said, the structural design is the first concern, then the execution. TB
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At one point I was charging for writing up bids I was so busy. He probably could spend all day just writing up bids but his jobs come first. He has no idea if you will even do the work or just want the cheapest price.
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Multiple bids is one thing, multiple materials lists is another. Did he give you a written bid including the work to be done?
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wrote:

Multiple bids is one thing, multiple materials lists is another. Did he give you a written bid including the work to be done?
nope, said call me after you've gotten other estimates and we'll talk about it then. it was just a verbal quote over the phone, reviewing how he would construct the fence (footings, etc). overall looking back, i have to admit, he did provide sufficient information where i don't really need any written estimates to compare against other contractors (since i took notes).
so he's still in the running. but i'm going to take him up on his offer to go to his other jobsites. and get some more bids.
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"Mr John Doe" wrote

I had one prospective contractor like that. I didn't use him. I wasn't looking for a formal write up, just a basic pencil note with initial estimate of a job. He wouldn't do that until I did substantially destructive demolition style pre-work 'to prove I was serious' that would have mandated I have the job done immediately afterwards. I felt this particular person was shady even though he may not have been. I'll never know. The job was a minimum of 35,000$ and I don't think asking for a pencil note estimate rough was absurd in a case like that. (Work long since done by another and for 1/3rd less). His attitude put me off. Probably mutual there as I was asking 'how much' and he wasn't willing to answer until he actually started the job.
I've had quite a bit of work done on the house and he's the only one who wouldnt do a basic write up with estimate on the spot. Most did come with riders about finding extra damage once into the job and I can understand that.
I even got one estimate for an AC/Heat unit via email. I explained to the company that I wasnt ready for the work this year but wanted a rough idea of how much to put aside for next year, without wasting their time to come out. They were happy to give me the general range of pricing after a few basic questions. No muss, no fuss, no high pressure salesman. Good local reputation. Not the cheapest, but the work is solid. When the time comes, we will almost certainly go with them.
Ok so estimates here: Chimney repair Wood fence repair Sunroom Bathtub replacement Electrical work (various small items but quite a few of them) Several windows (including large bay) Patio door Back external door AC Unit (email only, not firm but a guideline for what to save up) Bricklayer for BBQ unit (only 1 estimate so far with pictures vice site visit as of yet)
I recon with all those since Oct07, we are fairly familiar with what to expect. If your masonry fellow wont jot down a general spec with a list of his standard materials attached (most have this preprinted and just circle what applies), then call back later if he needs to so you can write in the price estimate on the paper he left, he's not who I would go with. Even the bricklayer guy came back with an email with this info and is slated to come over sometime next week to firm it up. He gave a reasonable guess on repair if repairable, and another for ripout and rebuild. The ripout and rebuild is a firm price.
Sorry to be long winded, but so many seemed to think it was 'ok' to not give you specs til you contract. The price of the visit and writeup, is added to the work (hidden in the labor charges) and an expected part of doing business. Contractors may not like it, but thats part of the job.
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thanks for sharing. much appreciated.
in my case, he wasn't necessarily saying no price till contracted. he said he'd provide a more firm estimate w/write up when i'm confident i want to do business with him. "at-that-time", he indicated i'd have a more precise estimate typed up, and it was then up to me to decide if i wanted to sign on the dotted line.
but he did go over on the phone with me what the work entailed, type of materials, etc. so the consensus here seems to be, he's probably one of the good guys in the business (vs. a shoddy fly-by-night operator or cut-corners type guy). a price range was given ( plus or minus $2k from the estimate quoted).
i just thought it was unusual for him to not mail out his quote in writing. but i see the point of other posters here. he did give me what i need to know though in terms of a cost estimate (i just wanted to know he arrived at that number. how much is labor ? how much is material ?)
thanks to all who responded.
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"Mr John Doe" wrote

Grin, this was the part that squicked me.

I see later he did give you info over the phone. He 'may' be a good guy or it could be this type of specific work is harder to estimate. The closest I have had done to this was a footer extension for a sunroom (older code house) and the brick BBQ.
Here's a little more detail since it may help you to deal with what is probably something you havent done often. I'll give the summary on why so much. House was rented to renters from hell for 7 years while I ws serving overseas (Navy)

- This one we got the name from our insurance agent. We asked for top quality not price and they smiled. Since the work wasnt being paid for by them, they were happy to give us a name of one they knew from historical records did really *good safe* work. We did not quibble the price. We did take their estimate to the offices of another for a price check and the recommended guys were about 300$ more. We went quality. Full write up right away with call back to validate it next day. 'Circle me' paper at site review and hand cirles on picture of chimney where my damage was.

- We went low end bidder. Higher end work was nice but none of them would do 'patch work' and we needed a fast patch to keep a 5YO neighbor kid out of our yard. We were worried he'd get hurt and we'd get sued. The low end guy was willing to start 3 days later. Suprisingly, his work is exceptionally nice. We will have him back to do the rest of the fence next year. We actually don't own the parts that need fixing but the neighbors aren't going to do it. They are granting access so we can have it done. Have full write up in 3 flavors from 'whole job' to 'middle level, to just the patching absolutely needed right away. Hand drawn picture of yard fence with 3 estimates written below. 'A/B/C' (whole, middle, patch).

- Major job as you can guess. This was a poorly enclosed porch. Renters kicked the walls and windows out. This was the room the high end contractor wanted us to rip out the rest of, including a perfectly fine plywood ceiling and then let him start *before* he would give us an estimate. 35,000$ and upwards. He refused to discuss anything but bedroom specs vice rebuilding to enclosed porch specs. Would not give a list of materials other than we might have to have the roof replaced on the back of the house first to raise it up. 3 specs gotten from others, all decent. We went the middle set having seen their work. They were willing to work with us and do the 2 walls exterior to a '3 season sunroom'. 10,000$ which included extending the footer etc. Very *very* happy with the work. We've put up paneling and trim on the rest of the room and it's really a showplace now. Had complete write up next day from the one we picked, and rough site estimates from the other 2. All listed parts etc on standard 'circle me' sheets.

- Ugg. I hate to diss Home Depot but this one was a nightmare. We had other estimates and everyone seemed the same price. Home Depot promised faster delivery. 5 *months* later the tub was replaced and a new wall liner put up. The work was nice but we spent 5 months unable to take a shower. Once they did show up, the contracted plummer did not. I was rather impressed with how they worked hard to get one in and we were not charged extra when they had to outsource it. Lots of specs given with 'circle me' from all.

- Went high end for our area hourly rate but the fellow works fast so by suprise, it was cheaper. Others spec'ed out by outlet etc and he wouldnt. We were a little nervous about that but it turned out good in the end. What we couldnt afford to fix, he dead-ended for free for safety. (the rest of the house is a screened porch with 19 double outlets, most improper interior style ones and should be exterior rated for rain). When we got the breakdown this time, it was after the job. We only had 'parts and labor' listings before the work. When he was done, he ran his hours through a calculator and put a price by each item. The ceiling fans for example say 50$ each. Seems right as I think it took him 30 mins each. 'Circle me' lists of standard materials used.

- Used old friend. Had several estimates, all higher. Only thing the insurance agents paid for. They really were trying to work with us and were appalled at the damages but no one could track the damages to an event. They (hush now) made one up based on a bad storm that hit 3 months prior to our return stateside and ignored that the windows were broken out from the inside. Imagine comming home to see your windows propped in place with 2x4's ... but I digress <g>. Due to having had this same friend do our roof and siding several years ago, and us helping him get many other jobs since by showing off his work, we got the windows done almost for cost. In fact, it was window price and cost to 'DL' for labor he had to pay his guys only. I have 3 windows I'd like to replace still as his stuff is better energy rated. Next year he comes back, to do the 3 windows and patch fix some siding the renters took out with a car crashing into the garage while drunk driving home. Grin, no 'circle me' but a full spec sheet on the type of windows used.
Left off list, sorry. New Garage door <sad smile>. DL again, needed it right away and didnt get estimates. I keep forgetting that one but that's because he did it next day when we got back. Hehehe all we asked was it be dark brown to match the house.

- Lowes had a sale. Probably should have used DL but they were ready to install in 3 days as were doing a neighbors. Met neighbor at Lowes and we decided to jump along. No site survey in advance but had measurements. Rather nice work. Very pleasant contractor. Got list right at Lowes with what would be used including the need for 24ft of shim wood 'just in case' since we didnt have a site survey.

- 2 estimates for labor for pre-hung door. Used local handyman who wrote his estimate on some notebook paper. He listed every detail out as his shopping list then when we agreed, he took it with him and got the stuff. He undervalued his work at 30$ labor and we 'tipped' him 70$ to make it more inline with what the work is worth locally. He's slow but careful and the work is that of a true craftsman.

- Have not done this yet. Was not ready and the units work but are obviously aging. Here's where you be polite to contractors (not that we are ever rude!). If you know you aren't going to have the work done right away, tell them so upfront. Do not ask for them to spend money on a site survey 'just to check it out'. It's not only rude, it gets you a bad name and such gets around. Asking for general information is ok. If doing so by email, you will make them uncomfortable unless you *clearly* state that you know without a site visit, they can only make a reasonable guess or give the cost of a product that may cost more to install in your case. You should expect such estimates to come back with a wide range.

- This one is unique. I had digital photos from every angle with closeups and distance views plus measurements. I was taking this to Lowes to see how many bricks we might need and ran into a bricklayer getting supplies. He's got work in my area next week and since it's not an extra trip but only 1 street over, he's going to drop by. He gave a verbal estimate and his email address to which I attached the pictures when I got home. He came back with what it would cost to completely replace it, and what he thinks (if possible) it might be to patch it. In email he lists the general materials but says he cant tell what's in the core of the unit (which is sunken and growing grass a little). I had planned to get several estimates and he knows this. He also knows we might 'DIY' this and is only stopping by because he's going to be right here next week. I plan to get more estimates but his price seems reasonable to me for the labor and parts involved.

Glad to help. The above might be more than you needed, but it shows a fuller flavor of what to expect. At least in my area, almost everyone has pre-printed lists of what products they use for their type of work. It sure makes it easier on them.

Agreed. May not be a bad guy at all.

What squicked me out was any job with 2k variation and only verbal, seems to indicate a fairly expensive job. The more expensive it is, the more info I got in a site survey right then and there. It is possible this fellow is just a good workman with less than expected skills at the estimation end.

Or email it ;-)

Final bit to a very long email. The guy with the lowest labor charges, is often *not* a very good bet. Good workers cost money.
I do not know what the going rate is for your type job in whatever area you live in. The brickworker here is 65$ an hour and I do not know yet if that is a good rate or a bad one for my area. He's got another guy who's 35$ an hour who just takes out the old stuff if it's like my BBQ needs to be leveled.
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Contractor may feel that you are shopping around? You know that happens with estimates and contractors get numb to the "bid" project only to know it was shopping around.......
A fence of that sort needs special attention. I have see too many masonary fences with a "lean" in them after a while.
Do you have specific detailed plans or are you asking each and every contractor who comes up to do "his" plan and estimate on "his" drawing. This is where prices and projects head in different directions. You can have one contractor "bid" a cheap, quickly done job, with low cost materials and no attention to detail and come up with a low price. On the other hand you may have a conscientious contractor, do some detailed, engineered design, and seem overly priced.
Anyway, since I am not there, and do not know the situation, all I know is a good set of details for the contractor, and specific materials drawn into the plan will help with coming up with a good price.
jloomis

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I'd give this guy a second look. He's honest. He diplomatically told you he doesn't want to take his time to give you a bid if you're "looking into it". That actually takes about half a day for him. It also gives you a list to shop other contractors with. Next, he's hungry. He told you to get all the prices and he'd see if he could beat it. If there was plenty of work, he'd shoot you a high price, take it or leave it. A good block man can size up a job in minutes unless there's a lot of complicated stuff. Otherwise, it isn't rocket surgery. If he invited you to view his "quality" work at other jobsites, then he's telling you that he does good work, isn't the cheapest, and that is NOT blah, blah, blah. It's bullshit when they tell you but can't provide any addresses because "they don't want the people living there bothered."
I'd definitely keep him in mind, and realize that you can get cheaper work. They just use less concrete, used bricks, shortcuts, the dregs they can pick up at Home Depot parking lot that day, and they disappear after you paid them.
My experience after putting up thousands of feet of wrought iron for various block guys. You do what you want.
Steve
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get
"quality"
isn't
people
work.
pick
various
lowest bidder doesn't necessarily have an advantage.
what i was speaking to was the attitude of not providing an accurate breakdown of how he priced his work. but in reading the feedback, it appears the reason behind it is understandable. and not wanting to spend inordinate hours writing up bids instead of actually doing work, is in everyone's best interests.
i was going to take him up on his offer to go to some of his other jobsites anyway. maybe i might learn a thing or two.
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"Mr John Doe" wrote

I missed that part first go around. I normally when possible, try to see a sample of the person's work. I'm also listed by several of the folks who've done work here as available so others can see it. Had one come by 2 weeks ago to take pictures of my windows and siding. Have shown my fence work to others too.
The accuracy of the breakdown when it's an initial, isnt expected to be extensive. You get stuff like '100$ an hour with estimate of 10 hours if no problems encountered' and 'Sherman Williams Latex exterior gloss' etc. Obviously depends on the type of work. Like the BBQ list has 'fire rated brick and stone plus appropriate mortar for exterior BBQ' (later he'll list what type mortar on the final bid). Maybe my area is wierd? They all seem to have pre-printed forms with lists of materials and just start circling.
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I've actually worked with guys and had guys do work for me that were functionally illiterate. They did good work. They couldn't read or write so good. Do you want a Rembrandt proposal or a good job? His work is going to speak for itself. Unless you get lucky enough to talk to the person who had the work done. Everything else is smoke and mirrors.
Steve
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wrote:

Out of curiousity, could these guys read measuring tapes and do accurate cuts of material? I heard of one very willing illiterate worker who could not measure anything or do any basic calculations and ended up not being able to keep his roofing job because supervising him was too much work.
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