HVAC Dilemma

I'm having a bit of a problem getting bids for a new furnace. I'm hoping that some folks in the HVAC profession might be willing to give me their opinion here.
I've qualified for a 'this old house' program offered by our county to make older homes more energy efficient. In my case, the first priority identified by the program is replacing my 1970s-era furnace with a new high-efficiency furnace. I was told I could call any contractor, and to submit at least three bids to the program administrators for review. I was told I could indicate my preference as to which contractor I'd rather go with.
The first company I had out came highly recommended by my brother. They'd installed a/c for him a year ago, and the estimator had spent a considerable amount of time running a Manual J and coming up with two proposals for my brother to consider. He was very pleased with their quality of work and the time they spent explaining the issues with him, which is why I called them. I even arranged to have the same estimator who'd done my brother's bid come to do my proposal.
Unfortunately, as soon as the guy showed up and learned my furnace replacement was going to be handled under this program, he lost all interest. He looked at my old furnace, rapidly wrote up a brief proposal, and began to leave. I had to stop him to ask him some of the questions that should have come up in a proper proposal process. He told me the program would not allow me to pick the contractor and since they'd award the job to the lowest bidder, it wasn't worth spending any more time with me.
The estimator from the next highly-recommended company arrived, and the process took even less time. As soon as he heard it was a replacement under this program, he told me they only supplied one furnace model under the program, and that he'd fax a bid to the program. He then left.
I then called the third company, one I've done business with in the past. They told me they don't work with this program, so they're not interested in meeting my heating-a/c needs this time.
Okay. I've got a call into the program director, because she had told me I'd have a choice of contractors and a choice of installs, subject to certain pricing parameters, and that's not what the contractors are saying. If this program provides furnace replacement, yet is so focused on the lowest bid that it won't permit a contractor to properly size the package to the home, it's probably wasting money. I'm not sure if getting a (basically) free furnace under a one-size-fits-most proposal is a better deal than paying several thousand out of my own pocket for a properly sized furnace. And the fact that I'm being treated like a leper by the quality HVAC contractors scares the hell out of me.
Is there anything I can do to make this job more appealing to a quality HVAC contractor? I don't want to hide the fact that this is a 'this old house' replacement program deal from a prospective contractor, but I'm floored at the difference it makes in how my proposal is being handled. Should I call a company and offer to pay for a proper proposal?
Thanks in advance for any comments or suggestions,
HellT
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wrote:

I almost missed your last statement. Lets say you get the contractor to quote it as a straight replacement job. Then get the program agency to counter offer whatever they think it is worth. Pay the contractor the program's approved amount to get your program paperwork through. Pay the contractor the balance he asked for off-book. If this is not illegal then it might help you get your subsidy and the contractor his real worth.
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Pay for a load calclation, You are getting a FREE several thousand dollar deal so why be a cheap ass. You are suprised the salesman dont want to stay , why should they , they know the deal. You are wondering if you should forget the deal, yea thats dumb. Here you could pay extra for a better unit or even tip a few people. But dont be to generous its all fair price for a fair job. You are lucky to have this offer. I dont know yor local but look into a 94% furnace and pay the upgrade if you cant get it free
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That's about what I was thinking -- offer to pay the balance between the program and the real price of the job.
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I went through a similar experience in the past. In my case, it was a grant program for nonprofits and the nonprofits had to get 3 bids from contractors in order to qualify for the grant money.
Contractors don't like to get involved with these deals for a number of reasons. One is that they know you have to get 3 bids, so they know up front that -- at best -- they have a 1 in 3 chance of even getting the job in the first place. Then, if they get the job, there are usually questions about how and when they will get paid. Most grant programs like this are slow to release the money to the contractor and/or they hold back money until final inspections and other paperwork are completed. Time is money for the contractors, so they don't want to spend their time on a lot of bureaucracy, and they don't want to spend time answering to a third party in the transaction. My guess is that the grant funders aren't going to give you the money up front. Instead, they are going to require the contractor to do the work and then, when all of the paperwork and inspections are done and submitted, they'll issue a payment to the contractor in 30 to 60 days. Your situation might be different than that, but that is how it often works in other programs.
Calling the program director is a good first step. She can clarify how it really works in terms of the money being paid to the contractor who does the work. She will also probably say there are rules against her naming or suggesting any particular contractors that you can use, but you can always ask. Maybe she'll have a list of contractors in your area who have already participated in the program. If so, they'll know how it all works and might be willing to submit a bid.
Another option would be to try going with large companies (like Sears) and just say what you are thinking of having done and ask for an estimate. You don't need to tell them that you are getting 3 bids and you don't need to tell them you are going to use grant funds to pay for the work. After you get each estimate, just say you need to think about it. Then, after you have 3, submit them and ask to be approved for funding. Once you are approved, tell the company you are going to use that you found out you qualify for funding for the work through the program. Tell them this is how the program works and ask if they would be willing to accept payment through that process.
The last option, if all else fails, would be to contact a general contractor. Explain what the problem is, and that you can't qualify for the funding unless you have three bids. Ask if he/she uses a number of different subcontractors for HVAC work and if he/she can get 3 of them to look at the job and prepare bids for you. Then you'll have 3 different bids from 3 different companies that you can submit to the program when requesting funding approval.
Good luck.

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This is Turtle.
I hate to say this but when you have a third party paying and the second party taking the bids. You are just about garrentied the bid will go to the cheapest bidder. Most professional will not bid low as hell to drum up work like a Hack will. So the job is deston to go to the Cheapest bid and Cheapest workmanship that can be gotten.
I'm a HVAC contractor and i will tell you that when you tell me about the 3 bids and a TV show / third party is going to give the work to you after the show. You & I know sure as hell they will use the cheapest bidder. I bid a little everyonce in a while when my regular Commercial customer business is slow but I don't like to bid any job when price is the key to getting the job. If you want cheap job and bid. you can go to Home depot and find out who does their work and call that contractor to come throw it in and leave. Even the Federal and State Govenments know about the cheap bid ideal. They will not take the highest bidder or the lowest bidder and pick out of the middle for a contractor. The last 3 or 4 times that I have submitted a bid. i was the winning bidder on about 3 but was not the highest bidder or the lowest bidder.
Don't look down on the HVAC contractor for seeing a Cheap job in the making and just don't want any of it. Most professional HVAC installers will not get cheap on the equipment and installation and will just move on. I will say this i have enough of business to keep me from going the cheap route and i don't think I could look you in the eye when i collected the money for the job at the end. So I will just bid any job as to doing it right and no short cuts. If you want cheap i will just let the Hack take care of you.
TURTLE
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