Negotiating Estimates

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Recently solicited estimates for an electrical service upgrade from our 150amp, 20 circuit box to 30/36 circuits, including installation of new water meter grounding as per code, and reattaching the exterior service head left unsupported when our siding was installed about 15 years ago.
Received 5 estimates, ranging from 3200 to 800.
I inherited the house from my parents, and don't really know enough about it all to make an intelligent decision, rather than going for the guy in the middle. Is it ok to negotiate one of the higher estimates down? Since a permit is involved and the work will be inspected, should I expect all of the service to be about the same?
Thanks for your thoughts.. Marsha
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I think what you need to do, is be sure that you are comparing apples to apples. I am an electrical contractor in downstate NY, and after reading your post, I'm not exactly sure of what you're looking to get, and why. Are you just getting a bigger panel? Are you increasing the service ampacity to 200 amp? If the service is being increased, who is responsible for replacement of the meter box, and service entrance cable? In my area, when you get a service upgrade, say to 200 amp, the installation is pretty much standard. You'll get a new 200 amp service entrance cable and weather head, new meter box, new 40 circuit panel with necessary breakers, all new grounding system. All the work and connections are made by the electrician, and including filing and inspections, a garden variety installation costs about $2500. This, of course will vary wildly from region to region, so the most important thing to be sure of, is that all parties, plan on doing the same thing. Once that's established, I'd go for the lowest price.
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responding to http://www.homeownershub.com/maintenance/Negotiating-Estimates-442501-.htm mpenny wrote: I'm in New Jersey. We currently have a 150 amp 20 circuit box, we just wanted to upgrade to a 30/36 circuit since the current box is full, and we may need to add sockets. We are keeping it at 150 amp, since all who came by said that was more than enough for a house our size.
I was nervous about the lowest bid, because when I asked about needing a permit he said, "if you want.."
My brother in law priced out the items and estimated $40 per hour, and it comes to under $1,000. Is it rude to negotiate an estimate. There is one electrician I liked but he's on the high side.
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Oh boy, here we go with a BIL, who knows everything. If he knows how long it will take, material costs, insurance, worker's comp costs, transportation & operation costs, then why doesn't he do it?
Exactly what do you mean high side? The high side comparing apples to apples, or to a price your BIL says to pay, or a price in your head?
Tell your BIL to take a hike, b/4 any potential contractors tell you to take a hike.
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From what you say, it sounds like you really only need a sub panel added to the existing panel. I don't know why the grounding system needs to be changed unless there is some problem with it. You mentioned water pipe, but current code requires ground rods as well. The hourly rate is probably closer to $100 than $40, but I'm just not seeing much more than about four hours work. If I were you, I'd ping John Grabowski, from this group. He's in NJ and would have a much better handle on prices and procedures there.
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(mpenny) wrote:
-snip-

Who cares if it seems rude? You like the guy for whatever reason. Start the conversation there. The tell him he's a little high. Ball is in his court- If he is insulted he might not ever talk to you again- so what?
More likely he'll be happy to tell you *why* he's higher than the other guys-- and if he needs the work he might give you a break & lower his price.
You've got nothing to lose.
Jim
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wrote Re Re: Negotiating Estimates:

+1 on that.
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Work is the curse of the drinking class.

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Agreed. I work in a completely different field, but most of what I do is custom orders. I frequently have people attempt to negotiate down my prices. While I will not lower my hourly rate, I can usually offer different material or design options to help the client get the project on budget. It's not rude to ask, and most people won't be offended. What is annoying, however, is someone who DEMANDS that you lower labor charges as if you're not worth what you're charging. I "fire" potential clients like that. If it takes me 8 hours to do something, why should I charge you less than I charged the last client? If I can make changes causing my materials cost and/or labor time to drop, I'm more than happy to pass that savings along to the client, but I'm not going to work for free.
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Marsha, let me give you my philosophy on negotiating a quote. When I do an estimate, I try to be as fair and accurate as possible. If a customer asks me if I can do better, my reply is always the same. I'll check my numbers and see if I made any mistakes. Typically I can't do any better. Any contractor that is willing to lower his price to the extent of the variation in prices you got, is a thief to begin with and I wouldn't want him in my house.
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"RBM" wrote

Consider the future though. The cost to shift up to 200 amp may be a minimal difference.

Yeah, I'd skip him. Probably not insured either.

I don't have issues with a BIL who looks up some parts. Also, asking a question of the higher end ones on why their estimates came in higher isnt rude if you are *polite* about it. There may be a really good reason for it.

This is also correct. But I'm sure if she asked what the difference seemed to be (assuming it was a radical one) you'd be happy to explain the estimate. You may for example be using only top of the line items (paints, woods, whatever applicable) while a look from your experince at another's estimate shows cheapest possible materials or something.
When I had my sunroom redone, I actually went witht he highest initial bidder but they worked with me very well to shift out some parts I just couldn't afford (220 outlet and installed AC/Heat system comes to mind). We worked out some parts to be done by us.
Mpenny, the work was solid quality materials and the guarentee pre-covered a large number of structural issues that may have to be worked out but they couldnt see until the room was demolished for rebuild. In fact, we ended up needing an extra 1/2 day almost while they took out a hidden retainer wall part and there was no extra charge. Many of the others wanted to use wood posts for the corner and wouldnt warrentee that if they dropped the roof, they would cover all repairs. Yeah, paid extra and for good reason.
In fact, we are contacthing them shortly to see what they have in line for the rest of the 44ft of porch. They also do wood types which are easier for us to maintain. They do NOT use cheap wood types. They can also fully frame it metal if I want and with open and closable windows if I want (turning it basically into another sunroom but much larger).
So, grin, you are both right but may not have realized what RBM meant or RBM may not have quite understood the way the asking was intended.
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On May 17, 2:44pm, spam_trial_at_yahoo_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (mpenny) wrote:

If all you need is more circuits, I would (and have) just add a sub- panel. This can be done quite inexpensively. It's really a DIY project for someone with moderate mechanical skills.
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Avoid that one.
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Quite a range in prices. I'd call the guy you liked and explain the situation.
Start with something like: " I'd feel confident with you doing the job, but your estimate was a bit higher than a couple of others. Can you point out what you are doing different and better? Can I do anything to make the job easier for you (move stuff out of the way, clean up) to get the price down a bit?"
If he knows you are serious and has some wiggle room, he can simple say "if you cut the shrubs around the meter I can knock off $300" to get the job, or he can just say no. If he takes the job, be sure coffee and iced tea are available.
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*Marsha, I agree with RBM. You've gotten a very wide range of estimates. I am an electrical contractor in NJ and it sounds as though you are not getting the same thing from each contractor. I've mentioned before in this newsgroup how important it is for a homeowner soliciting bids to have written specifications so that each estimate will be based on that. I know that there are several big contractors in my area with lots of trucks and employees who charge very high rates for their employees to do the work. Depending on who is assigned to your project you may get a very nice job. Smaller contractors such as myself who are hands-on have slightly lower rates and the work is done by the person with the license. In my area (Somerset County) $40.00 per hour is what the handymen charge.
If the service does not need replacing and all you want is additional space, then I suggest that a sub-panel be added instead of replacing the main panel. It would be cheaper and easier.
You can try negotiating with the contractor that you like, but instead of asking for him to outright lower his price you might offer to handle the garbage so that he doesn't have to spend time cleaning up. You could also offer to run down to townhall to pick up the blank permit application and then bring the completed application to the construction office and arrange for the inspection yourself. Don't suggest to him that you will get the materials.
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Marsha,
John is a regular poster in this group and I highly respect his opinions.
Even where I am in a much lower cost area a reputable company is going to need to bill labor at a lot more than $40 per.
Colbyt
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mpenny wrote:

If you want is more circuits, the simplest fix is half-thickness circuit breakers. You'll get two circuits in one circuit-breaker slot.
Still, you might be trying to solve the wrong problem.
What makes you think you need more circuits? If simply adding outlets, you probably don't. Further, it's possible that some circuits have been abandoned (electric water heater or dryer is now history).
Start with an analysis of the ultimate need, not an intermediate one.
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HeyBub wrote:

if your box will legally take them. i was rudely surprised that i couldn't use them in my service box recently.

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responding to http://www.homeownershub.com/maintenance/Negotiating-Estimates-442501-.htm mpenny wrote:
Whoa! A lot to think about and consider.
The larger box was for future expansion as we're thinking about adding a bedroom and bathroom downstairs at some point. It seems some circuits are doubled already..I don't know the whole of it, but my BIL installed an outlet in the basement and said the box was full.
I just don't want to be taken for a ride. If costs in Middlesex County are around $100, that doubles the price we were thinking about. Just want it done right.
I will ping Mr. Grabowski as suggested and really appreciate the comments and quick replies. I'm a novice so definately needed the advice.
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"mpenny" wrote

There always is! Don't feel intimidated though. Almost all of us here in the usenet group alt.home.repair have a specialty and none of us know it all.
I'm an electrical dummy for example. (others here are not).

Ok, so estimates said your 150amp is good enough but may you need 200 amp in the future? It might be good to ask for an estimate there if you are thinking to add 2 more rooms.

Agreed, want it done right. Don't be afraid of the smaller outfits who may charge less. Just insist that the contract specify they are fully insured and you arent liable. Most contracts I went with, had it pre-printed on the form they used.

Not to worry! All of us have with one issue or another.
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*Marsha, you should talk to the contractor that you like and explain the big picture to him. Maybe he can suggest ways of saving money and keep everything in line with your long term goals. Like I mentioned before, a sub-panel is cheaper to install and will give you the additional space that you will need for the future.
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