I'm trying to get some work done on my house and I was wondering if I am
expecting too much. I would like to see estimates with details. Like the
materials being used, how much of them and how long the job will take. I got
a quotation in the mail today from a contractor that I had here last week. I
thought I would get an estimate broken down to the various stages of the
job. Alteration, addition, roofing and siding.
What I got was a paragraph listing, vaguely, the work to be done with a
total at the bottom and a line that says,"sign here to accept this
proposal". Oh and at the bottom it listed his terms of payment, which I
think are out of the question.He wants half the money up front. I would have
to be out of my mind to sign this paper but this guy is a reputable
contractor and I'm surprised he would send me something so vague and expect
me to sign it. How can I approach him with out insulting him. I think I like
his work because I've seen his work on other houses.
An estimate is just that, not a detailed contract.
If the price is in the range, the contractor you want to deal with, then ask
him for a detailed list so you can proceed. In the guy's defense, he
probably spent quite a bit of time already and may get nothing in return.
If you are looking for a $10,000 addition that cannot be built for less than
$25,000, there is no benefit for him to spend another three hours making an
itemized materials list is there? Contractors and tradesmen get a lot of
window shoppers for every buyer. They have to give you information to make
your decision without wasting a lot of time. Nor do they want to give you a
detailed list that you will take to Home Depot so you can buy the materials
Unreasonable for details up front. Damn right Skippy.
A contractor may produce 20-30 bids for every job he gets.
If you really want a detailed description of the work. Then tell the
contractor up front that your will to pay him a reasonable sum for providing
50% is reasonable in some trades. My painter gets $300-500 down, then 50%
after the first day and the balance on completion.
Remember he does not know you either. Talk to the others that he did work
for and see if they had a payment schedule that was similar. If so your
decision is over. He is treating you just like all of his other customers.
I do design-build automation work in high end homes. I have asked for and
gotten 100% to start work. I sure as hell am not going to buy all of the
equipment on my dime. One customer was pissed at me twice. Once when he
refused my terms and once when I refused to fix the mess he had created when
the "other guy" walked off the job.
Often the result of when walmart methods (demand the lowest price and then
often demand a further discount) are used. It is unfortunate that so many
people only consider price when making complex purchases.
I agree with you. I think you deserve to know what you are buying, it's your
money and your house. Getting details in writing prevents misunderstanding
and removes ambiguity in the job. You may have one thing in mind while the
contactor has another thing in mind. In addition, there are a lot of flakes
in the construction business and you hear about how many people get burned.
Unfortunately you have to protect yourself because you can't tell an honest,
good craftsperson from a sleaze until the job has started.
I just hired a contractor who listed everything he was going to replace with
brand names and specified the types of materials used, and I hired him. He
asked for nothing down and a single payment when the job was complete. Some
bids came in so vague that I knew disputes would arise when the job began.
One contractor quoted me verbally and when I asked for something in writing
he said, "We don't need that, you have my word." Don't take anyone's word,
its a business deal. The more detailed contractor was in the higher price
range but it specified everything I wanted in the contract. In California
you need a license and, by law, a contractor can only ask for 10% down. If
your state requires it, make sure the contractor has a license and check
with the Better Business Bureau
If it's a big project like an entire house, sure. You didn't post the
extent of this job but if it's a "small" job, like a simple addition,
I wouldn't expect a detailed materials break-down and project plan.
I know a couple of hard-working GCs and, as it is, they spend all day
on the job site and most of their evenings inspecting new jobs for
prospective clients, returning phone calls and writing a couple of
dozen estimates every week from which they're lucky to win one.
As for materials, I assume you don't mean details like the grades of
timber, type of wire, etc as these are pretty much dictated by
building code. But if you mean things like the make of the windows,
the siding, cabinets, flooring and so forth, this is more the job of
an architect and are items that should be specified to the contractor
up front if you have a preference. The difference in cost between six
Marvin windows and six Home Depot specials will be significant. The
GC should be willing to sit down with you to discuss your options
It might also be impossible for a GC to give you hard dates for
completion of certain stages, especially if he's using subcontractors.
Like GCs, subs give priority to larger jobs. When I did my extension,
I only needed a plumber to run a steam line for a single radiator.
The guy is a specialist with old steam tie-ins so Frank wanted him to
do it. But as a result he was the toughest guy to get because it was
only about four hours' work.
You should definitely get the GC to lock down a time frame for
completion. There's a GC in my neighborhood who lowballs bids and
wins a lot of jobs. You can tell from his signs plastered on almost
every block. But I've never actually seen one of his jobs in
progress. I suspect he does this to win free advertising space for
himself until the customer gets fed up and calls another GC.
I can tell you my personal experience with contractors. It can be
described as extremely bad. Although the contractors I talked to have
been refereed and can also be described as reputable. I always tell a
contractor that I am collecting bids for the job. Usually I have the
project defined quite in details. What I get from a contractor? you are
happy he sent you estimate, I get an estimate at best one from three
contractors I have talked to. The estimate is like your: description of
the project in three words and total sum. No materials, description how
it will be done, mention of permits, timeframe, etc. Don't they
understand they look completely non-professional and dump any wish to
work with them. I wanted to hire contractors for building a bath in
basement. After a month of total frustration I finally had to learn
plumbing, titling, building shower base, electrical, installing radiant
heating floor, etc. and got it done myself. I decided it's better to do
job myself then paying huge amount of money getting back questionable
service. I work a lot with software contractors and contracting
companies. I just can't imagine them submitting a bid for the project
without very details description, proposed methods of implementing,
integration, testing and estimation of man hours needed to complete it.
There are two possibilties, Either the contractor has so much work he does
not care if you hire him or not
He does not want to work with you anyway.
I have a plumber, electrician, machine shop,and welder that will be here in
an hour if I call them. Sometimes I ask the price, sometimes I don't. I
never ask for a detailed estimate, only a ball park for budget purposes. It
comes down to trust, the fact that they are paid promptly, and they know I
will give them repeat work. As a homeowner, you may not give them any of
that. These guys have all the work they can handle, so they are not going
to take three hours to give you details for a job they may not get. None of
these guys do any advertising or poromtion, they just do good work at fair
prices and they have all they can handle.
I have a few quality tradesmen I can call. The hard part is finding
these people in the first place. There's a certain amount of intuition
involved. If I'm getting estimates for a job the price isn't as
important as how they talk about the job and answer my questions. And
it helps to not be all business and get to know them a little bit, even
if it's a 5 minute conversation. Then go with your instincts.
Providing preliminary work for potential client is acceptable
everywhere and normal business practice. Real Estate buyers agents
spend weeks and months showing perspective buyers properties before
they actually buy anything. I spent 4 months seeing more then two
dozens properties changing one agent before you bought my house. How
would you react to the agent asking you for $100 before he shows you
the property you want to see? How about a salesperson in a furniture
store demanding $50 for explaining why this mattress you are eying is
better then others? Layers and financial planners give free no
obligation consultation meaning when then talk to you for an hour there
is no guarantee they will get you as a client. And their hour cost much
more then yours.
Please post enough of the message you're responding to so that we can
Incidentally, your analogies are very poor.
In my experience, the only realtors who will show you houses unless
they've listed yours with them or you've got a very strong reference
are newbies. The pros seek listings, not buyers. The same applies
to lawyers and financial planners.
I'm a contractor, doing smaller remodelling projects -- $20 -50
thousand. If you call off an ad, I will discuss your project over
the phone and give you a ballpark -- ie over 25, under 30. If you
seem open and above board, I'll come to your house for a look -- and
you probably get an hour of my time. ... and again, a ballpark, and
the phone numbers of references.
I want you to meet me, I want you to see my work ,... but I don't
want to give you a free design, I don't want to tell you how to do it
yourself ... and I don't want to give you a firm number so you know
how much to pay your brother in law.
You're preaching to the choir here but..
Most of those people don't have to drive to your house to give you that
advice and if you bought a house from another agent after one showed it to
you, he would be upset. There are a few who will give a free estimate (and
it depends very much on the trade) but you can bet they do not have an 800
number and probably work alone (or almost)
If your job is detailed, save yourself and the potential contractors time by
making out an invitation to bid. This way you know all involved are bidding
on the exact same materials & labor. If you talk to 3,5, or 10 contractors,
you surely will leave some details out and will be comparing apples to
oranges somewhere along the line. Hire someone with design/build experience
or a contractor to write up an invitation. Not knowing how large/small your
project is, is whether I would contact architect. You should put forth an
effort, so contractors don't think you're just kicking tires and wasting
I used to do some government specification work, every contractor bids on
the exact same specifications. The only add-ons are items encountered
because of unforeseen work involved which wasn't specified, or requested
I don't understand why the average consumer wants their head to spin more
than necessary when it comes to home improvements.
I am a contractor. I make my estimates intentionally vague so
that the homeowner cannot give it to other contractors and
have them bid on the specs that I wrote. If the client is
interested in using me, then I do a detailed proposal with
linear feet, square footage, materials, etc. This becomes a
part of the contract documents, and protects both them and me.
I only do work through referrals, and have a good relationship
with the people that I do business with. Many times referrals
are people that are just shopping around for prices, and I
have been offered other contractors detailed estimates to bid
on (often with the other contractors line item costs). I turn
these down (for ethical reasons), but I tell the client that I
can't be sure that the estimate is accurate, and I want to do
Most of the work that I do, I am not the lowest bidder, but I
still don't want my line item costs floating around for
competitors to look at, imitate, or undercut.
Thank you for your straight, honest answer.
I am not trying to get one contractor to out bid another. I am just trying
to be clear on what I am getting. I have put a call into the contractor and
I'm sure he'll get back to me in a day or 2. I already selected materials.
They were just not specified in the offer. I just want to be sure. I suppose
he will prepare more detailed contracts once I get the permits from the
Thanks to everyone who shared.
You are asking a contractor to write a job spec for free that most
people would go shopping with. If you want a spec, pay me for that
and I'll write ;you one. Then it's ;your property and you can do with
ti what you like. If you ask me to bid on it, I can do that too. To
ask me to write a detailed spec as part of a bid is asking for a lot
for free. Most of the contractors you would actually want doing your
work are busy and wouldn't touch that deal with a fork!
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