Renovation bid - too high?

dreamojeanApril 23, 2013

I'm curious what we should budget for our brownstone parlor floor deck/kitchen renovation in New York City (yes, I know, not an inexpensive area for renovating...) - we got one bid of around $40,000 from a company that specializes in exteriors, another bid of $65-$70,000 from someone who does both interiors and exteriors equally, and a third bid of $50-$55,000 from someone who also does both. None of these bids include kitchen cabinets, countertop, backsplash or appliances. This is in a 120-year old brownstone with dried-out plaster walls, the parlor floor so we have some demolition to prepare the space for the kitchen (right now it's a laundry room and former bedroom, combined, so has a washer/dryer/slop sink and tiny old metal cabinets hung up so requires relocating the washer/dryer someplace else), and converting a window to a door to the future deck/stairs to the backyard. The parlor floor is pretty high up since the back of the house is about 4 feet off the ground at the ground floor level (allowing for a raised ground floor deck that's already there). The work will include plumbing and electrical upgrades since the kitchen hasn't been renovated in probably 30-50 years (if then), and probably moving a plumbing pipe closer to the wall, and enclosing a former airshaft and adding exhaust vents from the bathroom through a former airshaft. This also includes removal of a tree that is in the path of the future stairs, and none of the contractor bids mention the tree removal (and the higher bidder specifically said we should have it removed ahead of time - another thing for my long list of things to do already). So one question I have is, whether the $40,000 job is an outlier that will really turn into a $50,000 or $55,000 job or whether the $65-70,000 job is an outlier. It's pretty confusing when the bids are all so far apart. I should mention that the highest bidder is probably the one I most want to work with - I trust the lowest one with the exterior work but their kitchen work is more for apartment rentals, stock work, not for individual homeowners. The middle quote comes from someone with a cabinet shop, who is knowledgeable.

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Frankly, the 40K bid sounds low to me. It is really hard to say what the right number should be. I am a firm believer with going with the contractor that you feel comfortable with. By the time you are done with your project, you are talking about enough money that the true differences among these contractors will be a rounding error. That said, make sure that you are really comparing apples to apples.

Are you in Manhattan? In Brooklyn?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 10:41AM
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Are you working with an architect that can level-set the bids for you? They basically go through each one to make sure that the bids are truly comparable in terms of what is included. If not, ask them to include as much line item detail as they can. The $40k might not include things like windows, doors, lights etc while the other includes an allowance. In addition, it's not unheard of for there to be errors in bids especially if it's a big variance (our architect told us a story about a bid that too good to be true bid and it was because the GC completely forgot to include the cost of drywall, which apparently was a pretty big expense for that job).

We're in No Jersey, so it's expensive, but probably not as high as your area. We have newer home so while we had a lot of structural/layout changes (removed wall, moved door and window, moved every appliance, added tons of lights), the plumbing and electric was relatively new (no knob and tube, etc). Our GC portion alone is $42k, which includes a $3.5k allowance for the window and door. That makes me think your $40k bid is low and may result in additional costs as the project goes on (lots of surprises in older homes, so be prepared for that anyway!).

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 12:02PM
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There's no way anyone online can know that. Except budget a lot more than the estimate. I don't know what the rule of thumb is, 150%, 133%? Old houses are even worse.

As mentioned, itemize what you want done for the bid process and give it to them, so they are all bidding the same way.

Was there no itemization, that you can see where one is charging more than the other?

Inexperience often goes along with lower estimations of cost and complexity. On the other hand, some make far too much of things and when you find out what it really is....

This post was edited by snookums2 on Tue, Apr 23, 13 at 14:08

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 12:08PM
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Not sure why "dried-out plaster" is a problem. I live upstate in an older, always wood heated house and I still have completely functional, intact, 3-coat plaster on wood lath the earliest of which was installed in 1849.

Dried-out, shmied-out. What a silly idea. Plaster is inherently hydrophilic. It constantly absorbs moisture from the air. In fact its higher, stable moisture content, compared to dry wall, for instance, makes it a much more naturally fire-retardant material.

Don't demo it to replace it with sheetrock. That's a step-down in quality. It's not about "preservationism", it's about not removing a high-quality material simply because it's unfamiliar, and then replacing it with something that is intrinsicly inferior. In NYC you'll still be able to find active plaster workers. Keep what you can, and repair the remainder.

(Small repairs are eminently DIY, but whole walls take some experience to get right.)


    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 2:00PM
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You need more details on the bids if possible- allowances are an example. I just put a plan out to bid and the difference was $25k but after comparing allowances, and other details it looked like the difference was only 4k.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 10:54PM
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Liriodendron, as it turns out, I said "dried out plaster" because I thought that's what it was, but in reality it's old sheetrock 1.5" away from the brick, and even metal in places (where the stove used to be), it's a total hodgepodge and since we need space for pipes and electric behind the appliances, and the kitchen isn't wide (7') so those 1-2" of space around the bricks will matter, I think the smart thing to do is pull down the hodgepodge, build out utilities, and sheetrock the wall to make room for the appliances and cabinets.

I also prefer plaster and will try to avoid future sheetrocking where there's still plaster that can be patched - but apparently that ship sailed in this particular room

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 1:22PM
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