Yikes!Contractor's Estimate...Way Over Budget!

carolbarrel07March 11, 2008

We're on our third contractor on our money pit. This one took up the challenge of refurbishing floors that the prior contractor deemed "impossible". Turns out the project took lots of handiwork, removing numerous nails and staples, and lots of hand-sanding along with machine sanding and the rest. I only authorized $1000 in extra labor and materials, but this contractor is invoicing us another $2k+ for lots of msc stuff I never pre-authorized.

Basic question: when a contractor gives a written estimate, how much (what percentage?) can they *reasonably* go over that written estimate? Nobody likes surprises...and this one's a shocker. :-(

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good question, but to charge you another $2K sounds a bit over any acceptable amount.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 10:13PM
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To be more specific...estimate was $3226.00. I then asked that one room that was refinished (and failed to appeal) be re-done, with the flooring completely torn out and replaced with raw red oak and authorized $1000 for that install/sanding and staining/poly. But the invoice I got is way more than that, total of $5626.00, with the largest extra item hand-sanding of "entire" floor for $750 which I never authorized. The contractor knew I was looking at quotes for installing wall to wall carpeting and that the prior contractor said re-habbing our floors would be a waste of time and money. Unfortunately this latest contractor scrawled the "estimate" on paper in a cavalier manner and I stupidly didn't ask for something more official like a contract. Of course that means I didn't sign anything either. I never implied I was willing to sign a blank check, and in fact the contractor knows how upset I was about prior workers who overcharged and let schedules slip months past promised completion dates (and this job is 1.5 months past due, btw.)

I feel like I must have a sign on my back saying "Kick Me".

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 10:30PM
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The numbers you're giving don't quite add up. If the original estimate was $3226 and you OK'd another $1k then the 'unauthorized' charges only come to $1400, not $2k+. I know that's not pocket change, but still...

I'm not clear on whether the extra $1400 in 'unauthorized' charges are related to the flooring that was refurbished or the flooring that was ripped out and replaced. Maybe if you can say more about these extra line-items it will be easier to tell whether the charges are reasonable.

My guess is that a combination of circumstances might've brought this on.

It does sound as if the contractor may be a poor communicator, or may not have understood how strongly you felt about staying on budget. The $1400 may seem devastating to you, but to a contractor it may not seem like a lot.

Your budget might have been unrealistically tight. I get this impression because you are refurbishing floors that one contractor 'deemed "impossible."' By 'impossible' he probably meant 'more work than it's worth.' Your current contractor may not have examined the situation as closely, or may have based his estimate on assumptions that didn't hold true, or may have simply told you what you wanted to hear.

Part of this also sounds like unrealistic expectations or, perhaps, a misunderstanding of what you were getting yourself into. Estimates are just that: estimates. They are someone's (hopefully well-informed) ballpark guess, and they are not binding on the person who makes the guess. To some degree, part of the nature of remodeling is that more work is necessary than is apparent at the outset. Since you get to keep the product of that extra work, you should also expect to pay for it.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 7:01AM
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As much sense as jon's post makes, it should also be noted that the contractor should have updated the customer of the additions as they arrived.
That being said, this is one side of the story and as valid as it might be, I wonder why this is the third contractor.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 8:58AM
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I am confused.
It's possible your flooring guy is too.
3226 with add 1000 authorized, so hes got an extra 1400 in the bill? 5626
hes not THAT far off either, 33 % may be high but what are the reasons? 20% over would be 4226 x 1.2 = 5070, 20% overrun is not unreasonable.
take a deep breath, don't judge THIS guy by the faults and misdeeds of the contractors that came before him.
It sucks to be the finish guy who arrives on a job that all of the previous contractors have screwed up and delayed.

If there was extra work and extra materials that needed to be supplied to complete the work on your home, how much do you really expect the contractor to donate?
In cases where I gave a ballpark estimate, and simply misjudged how long the additions would take, I would negotiate to share some of the cost. In cases where the extra was clearly needed, yet not anticipated by either me or the owner, then the cost and the benefit are both fully the customers.

In other words, if it was contractor misjudgment, theres room to negotiate the cost of extra labor, anywhere from 50/50 to 90/10% to 10/90%.
If the extra occurred in good faith, trying to fix a situation but then realizing replacement is necessary, then costs add up for the customer. The contractor should be responsible for his own specialty and guarantees, but not be expected to be a charity donating time or materials, (money) to the home of the customer because of the unforseen.
Like when we tried to refinish a kitchen floor that was buried under adhesive, staples and vinyl. We hope it works out but when we finally got through to bare wood we discover the floor is too deeply stained to come back and then opt for replacement . As a contractor, its not MY fault that somewhere under the muck the floor was unsalvageable but it took $500 labor to find out. Customer could accept ugly stained floor polished up, or opt to replace the wood, effectively paying for 2 jobs.

Though the job may be done, and there were apparently lapses in proper communication from both parties. You still need to sit down, talk and communicate with EACH OTHER.
Be honest. Be open and Be specific.
It's never too late for that.
Then decide TOGETHER what is fair.

Shake hands and pay the guy what you both agree is fair.
good luck and enjoy!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 11:13AM
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There are two issues: legal obligation and moral obligation and these are getting confused in some of the responses.

If you sign a contract, you are either agreeing to pay a set amount (that's not an "estimate," it's an agreed upon amount), an amount with some extra that you have authorized (something like an "allowance"), or whatever it takes to get the job done -- time and materials -- in which case the estimate is only an estimation, not a promise. I'm sure there are other versions but those are three possibilities.

Unless you have specifically contracted to simply pony up all the money for all the time and all the materials that might be required, you have not made a contract to pay for everything. Overruns do not have some legal significance just because contractors frequently encounter them unless they are part of a binding contract.

This situation is some sort of oral and/or implied contract so only a lawyer could give advice as to the legal obligation involved.

What the OP chooses to negotiate because s/he wants to be fair and did want the job completed is a separate story.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2008 at 3:47PM
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You authorized only $1K to tear-out existing wood flooring, install new oak flooring, with sanding, stain & finish for one room?

That amount sounds unrealistic to me.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2008 at 9:24AM
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Does to me too...unrealistically low. However, many illegals will do jobs for that money.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2008 at 11:58AM
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My contractor is not an illegal. I authorized the $1K extra to pull out about 20 sq ft of wood that hadn't been replaced with new wood...it had burns from a fire and had been sanded as much as possible but still couldn't be redeemed. Rather than allow staining & finishing on a room with those deep black burn marks I authorized $1K to replace with new wood. The sanding, stain & finish were in the first quote for the entire job. Sorry if I wasn't clear.

And for whomever asked why is this the third contractor: the first one promised a list of 7 jobs to be completed in 3 weeks and finished in just shy of 4 months, he also didn't remove demolition debris even though reminded repeatedly he needed to do that, plus he was high priced while his work was generally shoddy. One example: install of a 4x10 deck that violates local code, as it turns out...and now I have to completely replace that deck.

The second contractor went back to school fulltime and is not doing contract work until he gets off in summertime.

I'm now so many months behind I face losing a home because of carrying costs of two places. This third contractor also had to re-do plumbing which was done horribly, but that's another issue. I guess I'll just try to be happy that the house hasn't blown up yet; it seems everything else has happened.

Thanks for your opinions...it helps.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2008 at 8:37PM
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I would be upset too. I can't see where there should be any unforseen expenses in this job. I'm assuming there were no subfloor issues. And, if there were sub floor issues a homeowner should be made aware of the additional expense. It sounds like and Remove and Replace job to me....pretty simple to figure.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2008 at 2:15AM
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This is why communication is so important. Each time you change course, you should get it in writing. It sounds like the contractor was a poor communicator and probably not trying to cheat you, so how about sitting down and going over the bills. Talk rationally and perhaps you can find a middle ground. If the work was good and you have friends you would refer him to, mention that and he might cut you a break in hopes of long term gain.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2008 at 9:48AM
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