Help with managing contractor and KD bidding process

CT_NewbieJuly 5, 2013

Just wondering how people have managed the contractor and KD bidding process to a) pick the best ones and b) get the best price from your favorite KD and contractor.

We are closing on a house at the end of July and want to have work done before we move in. We are currently interviewing a few contractors and KDs. Some are paired together, though I think I can mix and match contractors with different KDs. I met them all once and most have been or will be visiting the house to take measurements to give me a better bid. One GC said that even after he got the design, he would still want his electrician and plumber to come to the house to give their estimates. First of all, we haven't closed on the house yet so we are having trouble getting approval of the current owners to get in for measurements. Secondly, I am feeling a little bad that more people have to put in time to visit in order to give a number and that only one or two contractors will get some work out of it because giving work to each of them would defeat the purpose of having a GC.
I'm not sure why the other ones haven't asked that their electricians and plumbers visit -- whether they can give a good guess without them or whether they are coming back with such a wide range it is not that meaningful. I thought I was pretty clear that I wanted an estimate and timeline after the in-home visit.

Do you think it is advisable that I pick a contractor based on their ball park estimates and timelines for a ball park design plan? If I did this, I wouldn't sign anything payment but I would just let that contractor know he has the job and we need to do further work to finalize the design/cabinet order before we get to a point where I expect him to stick to his estimate and I put $$ down. (Granted, I understand changes in the work order, etc.) Am I being too nice and hurting myself by doing this and eliminating the competitive process? Would you recommend that I have whomever needs to come to the house for a better estimate there to get more solid estimates/ My feeling is that they are basing their estimates on their own KD's design which could vary slightly different from the other so it isn't necessarily an apple to apple comparison for that work, granted there is other reno besides the kitchen.

On the cabinets, after the first round of estimates, I will ask them to do one more estimate based on specifications that would make the cabinet comparison more apples to apples. For example, having them revise the estimate if we used plywood for the box, 3/4" drawers, etc. However, each kitchen plan will likely have some slight differences so it is hard to make it completely apples to apples. Then after that I wanted to just pick one to work wiith to refine the vision. I have some favorite designers emerging but haven't seen their price quotes yet.

Thank you!

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The design comes first. So much of the numbers depends on the design that it's practically meaningless to even talk to contractors at this point unless you have other portions of the job that don't involve the kitchen.

You're in a hurry for something that you just can't get in a hurry for. If you're not careful, that will back you into an untenable position of spending a LOT of money for a less than stellar product. Fast. Good. Cheap. Pick two. All three is impossible. You've already said that you need it quickly. That leaves either a good product that takes longer or builder grade stuff that can be done quickly. I don't think you're in the market for builder grade crap. That leaves high quality and lots of dollars spent.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 4:58PM
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What is the scope of the project? How will that scope be communicated? If it is design-build, it will be difficult to bid both phases together.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 5:48PM
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Thank you for your responses! Renovator: There are many projects. Some don't involve the kitchen. Those do not have a designer per say, though some of the kitchen people have commented on the mudroom since it adjoins the kitchen and involves changing the pantry. At least one of the contractors seem to be able to enhance what I want and can just have a carpenter build where needed. One clearly wants a design plan for all of the spaces. For something like coffered ceilings, I think we (us with the contractor, no designer) decide on the molding, # of boxes, and lighting. That job could be combined with changing chandeliers in the dining room and other rooms since an electrician would be needed (and it would be easier to group the tasks into one visit vs. being charged for multiple visits by an electrician. But I'm not sure when we will have the light fixtures picked out. However, if the kitchen is more expensive than expected the coffered ceiling project can be sacrificed. Refinishing the floors, painting and some minor bathroom reno can start before the kitchen reno. However, I am also interviewing a separate floor guy who came highly recommended and a separate painter I came across through another group.

The office is the most vague project. I'm getting the impression that it will be too costly to do with the KDs. One person said that we should wait a few years and see what happens with elderly MIL (who will be staying in the downstairs office when she visits) which is partly why we need an upstairs office. I think this project might go to the local cabinet builder guy if his costs come in better, One person said just buy furniture. However, we have such a mish mash right now and really needed a lot more filing space and organization that I felt like we needed something more custom. The office is a sore point for us as we have papers everywhere and not enough places to put them. Trying to scan more but we need a better computer, more virtual storage, etc. and our current printer/scanner which is only a few years old isn't working that well. But I digress

Greendesigns, so maybe what you are saying is that I decide on the contractor for phases of the entire work (which are discreet projects) and that the kitchen gets decided last, after I pick a designer? Or if the estimates for the kitchen contractor job are dramatically different, maybe I could narrow it down to finalists and then only ask two to fine tune estimates vs. four contractors? But I don't want to get caught short. I think two of the contractors are juggling things so I don't want it to turn out that they can't do my job once we set a timetable.

Also, for something like changing light fixtures should I get a separate handyman or just tack it on to one of the other jobs that involves an electrician? Would a handyman charge less or would that be offset by a separate visit?

Thank you both!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 12:21AM
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One other thing to add, with the kitchen, I am fairly certain I know where I want to move appliances and therefore roughly where the water and gas lines need to be moved. The only thing up for debate is where to put the double ovens, but since they are electric, it isn't so complex. The window might vary slightly but we are talking bigger so that would involve mostly the same amount of work. What I don't have a good sense of is the detail of the cabinet boxes - which drawers/cabinets where but I'm guessing that wouldn't have a major impact on the contractor's work.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 12:27AM
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You should interview the contractors and ask about their labor rates and mark up and design skill and then pick one to do all of the work. Also pick a KD. Competitive bidding is for well documented work.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 8:36AM
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CT - From what I can tell, you really could use the help of a good GC and KD that have preferably worked together. If you can find a team that you like, they will be efficient and may be able to help you fast track your project. Either the KD you like will have a couple of GC's they prefer to work with and/or the GC will have one on staff or collaborate with a partner. Either way, you need a team that can work together and design something to your budget and timeline if at all possible.

From my experience (as a GC specializing in K&B), it is nearly impossible to give a specific bid on a project unless all the design, layout and specifications have been done. What you can expect to get is a range for a project of your size and scope based on recent work and allowances that reflect the type of finishes and extras that you would like in your kitchen. Not all kitchens are created equal, but they do all have much of the same parts, and items such as plumbing, electrical and finishes will have a standard range for they type of projects the contractor produces. You won't know for sure until the trades show up to look at the specifics of yours, but it should be close.

Selecting a design / construction team is a very important step. Interview them; check references; Google them for reviews; confirm licensing requirements, etc. Once you are satisfied that you think they could do the job, look to how they presented ideas, plans or feasibility budgets. Did they return your call quickly and follow up when they said they would? No two bids will be equal, so it will come down to who you think is the best partner, give them a small retainer and you can all get to work.

Best of luck with your project.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 6:42PM
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Good advice is appreciated but business use of the forum is prohibited for good reason. Many contractors and architects participate here without listing their business contact information as you have. I have asked the moderator to decide if your membership should be terminated.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 10:38AM
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Renovator8, I apologize if I stepped over a line. As I read the forum rules, it did specifically say that I should not post any links to my professional site in messages, which I have not and it is not on my profile page. I was simply answering a valid question with the perspective of a professional.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 12:13PM
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Sorry folks, didn't mean to prompt a fray.

At any rate, NipTuck and others, let me rephrase the question. Should I choose a contractor based on the ranges they are going to give me for this round? And will I get a good price on subsequent more exact design with the subs feeding in their exact estimates? Is there a way to negotiate once the subs have given exact estimates (vs. a range by the GC)? Or do I need to pick the KD, finalize the KD and then give all 4 contractors the final KD and get all of them to call in their subs and give me an exact price? I would feel like I'm wasting their time since only one person will get the big job and maybe other will get a smaller job. However, If I'm leaving a lot of money on the table and it is customary to have all of the contractors price out the final KD then I would be open to that. However, it would slow things down if we have to book the subs to come in.

I hear you about finding a team. However, the way the teams are shaking out, I like one partner for the KD but feel that the best contractor might be a different partner who's KD/cabinet offer isn't what we want.

Laslty, two of the contractors/KDs are ready to meet with us this Saturday. One seems to not be able to give me estimates for my line by line items but will give me the cost of a similar kitchen. I think this contractor is going to be out for that and other reasons. 'The fourth wants more specific designs and while he will get the kitchen design from the KD, I think he would need a carpenter or someone else to draw up a mudroom design for him so I think he'll be behind the other two. He might be good for the master bath down the road since we'll use a designer for that. Do you think having essentially two bids is enough for competitiveness? Of the remaining two, one might have a conflict schedule for the August/early Sept time frame - during which the bedroom floors could be finished. Most seem to be counting on an 8-10 week delay in getting the cabinets.

Thanks again for your input.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 10:37PM
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Again, you are getting ahead of yourself. You cannot get bids on work that isn't properly spec'd out. Its like asking how much "a car" costs. OK, you can narrow it down and ask how much a Chevy costs. That still leaves you from 11K to over 100K for a specialty model. Just because you want a "red two door" doesn't narrow it down any further. You've got to have the actual specs of the job, not the decorative details For that to happen, you need a design worked out.

Your best bet, since speed is important to you, is to only seek input from design/build firms. It won't be cheap, and you can forget about "leaving money on the table". That route is about 1.5 as expensive as taking your time and doing it in smaller chunks and stages. But, it can get done quickly. You're boxing yourself into a corner with wanting to do this before you move in. They only way to do what you want done isn't going to involve seeking out the cheapest way to do it. You aren't leaving yourself time for that.

If I were you, I'd move into this home and live in it as is. Then do each project separately over time. Or, merely focus on the kitchen for now since that's the biggest project. It won't get done before you move in either, as that's a 3-4 month process that can't be hurried.

So, perhaps change some of your expectations here. And slow down. Or be prepared to not to be concerned about the $$ spent.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 7:35AM
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Live wire, I understand your point of how a design/build group might be best for this job for speed, etc. However, you are trying to tell me something else important that I am not fully understanding. Perhaps if you could give me a concrete example of a kitchen design spec that would make a big difference in the construction price vs. a "decorative detail" I would understand it better. Obviously, I would understand if one cabinet person is putting in all pulldowns which might cost more and another one isnt and this drives a change in the cabinet price.

I think all of the KDs are going to put the stove on the same wall causing the gas line to be moved and the refrigerator/double ovens on the perpendicular wall causing a a water line to be moved for the ice maker. All will put in a prep sink on the island. Does it really change the cost for the contractor if they are going to put the prep sink on the left side instead of the right? All are going to expand the kitchen window somehow. I don't think any of them are going to break down walls for a more open feel since it is already open. Maybe there might be variations in the lighting plan, but I think all are going to recommend 2-3 pendant lights.over the island. I'm not understanding what design specs could drive the cost of construction more than 10%.

Please explain. Thank you!

This post was edited by CT_Newbie on Wed, Jul 10, 13 at 23:10

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 10:23PM
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Was not too successful on getting labor rates. One gave a range for electricians and plumbers. The other didn't give a number. He said if he pays them slightly more, it's because he's worked with them for many years and knows they are good. They got a little defensive thinking that I wanted to go out and get my own plumber and electrician.

I will try for the mark up in a follow up conversation. Is it usually 10-15%? Could they tell me one thing but have it be another? Since they pay them directly, I wouldn't really know. I had asked for a breakout by line item and some were for electrical and some were for plumbing but what I got back were ball parks for the projects and then some more detail for the kitchen, e.g., appliance allowance, counters, etc but labor was one giant lump. I'm not sure if this is because we haven't nailed a design yet or because they just don't intend to break it out. Should I insist on a breakout after the design has been finalized?

There is going to be a few week gap between the time the design gets finalized by my chosen KD and the time the work should start, if the closing goes as planned. We've talked about the work starting a week or two after closing. Is it unrealistic to expect the contractors to "reserve" that time and not know whether or not they have the job till a week or two before they're supposed to start? Would some insist on a retainer to hold the slot? I think there is an assumption that a certain contractor would be working with us if we chose that particular KD. Once we have a solid design and he's fine tuned his estimates do I ask for a discount at that point? He already knows that for something like the painting, I may go to a third party on my own if his price isn't competitive.


    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 10:56PM
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