Choosing a contractor - different approaches

ForestILApril 24, 2014

I am in a bit of a puzzle. I called 2 well-known design/contractors and got complete work estimates (and a peek at their designs). I also had two smaller companies out, on the recommendation of our electrician (FABULOUS and honest work). One of these took himself out of the running due to workload (I appreciated the honesty). The other one came out, brought an architect, measured, then sent out his plumber to verify an issue.

The first two companies came back with estimates WAY above my stated max cost. I went back to one of them and said that I liked them, but the cost needs to be lower for me. They are working on it, and will get back to me Monday.

The small guy says that his company works differently - We agree to pay for the design work up front, then they work with us to tweak the design and then order all the parts (cabinets, appliances, hardware, counters, etc.) after. But I haven't even SEEN their design yet. This company has really good reviews. Oh yeah, and I have been asking for references for two weeks now, and gotten nothing. But my electrician (who also subs with them) RAVES about their work.

So I got another smaller company, who just finished a kitchen gut job for one of my neighbors, to come out today. I meet with him on Thursday to see his design and an estimated cost of project. And get references.

So, what I want to know, is would you pay for the design work separate from the rest of the work, sight unseen? Is this common? Am I missing something?

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We chose our contractor on reputation and he took a retainer of $1,000 up front for the design, non-refundable. It was a little scary, but his rep was so good I was comfortable doing it. I'm sure he and his KD would have folks walking off with their plans to Kitchins-R-Us otherwise. Once we approved a design they priced it out, and broke out all the upgrades and when we gasped, showed us what could be cut out or done more stock, or whatever. It all worked out well. Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 10:47PM
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It is not the most common buy it is hardly unheard of. I use a hybrid now but that will change to something more like pay up front. Actually we are currently turning away anything but referrals but will consider a retainer up front.

Are you shopping for "a" design? Or are you shopping for a designer? First one is pot luck, second one is someone who works and is thorough. Design is not magic, there are no secret ideas- it is just work. Talent is largely willingness to work (99% perspiration)

As to referrals: it is surprising how rarely people ask for them and half that do never contact them. Still they need be available but the problem is that as a simple courtesy they need be asked first. Is it okay? How/ when are you willing to be contacted? How are things? Any issues? How are the kids? Preferably by phone. OK so I keep a list ready. But, back to the first point, if it's been many months since someone asked for them I feel duty bound to contact them again. That is a couple hours work to fit in can be difficult sometimes. Call and ask again.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:19AM
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"The first two companies came back with estimates WAY above my stated max cost."


Don't hire either of these two. They are obviously incapable of qualifying their customers. A successful contractor spends no time estimating jobs that are obviously over budget.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 10:41AM
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