Choosing a contractor - different approaches
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?