Can you ask cabinet people to itemize their estimate?

deedlesJune 26, 2012

OR is that not done? I'm sitting here thinking that it would be so much easier for me to figure out how to work a design estimate to fit my budget if I knew how much each element cost. But no one (except IKEA and a couple other online joints) seem to provide any itemization at all.


And here's another thing: why would a KD put in a stemware rack and plate rack when you never asked them to? And the plate rack thingee is over the sink instead of the window that I drew in the outline that I gave her. Kinda strange, huh?

Anyway, can I ask for itemized costs from them?


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Sophie Wheeler

You can ask, but you probably won't get it if you're just price shopping---which is just bottom line focused anyway. It's actually against SOP at most places to do anything but a bottom line price. Once you move out of the initial ballpark shopping phase and decide on a KD and cabinet line, sure you can get more of a verbal cost breakdown, but even then, you usually do not get a printout of every single detail with the costs until after the bill is paid.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 1:51AM
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My quotes from Lowes, a local cab shop, and my custom cab maker were detailed and itemized. I liked seeing exactly where my money was going in order to judge any place where the budget was out of balance so decisions could be made on reducing specific features, if necessary. Who knew that corner cabs were outrageously expensive in a semi-custom line? Wow. My custom guy was much less.

I didn't realize that so many places didn't itemize. Why not ask for more detail? Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 1:55AM
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I don't remember if the quote I got from my local HD was itemized, but the quote I got from my custom cab maker was.
As "Breezy" points out, it makes it easier to figure out what to eliminate if you're trying to stick within your budget.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 8:11AM
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Maybe I'll ask her to give me a bit more info and see what she says.


    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 8:47AM
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Do ask her. I got breakdown quotes on Medallion, another semi-custom maker and custom cabinets (18 linear feet) offered without asking. I presented myself as a knowledgeable, detail specific person from the get go.

I believe you get what you ask for and if you don't, just choose to go elsewhere. It's YOUR money, not theirs. When they say "you won't understand it", just be firm that you will take the time to ensure you do.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 10:09AM
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I will give a list to a client that has signed a retainer. I don't think it is the answer in most cases but I'll don't mind giving it out. I say I don't think it is the best answer because- they can be difficult to understand but more importantly a list does not show you the alternatives you may have to save money. They can only show you what you can eliminate.

I base my work on trying to meet a budget. If a project is coming in over then I make a list of ways we can meet it- changing this saves $1k, that saves 1500, doing this this way instead saves $2k (nobody wants ever asks me to save $100) then the client has the option to decide what things are the most important to them and how to achieve the budget.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 1:27PM
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Our cabinet maker didn't give an itemized estimate, but gave us a breakdown of costs for what he considered upgrades.

So he gave us a price for cabinets, then had a line that said "42 inch uppers instead of 36" uppers - $1k", "upgrade to painted finish - $1000" but never gave us a breakdown of how much a 30" drawer base cost.

I would have liked to have it, since I like knowing where my money is going. I think I'm sufficiently TKO to understand it, but maybe the average customer isn't. I never asked for it directly, though, so I don't really fault him.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 2:26PM
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Circus Peanut

I don't see why they couldn't, since to get their estimate a designer enters their cabinet design into a computer program piece by piece. It seems very odd to me that a designer couldn't provide this information on request, with the understanding that the client will need them to help interpret why certain things are more expensive, or where they have alternate options both more and less expensive.

Otherwise it does seem a little too much like snake oil, to me, where you're paying a premium just to gain access to the computer program. Let the designer earn their salary by actually helping design, not by being the gateway troll to specialized software.

/rant, with no slurs intended to our many very fine designers on this board! But I dislike the opacity of the cabinet-buying process almost as much as the process of haggling for a new car.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 5:10PM
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My custom cab maker gave me an itemized list from the get-go, for the same reason circuspeanut gives - it was how he calc'd it on his computer. The initial estimate was based on my loose idea of so many cabs, so many drawers,hardware, add-ons,etc, then when I made changes, I could see exactly what it was going to cost for that change. So I had detailed estimates all along the way.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 6:34PM
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of the four I worked with, two didn't, one did right from the get go (his own calc sheet) and one did reluctantly once I started asking specific questions. I was way more willing to work with the open companies; it just engendered trust.
Also, I believe that for many items, the margins are obscene and if openly discussed would be cause for negotiation. For example, one quote for a pull out pantry I found out was $2100! The itemized quote showed the same tall pantry cupboard for $400 and a Lee Valley pull out pantry for $300! I would not want to explain $1400 difference as a designer if I didn't have to.
It seemed that the easily comparable items, like a 30" drawer cabinet, that can be seen online at Ikea or at HD or Lowes can be very competitively priced. However, where comparison is harder, like a pullout pantry, the larger margins get built in.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 7:14PM
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Well, I sent a list of cabs back to her with what I wanted specifically in each one and asked her to quote those and then I asked for specific cost of certain items like soft close feature, full vs standard overlay and some others.

We'll see what comes back and I agree with you, Circuspeanut, everything you buy has a price on it, what's the deal with the kitchen cabinet business?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 10:49PM
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circuspeanut- unfortunately it is not usually as simple as push a button and out pops a price. Most of the time pricing is done by hand. On a good day with a mfg website which doesn't export to anything worhtwhile, occasionally for some lines at some dealers you can push a button. That is rare.

I was wondering what can I say that is useful here. Few things come to mind. Deedles says "what's the deal with the kitchen cabbinet business" and that goes to one issue.
For many of us this is the kitchen design business NOT the cabinet business. Design is included- it is not free and a lot of the general public does not respect that it has a cost to the designer and is their property.
Another issue is how designers get paid. Typically a percentage of the profit, not a percentage of the sale. If you profit margin goes below a certain point your commission drops markedly. If the margin drops low enough you don't get paid at all on a job. KDs are not accountants, writers, they rarely start out as salespeople. Most come from some sort of art background. Have any artist friends? How are they with computers, schedules, spreadsheets....
KD's are almost always worried about screwing up the price and or some detail on the order. Every one I know tells stories of waking up at 3 am in a cold sweat over something they may or may not have missed. Add to that the fact that you can't usually just punch a button to get a price and the KD is worrying about getting paid. Now at a box store they CAN punch a button. That has been set up on a remote server by an IT department.
Back to the cabinet versus design business. IF you want to shop only price, or mainly price. Go in with a complete plan, bring the same one to each place, list the details, accessories, doorstyle finish etc. Tell them how you want some of the details finished. For that you should be able to get a listing of "this is what it will cost for what you are asking for" If not well walk away.
Note that if you change just a few things in that plan, suddenly the brand of cabinet that was the most expensive could become the one that is the least. That is the cabinet business.
OTOH if you want someone to do a layout, present ideas, solve problems, try to meet a budget, help with selection. Then you are not looking for someone in the cabinet business, you are looking for someone in the kitchen design business. That person will have invested at the very least half a day in your job just to get rough pricing, understand what the issues in your kitchen are and have an idea how to meet the budget. I typically put in more time than that between the first hello and the first desing meeting. To give you a list at that point is to give you my work for free. Why would that be a problem? Isn't that part of my job? There are dealers around who specialize in poaching. Take a layout or a list and lowball it for a quick sale since they don't have to invest any time.
Last thing and no one will like this but don't shoot the messenger please. I have limited resources to work. I have a life besides work. Where I used to work, with office support and sales support I could work with say 65-75 people a year and be selling about 40% of those. Nowadays (on my own) I can work with far fewer people. I've also had a run of larger and more complicated projects- multiple rooms in a house, bigger kitchens, more details. I sell a much higher percentage than I used to but have time for less people.
Every KD has some limit on their time to deal with customers. Every KD has had to learn how to be a sales person of some sort, and they get a sense of what kind of jobs are going to close. IOW who will be the customers that make it possible for them to get paid.
Hard core price shoppers are the ones with the lowest closing rate. It is generally thought that they will end up buying when they run out of time. I'm not saying they will conciously disregard you. It is human nature to invest more in what appears to be likely reward than in what appears to not be. Just because you are doing a kitchen doesn't mean that your going to buy from me. As I said, once on retainer I will provide a list for anyone who wants, they rarely do. On occasion, I have given a list to someone ahead of time. That has been when I guage that they are decent folks, I stand a good chance of getting the job, they are honestly looking for more than just a bunch of boxes, and I don't have tons of time invested into solving problems that I know the poacher couldn't solve. Even then once that list is given out I mentally cross them off the potential client list. If they come back that is nice but I do not expect it. And note that I have possibly the lowest profit margin in my region- I just don't advertise it.

On our end it comes down to what you are looking to buy, cabinets or our service. If you are talking to a serious KD they sell service accompanied by cabinets.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 10:30AM
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Sometimes they will at least show you the list, but not give it to you unless you have paid a retainer. Likewise with drawings. This is more or less how we dealt with ours, but by then we'd basically decided to go with him, and I'm sure he realized that.

Cabinet hardware (soft-close vs. non, etc.), materials (plywood vs. MDF or furniture board or whatever it is), cabinet material (oak vs. cherry vs. maple), style (inset vs. partial overlay vs. full overlay) and finish (stained vs. painted vs. painted+distressing) seemed to be the biggest price differences. What you really need first is a good layout, then you can figure out whether or not you need all the "upgrades" that will cost more money.


    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 2:47AM
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deedles - I'm having an issue that my GC doesn't even want to place a preliminary drawing into the contract that we were about to sign! I wasn't even at the estimate stage anymore and he wasn't itemizing! Needless to say, we're feeling a little hesitant!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 6:53AM
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Even at a box store, it is quite a bit more WORK to give you an estimate than "just entering it into the software". Each single choice causes a different result, and just entering in a straight estimate from a list of cabinets (no layout or design work, just a straight cabinet listing) can take at least 30 minutes, and have chances for umpteen mistakes in one of those variables. (Especially with an impatient customer standing over your shoulder!) If the customer doesn't know enough about cabinets to say a plain stained cherry versus a maple with a glaze or know if the 24" base cabinet will be a 3 drawer or 4 drawer and have plywood flush ends or integrated door ends vs. unfinished sides, well there goes your "estimate". It can be off by hundreds just on that cabinet alone. Magnify that by the 20 odd cabinets in the average design, and the multiplicity of choices within the spec book, and your quote could be off by thousands if you aren't providing 100% accurate apples to apples cabinet designations as a quote request. All of a sudden, that super cheap quote you got from Bubba's Discount isn't so cheap when the actual real choices for the kitchen start to be narrowed down.

If you are focusing on price as the main decider for your choice here, then you will surely manage to find the cheapest choice, and I do mean that in the pejorative manner. Where choosing an actual KD first can help you is in finding the best value. The two are NOT the same. If you come to me and tell me that your budget is 15K for cabinets and this is your wish list of how it should look and what features you want, then I have enough available lines in which to design to be able to get you what you want at the price you tell me. If you go to Bubba's Discount with a "layout" and request pricing, he'll come back with the cheapest line with the cheapest choices, and maybe you get all excited about only spending 7K on your "dream kitchen". Then, once you're hooked, he'll come back with the add ons and you'll be at 17K before you're finished with that. When you shop on price primarily, that's the game you are inviting others to play.

Do enough research to find out the features that are important to you and which of a dozen cabinet lines can give you those features. Then approach KDs who represent those lines and talk to them. Ask them about your layout and what they think of it first, and then ask them to ballpark the price as is. From that conversation, you can get an idea if the person is both creative and truthful. You want to further explore a relationship with the person who offers you suggestions as well as doesn't blow smoke about the cost of your dream list. You're not going to get stacked cabinets with glass in a painted finish and all kinds of drawers and pull outs for 7K, and if you do get a quote like that, it's time to RUN from whomever gives it to you. It's not realistic.

Once you decide on a KD, then ask them how to achieve the look you want with your budget. Doing it the other way around, where you demand the list and start cutting, is the WRONG way to do it. Let the expert wield the scalpel if needed rather than you trying to educate yourself enough to do your own open heart surgery. The expert can guide you through which of your choices are driving the price up and let you evaluate your attachment to those features. Overall, paint is usually a 15-30% upcharge depending on if you want plain paint or paint plus glazing or distressing, etc. For most, that's a non negotiable upgrade as it drives the entire look of the kitchen.

But sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and pay the cost to be the boss. If you have a relatively large kitchen and want certain features, they are just gonna cost you and you have to find a way to afford what you want if you really do want it.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 10:56AM
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VERY well put, GreenDesigns!!!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 12:36PM
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