Kitchen Remodeling Contract Negotiations

Julia4326June 4, 2013

Out of curiosity, how long did it take you to negotiate you kitchen remodeling contract?

Here is our story:
We are doing a full kitchen remodel 200 sq ft (cabinets, flooring, hanging new dry wall). Nothing is too outlandish. We are not expanding the kitchen.

Last year we started just searching for contractors. In July 2012, we found someone we liked so we figured next summer we would give it a shot. During the summer of 2012, he gave us a verbal ball park estimate of $18k. Not too low, not too high compared to other registered contractors in our area. So in March 2013 we returned to this contractor and expected the work to start in late May. We told him we did not want to exceed $22k at all so the budget would need to be below this for any change-orders or unexpected problems. The contractor told us not a problem, but we are still working through the contract -- it's June.

Our first estimate was insane for a small suburb in Ohio nearly 34k (he must of thrown our budget out the window?). Our second estimate came down to around $25k (nothing really changed in the contract - thought that was weird). We are on our third estimate, and took out quite a bit of our wants but the estimate changed by maybe $250.

We have already paid $500 deposit for a Final Estimate. The other thing is we have to work from a list of registered contractors for our city, and he is the only one to have actually shown up and returned calls.

I feel like he is taking advantage of us by accepting the $500 and providing estimates beyond what we can afford. The $500 gets deducted from the final estimate. But I feel like he is purposely dragging his feet so he won't have to work with us.

Is this normal?!?!?

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We have been working with KD about 6 wks and have paid 3000 for her to do plans and her plans were pretty but she didn't go over any real details on cost just told us 67,000 have another meeting wed.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 11:56AM
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Regarding your remodel Deb: 6 weeks seems like forever for just drawings? And $3k for drawings? That's insane. Where do you live? Relative cost of living puts things in perspective. If you live in NY or NJ, I could believe that was normal. Perhaps I am underestimating the work of a kitchen designer...

I told family members and neighbors we planned to spend around $20k excluding appliances, and they thought that was high. Our neighbors said it was high considering the value of our house and what they paid in recent years to remodel their kitchen.

When you think relative to your income and those of the surrounding area, you expect quotes to take this into account. Our city's median household income is $50.5k so providing an initial quote that is more than half of your yearly household income is insane! How would our contractor stay in business if he is only performing residential work?

Maybe I'm thinking about it all wrong.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 12:42PM
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I have never heard of paying for estimates. Was this guy referred by someone?

I think the % of a kitchen remodel is based on the value of your home not your income.

I would ask for the money back and look elsewhere.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 12:52PM
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We didn't pay for a "ball park estimate." We are paying for a "design fee" and "final quote." We signed a contract saying it is non-refundable, but would be deducted from total cost. So far I don't think he is living up to his contract.

But my problem is I feel like he low-balled us on the initial ball park to get us to do a design and final quote and then came back too high so we wouldn't come back.

He came off a list of registered contractors for our city. In our city unless you are doing the work yourself, the contractor has to be registered with the city. Most likely for tax purposes and not on reliability. His reviews and recommendations were all positive. I looked through the BBB and no complaints.....

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 1:05PM
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Sophie Wheeler

THe average price of kitchen remodels in the US is around 55K. That's not a high end kitchen. Just medium level. You're asking for a kitchen for less than half of that. When you get to a lower priced kitchen, there is only so much "fat" that can be cut. There's pretty much a price limit as to where things start if you don't want 100% apartment grade. You are right at the bone for paying a contractor to do a kitchen.

I'd expect cabinets to be around 7K (for something barely beyond builder grade, like Aristokraft, and almost no upgrades like taller cabinets or glass), counters to be around 2K (a barely upgraded laminate), hardware to be around $500, sink and faucet around $500 (nothing fancy or "name" at all), 2K for flooring (basic cheap ceramic or laminate) $500 for lighting, paint, and miscellaneous. That only leaves $5500 for labor for an 18K kitchen. For a like for like replacement with no plumbing or electrical alterations, that's just barely doable, and not with much of a profit margin at all.

If you want higher grade materials, the price goes up. So does the cost of the labor. It costs more to have 15K worth of cabinets put in that it does 7k because the contractor has a higher risk factor. Same with the difference between a $300 sink and a 2K sink. The labor goes up when the materials go up.

So, if you upgraded only "a few" things on the list, your price could still end up jumping more than you think.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 1:12PM
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I don't know any contractors in my area that would charge for a detailed estimate but each area is different. Now if a KD is spending alot of time doing detailed drawings I suppose....

I think in most areas the contractor has to be registered. Maybe look at contractors who are not registered but are willing to be. In my area its a fee of a few hundred. Maybe call your local building inspector and ask for referrals.

Tell him "So far I don't think he is living up to his contract." In the end you may be better off losing the money then dealing with him. Sometimes BBB reviews are not all that accurate. Ask your friends, family and neighbors.

Hope you get this sorted out so you can move forward.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 1:26PM
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Here is what our galley kitchen looks like:
custom cabinets uppers and lowers: full extending drawers, rollouts, birch, traditional, glazed w/ pantries and glass doors for part of the uppers I think it was 36 linear ft ($8k includes labor)
Venetian Gold Granite: $45 at 42 sq ft (~$2k includes install and labor)
Vinyl Flooring $3 at 200 sq ft (~$200 includes install)
Backsplash $10 at 30 sq ft (~$300 includes install)
We already bought a a Kraus faucet and sink

We are getting minimal recessed lighting, two new fans (There are existing fans already. We are just replacing the fans.), a gas line and two additional water lines (They are not hard to get to). Minimal Dry walling. He isn't caulking, mudding or painting walls. Any work he is doing himself he hasn't given prices for.

All subcontractors prices are accounted for but not his work. I get there needs to be a mark-up for him to make money but that lies somewhere between the $10.5k and the $25k that he quoted.


He is the kitchen designer. His software is similar to HD. We just don't want to loose the $500. It is really hard for us to swallow. But we are giving it one more shot and one more meeting to sort it out.

Also, I think it goes to mention that when he provided the third estimate labor hours inexplicably went up by a lot although all we did was cut out things like a replacement window and a section of granite. I almost feel like either he made an error and doesn't want to admit it or he is playing with the numbers to make the quote come out to something he thinks is worth his while.

Regardless, I appreciate the feedback! It helps just talking it out.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 3:41PM
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Have you asked him why there was such a big difference between his ballpark and subsequent quotes, or why his charge went up when you reduced the work? What does he say? I would speak to him frankly about your budget, reminding him of your initial conversations, and ask him why a figure that was "not a problem" is now a problem, and definitely a problem for you!

I had a real estate agent pull this kind of bait and switch on me (promised 2% commission, but the contract said 8%! ) When I called him on it, he blustered about how he couldn't work for only 2% but couldn't give me a reason why he had made that offer then. In the end we agreed on 3%. Yelp, google, etc are wonderful tools!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 6:09PM
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Whare is the $25K mentioned? In the estimate negotiations, or just verbally?

If you are cutting out wants and the estimate is not dropping ... toss it in his court and say: "Where can we cut to get the estimate down to what we toild you we could afford? We need some help here and you are the one whoknows what things cost."

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 6:58PM
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Sounds like you need to cut your losses and run like you know what, to me.

You keep calling him a "contractor". I would not want a contractor "designing" my kitchen. Maybe things are very functional and staying pretty much the same or you know just what you want so you just mean coordinating and installing things?

I would check Angies for someone with many, many positive references.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Wed, Jun 5, 13 at 0:09

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 7:43PM
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Raee - I think that is exactly what's going on. When I called him on it he blustered and was like what do you mean? Trying to switch it on us like we were accusing him of something. He also will not answer the questions. Either he is "bait and switching" us or he really is bad at numbers and computers and gets defensive. Neither is good.

Lazygardens - The 25k is a written "final" estimate. When we ask him where we can cut costs he responds with "No where is really going to make an impact." For example, we said we could do demo, how much would that take off and he said "Around $200." When I asked him how many guys its would take he said about 2. Our contract has 16 hours written in total. I asked if that meant two guys working 16 hours. He said "Yea, two guys and two days." I told him that made no sense, that would mean he pays his employees less than minimum wage. And he was like "Oh no, you must of misunderstood. If you want the exact number I can check right now." Which he never does. Everything has been like this.

Snookums2 - I knew exactly what I wanted. I provided drawings. Also I wasn't crazy in what I wanted (he told me everything that I wanted was on the less expensive end of the spectrum). I just don't have the time to pull permits and coordinate the whole thing. But from the most part I have been coordinating things. The only thing he has set up was for the cabinet guy to come out. I think I am too much of a type-A personality to relinquish control. I also think that I am insensitive to the fact that he has other customers. He takes about a week to get back to an email which is why the process is taking so long. We are giving him one more shot next wednesday.

I just wish I could know what he is thinking. Maybe I expect too much and maybe I am too pushy. I know I could use more patience.

Thanks for all the advice! I sincerely appreciate it. As this is our first home (bought in July 2011) and we are fairly young (23 and 25) and newly married, it can all be extremely overwhelming.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 9:15AM
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The 7K worth of difference isn't that much in the world of construction for an "off the cuff" estimate compared with a final estimate with real products put into it. However, when you are on that low of a budget, the % difference can make or break a project. $500 may seem like a lot to "lose" as a percentage when you have a more limited budget, but really, it's a minimum expenditure in a kitchen redo. Consider it the cost of educating yourself. No knowledge is wasted. Ask him for the deposit back, and if he won't give it, move on anyway. There are too many issues with this guy's communication style.

However, you may want to drop back and do more research before jumping in to the project again. Maybe even raise your budget to be sure you get what you want. Research is one of the key requirements when you're doing a lower budget project. You have to be the "legs" and do all of the info gathering yourself rather than rely on your contractor. You might even consider self GCing it if you have enough time, but it is a FULL time job. This forum can walk you through lots of questions, from the best layout, to potential cabinet choices, to how to plan the right sequence for the trades to appear at your house.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 9:29AM
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Consider the $500 to be tuition in the school of life. Cut the dealings with the man, join Angie's List and leave him an accurate review and find a better contractor. The guy knows you have $25K and is determined to get all of it plus some overruns.

Take some more time and study what drives costs up. Really plan out what you need and research options and what the consequences of taking them are.

For starters ... post a current floor plan, some pictures and what problems you have that need fixing, and what you wanted this fool to do. The collective brainpower we can put on a problem is great, and we all thing of different things.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 11:29AM
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While 20K may seem low you can do it. While I don't know all your details I've seen it done by others here and have done it my myself.

You are not too picky. This guy has issues, whatever they are, you don't need to deal with them.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:26PM
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Stop apologizing for yourself and for questioning what is going on. He knows you are young and naive. It sounds to me like he is taking you to the cleaners. I think LG is right that he knows how much you have to spend and that is what he'll charge, one way or another.

This will take his 2 men 2 days? So you are to pay him $7000 per day for labor? Do you know who will be doing the labor? Himself, with a helper?

Cabinets, company installs? $8000
Counters, fabricator installs? $2000
Flooring, company installs? $200 (you can get flooring that cheaply?)
Someone installs a backsplash? $300
Plumber does a gas line, two pipes and installs the sink? plumbers are expensive
Someone installs two fans, and lighting? electrician?

What is the size of the kitchen and what demo/restoration needs to be done?

He is being shady. That's not someone you want to do business with, trust your home and money with. It will only get worse.

If he won't refund, contact BBB, Angies, or take him to small claims if they think you have a good case for non-performance.

I agree, you can get a very nice functional kitchen on a small budget.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Wed, Jun 5, 13 at 13:40

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:29PM
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I don't get charging for an estimate. I live in the DC metro area and got about 8 estimates for our kitchen remodel. Did not pay anyone a cent for an estimate...and some came back with elaborate drawings and very detailed estimates.

I have a small galley kitchen and had alotted $20-25,000 for materials alone---not low end, not high end and I came out pretty much on target here. Original labor cost was around $13,000. So, I had anticpated spending around $35 give or take for everything. We ended up spending around
$45,000. When they ripped out the ceiling drwyall, they saw the plumbing in both upstairs bathrooms had been done incorrectly as well as some ductwork that needed to be redone to vent microwave, etc. and some other odds and ends. It seemed a little high to me--but I was impressed with how meticulous the crew was and how hard-working they were. They are a busy outfit, so spending an extra week to fix the plumbing, etc...messed their schedule up too--so I knew they weren't just making it up to get more $ from an unknowing customer. We have since had one of the guys back to do odds and ends for us--tile a fireplace, install a vanity, etc. Picking out some higher end finishes also made it go up some---we used granite for the BS as well instead of cheaper tile, some more expensive fixtures, etc...

Our friends loved our kitchen and saw the quality work but went with a cheaper contractor for their bath remodel and had all kinds of problems....most often, you DO get what you pay for...but charging $500 for any estimate---final or otherwise---does not seem right. The only thing I can think of is....he felt justifed charging since he had to keep redoing it to try to get the price down.

Good luck--it's not a fun or easy process.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:34PM
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When I looked at your wish list and saw your pricing estimates for some of the elements, I thought, "wow, I wished I lived in your area". Are those what he provided for the major elements?

I would echo the sentiments on cutting your losses. You need somebody with flexibility to work with you on the budget, and to exchange some labor (demo, painting) to get it done. I was your age during my first kitchen, and that is what I did.

If what you paid was truly a design fee, you should be able to get plans when you walk.

Please keep in mind you may have additional fees for permits and plans built into your estimates, and adding water lines and gas lines generally get charged at pretty high rates, as does any electrical work. His expected profit and management overhead will add onto the total.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:53PM
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I had a contractor like this. Paid a design fee. Asked for my design when we walked and didn't get it. I was told, no--too much liability if we designed something wrong and someone else goes to build it.

So, again and still, we walked. And, we won't return to him again (despite doing a good job for us 3 yrs ago... he's changed policies and his demeanor).

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 1:05PM
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I got an estimate for adding a gas line. It was $500 for the first 8 feet and then a per foot charge after that (forget the amount but it wasn't that much). Kitchen sink install with disposal in this area is $300.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 1:20PM
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Kristen Hallock

I think we paid $500 to extend/add 2 gas lines. One to the 2nd floor when we moved our gas dryer upstairs (all work done in basement or garage with exposed ceilings, and the 2nd line was extended into the kitchen for our new gas range.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 1:24PM
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lazygardens and debrak - Thanks for the support!

Snookums - Those are the numbers he provided. The cabinets I couldn't believe. They are a small company from a rural area, family owned. Everything is hand-crafted and gorgeous. Glowing reviews. I didn't even know they existed. If I did I might have just subcontracted everything and done it myself. The man from the cabinet place seemed to be like the only one who knew what I wanted. He provided a detailed estimate with comments and came to my home to explain how they would install and have me inspect everything prior to installation. We thought about dropping the contractor and just working with him and finding other companies for granite, etc. Since he works through our contractor, I doubt he would sabotage his relationship just to do our cabinets or else I would ask him.
Certain things like the granite are special pricing because the company has a deal with contractors on 6 types of granite (also my friend's parents happen to own the company which I didn't know at the time).
For the flooring and backsplash, I talked with the company directly and that is what she quoted for material and installation for our size kitchen.
Everything else the contractor will be doing.
Kitchen Size = 20' x 10'. It is an awkward shape.

JoaniePoanie - I'm afraid of the idea of overages. Also, he charged the $500 at the beginning of the "design and final estimate" process. It was after his ball park estimate. His ball park was looking at the kitchen and spitting out a number (it was free).

Gooster - Those are the numbers he provided. Cabinets, Flooring and Backsplash, and Granite are all separate companies he works with.

Also, I think it is worth mentioning last year we researched several contractors. Received estimates from about 4. And we only liked two. It was funny the other company we liked gave us a figure of $24.5k (detailed and precise). However, we liked this guy better because he lives in our community, felt it would be easier to work with him, and he came in at our budget around $18k (rough estimate).

Sorry for the super long posts. But I know I like nitty gritty details. :)

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 1:25PM
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Where in Ohio are you? I am outside of Columbus and for my 119 sq ft kitchen my costs are running like this:

cabinets, painted maple: 5300 +tax. Cabinetmaker in Dover. Includes mostly drawers, pantry with pullouts,, spice pullout, dog food pullout, crown molding, but no glass.
flooring, engineered hardwood: 110 sf, 165. + tax. I could have paid the flooring company $3 sf to install but my GC is doing it
counter, 32 sf, 1st tier quartz, $53 sf on sale at HD: ~1500 + tax,includes installation
(still might change to granite at $40 sf)
LIghts, recessed LEDs x6 at $37 each
I have bought a hood, sink, faucets, gd, other miscellaneous items at the best prices or sales I could find.

The GC is having to do a lot of wiring work to add the lights and outlets which has meant a lot of wall repair. They've essentially torn 2 of the 4 walls down to the studs. They are relocating the gas line, the hood vent, and adding a window. They are installing the cabinets, flooring (if I don't decide to have it refinished), sink, hood, lights, making all walls and ceiling paint ready (includes stripping some wallpaper) and even repairing the exterior siding from the new window and moving the vent: $9500

The original GC for the job wasn't really lowering his overall price either as I trimmed and economized, (he had early on also given me a breakdown of some costs, like $2 sf to install flooring) which was making the % of the job going to demolition larger and larger; so I assumed that he had a floor level price that he wanted for the job that was just too much for my budget and changed GC.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 9:26PM
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My budget was similar to yours. I have a small U shaped kitchen and I spend about $8600 on cabinets and $2800 on quartz countertop. I didn't DIY anything except painting the walls and install the hardwares. I came in right at 20K including new stove, microwave, and dishwashers that I bought during the Thanksgiving sale. One thing you can consider is contract out some part of the project yourself. For example, I saved about $1000 on countertop by using Pacific Sales instead of the fabricator that worked with my GC.

Estimates can vary greatly depend on how much they want your job and who is doing the job and how big is their operation. For example, I had four contractors came to look at my bathroom. Two said they were too busy to take on my project, one guy wants to charge me $16000 on labor alone and another guy is going to charge me $8000 on labor. The difference between the $16000 and $8000 is that the first guy contracts out all of his jobs and just charge a 15% markup, even simple things like installing a vanity and demolition. He probably oversees several jobs at the same time. The second guy has a much smaller operation. He and his assistant do most of the work and only work on one project at a time.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 2:35AM
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