Having trouble getting estimates

nap101September 5, 2012

How do I get a good fair price from a decent contractor in a market where they have more work than they can handle?

My kitchen design project is dragging on. I've contacted several GCs in the last couple months.

One gave me just a flat cost that excluded almost everything. My reaction? What the hell am I supposed to do with this--how could I possible budget based on this? That was about a month ago. It took forever for him to reply and I didn't get info from his reply; only contacts for subcontractors. I was ready to write him off but the subs that he connected me with seem really good.

The second that came out never sent me an estimate. And it took 3 weeks and a few phone calls to get his attention before he finally came out. I kind of wrote him off anyway after he started suggesting all these cheap chinese cabinet manufacturers he knew about.

The third, affiliated with the kitchen designer I have been working with, has not gotten back to me. I contacted her and she said that he was swamped like everyone else.

Ironically I've said to everyone that I am planning to go with Barker Cabinets. I tell them they make quality cabinets and I'm willing and able to assemble them myself. They don't even bother to look at the website.

My boss says that every time I say I'm going to do part of it myself (like painting, and I have a close friend that has a hardwood floor business) all they see is the cut they are loosing out on.

I live in the bay area of CA. I'm hearing from everyone that business is booming and anyone that is any good has more work than they can handle.

Unfortunately my kitchen is very small so no one really wants to deal with me. So what do I do? Do I just wait another few years? (please don't say that). Maybe just waiting till after the election is enough.

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Do you need a GC? Maybe be your own and just sub out the work you can't do yourself.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 9:46PM
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You're not leaving the GC much of a job to do here. You're planning on sourcing the cabinets and assembling themselves, painting, and have found a flooring contractor. What jobs exactly do you envision a GC doing here? Their main job is coordinating the different trades and aspects of a remodel, and you're already doing more than half of that.

So, what else is left? Demo? If you can assemble cabinets squarely and correctly, then you can wield a screwdriver and sledgehammer and take down cabinets. Electrician? Are you merely changing out light fixtures or are you actually adding electrical service and new lighting? You can do the former, and if it's the latter, then you can certainly hire an electrician yourself. Yeah, you need cabinets installed, but you don't need a GC for that. You need a decent finish carpenter who can cut molding (assuming you're doing molding) or a cabinet install specialist. I'll bet you can find one of those as well.

Break down the job and figure out the trades you need to hire and the order you need to hire them. There, you're doing the job of a GC and you're getting your remodel.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 11:21PM
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I'm re-habbing a 3 story building with just a 'handyman' type guy. Granted, he's a very skilled handyman, a real take charge guy, and knows everyone we could possibly need to do work. So far it's working well.

He works away, and when the electrician is needed, he's the one who calls him in. DH and I built a sample window frame in the basement, and he followed our sample and did the other 2 windows, plus he tore out the old metal left from previous windows.

I really feel that's the type worker you will do best with.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 11:32PM
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Maybe you all are right. Maybe I need to rethink my strategy.

I've never done a remodel. I just assumed I needed a GC.

I am completely gutting the kitchen, it's not a simple facelift. And I'm planning to do it all with permits.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 9:39AM
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Sophie Wheeler

If you are doing a gut job, then yes, you probably need a GC. It is fairly common to have a customer that has decided on cabinetry, but it's extremely uncommon to have one that is assembling it themselves. (Are you also finishing it?) That's not a detail that the prospective GC's really need to know to be able to give you a bid on the other work. But, you DO need to figure out the scope of the rest of the work and describe it fully in a document that you give the prospective GC's in order to get bids. I think you're scaring them off with the wrong information at the wrong time. Just describe the scope of work, and if they ask about the cabinets, just say that you are working with a supplier than you have your heart set on and there won't be any further discussion about that other than a push or two to consider "their" guy. And you should consider them. Using local suppliers always cuts down on the chance of issues from shipping and long distance miscommunication. Let the GC at least get a bid from their guy if they want to. It will make the bid process easier for you, and you might find a local gem in the process.

For the painting, you can just tell him that you can't make up your mind on that until the process is finished, so you'll DIY it, but don't take it out of the initial bid in the beginning. Your goal isn't to cause the extra work by not mentioning these things, your goal is to get an initial bid, and then the discussion about some of the elements withing that bid can begin. It's the same with the flooring. Just because you know someone doesn't mean that the GC might not have a better deal with a wholesaler. Let him bid the initial job with some of his "usual suspects" and see if any of them are actually better quality and cheaper than items you've already firmed up your choice on. More information and choices is never a bad thing.

When you have bids from a couple of top contenders, then you can approach them with revising the quotes to deal with taking out the painting and flooring. However, don't be surprised if the quotes don't go down that much. You'd be cutting out an element that they receive profit on, and at the same time, you are introducing an element of risk and scheduling nightmare into the equation by directly hiring someone that they will have no supervisory control over. If you hire the trade, they aren't responsible for the work they do, and if they screw it up, it's your problem to deal with. If the cabinets or the flooring guys aren't available in the time slot needed for the project, it holds everyone else up and wrecks the GC's scheduling on other jobs as well. It's not a position that most GC's feel comfortable in and that's why you are not getting any callbacks. They view your job as a high potential for being a PIA with little financial rewards as you have shown that you want to interject yourself (amateur work) in the middle of the job. About 80% of the pros will just run the other way when presented with a job like that on the front end. When there's plenty of work, they just don't need the potential headaches that your job presents as possibly being.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 11:27AM
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Thanks hollysprings.

You are absolutely right about what is happening. So I will rethink my strategy on approaching the next few GCs.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 11:44AM
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We gutted our kitchen and I was the GC.

I hired a local cabinet maker that also did drywall.
They pulled down soffits, and a wall, and redid the ceiling/walls where needed.

I did try about 6 estimates who all said "I don't do drywall" before I found someone who did the whole thing.

I hired a local window firm to replace the window.
The local plumber to fix the sink lines.
A local electrician to do the wiring.
And a Floor company to rip up and redo the floors.
All individual contractors.

It did create a bit of work for me AND I needed to take a lot of time off from work.

I had tons of leave saved up, and taking off, or coming in late, or leaving early, is not a problem for me.

Having the time to be the GC is important.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 1:59PM
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I did a complete gut of not only my kitchen, but of my entire main living area of the house, moved the kitchen within the space, and added a master bath and closet addition. And I was my own GC. I don't have a job outside the home though. As a SAHM, I had (sort of) the extra time and ability to do it. I hired all my own subs, many times getting references for one trade from another trade with whom I was happy. Everybody always knows somebody IYKWIM.

The project took much longer than if I had hired a GC, but I saved myself tens of thousands of dollars between that savings and doing a decent amount of work ourselves like demo, drywall removal, digging the new foundation, framing the bathroom interior, painting, etc.

I already had a custom cab maker lined up so that was off the prospective GC's list as was most of what I mentioned we DIYed. I found a very experienced electrician who did the whole house work for much less than the GC quoted me. I hired an out of town insulation company which saved me hundreds. Ditto the roofing.

I know I couldn't have been the GC if I had an outside job and didn't have GW. If you're flexible with your schedule, willing to supervise, able to stand up for yourself with trades, patient about timelines, have someone for expert consultation when needed (GW was a huge help!), and feel like having an adventure, then go for it!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 4:21PM
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Hi Nap101. Welcome to my world. I also live in the CA Bay Area and I find exactly the same thing. I try to make sure that the GCs know what I want and I put it all down in writing with a detail scope of work. My advise is to just call as many as you can. I had 28 windows done, 300sf of hardwood flooring and 3 rooms of drywall finishing done. Total about $40K worth of work. I had 8 GC's come by, only three quoted ($5K difference between 3 of them, but one was really garbage as there was a lot of TBD estimates on certain tasks). You would think I would have gotten more bids. Happy to discuss specific contractors with you so you don't waste time if you live in the East Bay.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 8:12PM
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