Finding a contractor

DCJerseyOctober 24, 2012

Before you start reading, please be aware that this is going to be an extremely long post. For those of you who make it through to the end, thanks for reading!

After saving up for 2 years, my wife and I think we are finally ready to start work on our kitchen remodel. We have been getting estimates from different types of sources. So far we have spoken with 3 different service providers and the results have been a bit disappointing. Compared to many of the kitchens I see on this site I felt my design was pretty reasonable and by no means luxurious or extravagent. I live in a solidly middle class neighborhood in a middle class suburb of Washington, DC. I am looking to build a solid, functional kitchen which has some upper end touches, but nothing too extravagant. Beautiful but affordable is the theme of the kitchen.

Here is what my kitchen currently looks like:

Here is a schematic my wife created that shows what we would like to do:

In essence we want to rip out the current cabinets and soffit, keep the current layout around the perimeter but replace the peninsula with and island, get new quartz counters, put in a counter depth fridge, induction range, bottom of the line miele dishwasher, rip up the old and damaged hardwoods and replace with ceramic tile, get new lighting, have a hood over the range instead of the microwave, add a simple subway tile backsplash.

We were hoping to accomplish all of this for around $40k. Unfortunately, the bids I have received so far have lead me to believe that my sparkling wine taste (notice I didn't say champagne) does not match my microbrew budget (notice I did not say ordinary beer). All of the companies we have solicited bids from were found through Angie's List and have A ratings.

1) Kitchen Design Company 1- This is a 1 stop shop kind of place. They Offer cabinetry, counters, flooring, lighting, and do all the work. One of their designers came over to my house, reviewed the design displayed above, and took some measurements. Based on our discussion with him it seemed like his company seems to offer cookie cutter kitchens and have a limited number of products they offer. For example I mentioned I wanted quartz and he kept trying to push me toward granite. It was clear that he knew nothing about quartz (he claimed it is weak and has a tendency to crumble) and it seemed that his company. His bid came in at 23k without appliances and when I asked him how much it would cost if I supplied my own cabinets he said the bid would only decrease 3k. I was a bit skeptical of their pricing to begin with, but this threw up a huge red flag to me.

2) Kitchen Contractor- This guy was more of a general contractor. He does not have a showroom and is willing to work with whatever products you supply though he does sell cabinets. He came over to our house, showed us many photos of his previous work, asked very detailed questions, and took a ton of measurements. His bid for all of the above excluding appliances came out to 40k. Unfortunately, the bid did not include any details, it simply said "Cabinets tile floor counter tops sink & faucet carpentry & painting lights electric & plumbing." We know the cabinets are kraftmaid, but don't know if they are playwood. If we supplied our own cabinets the price went down to 30k. I liked the guy during our meeting, but the very vague bid gave me pause.

3) Kitchen Design Showroom- The last place would not even come out to our house for the first meeting. We met at their showroom and brought a diagram showing the overall measurements of the space without any cabinets in it. When we told them our budget was 40k max, we were told that that would be very limiting and that their average kitchen usually starts at 45k. We spent 2 hours at the showroom picking out cabinets (they only sell jim bishop), counters (they sell cambria, but we also looked at granites for cost purposes), flooring (she tried to push us toward a laminate that looks like tile because it was cheaper than tile), a faucet (kohler touch), basic 18 gauge stainless undermount sink. We only spoke about appliances but she indicated that in our budget it would be difficult to get more than basic appliances. Overall we were basically told that our budget would be pretty difficult to work with and we would have to make some compromises and maybe switch down to builder grade cabinets or get some sort of flooring other than tile. We did not get a quote yet, but they are going to come to our house to measure and at that point will put together a design for us and provide a detailed estimate that lists everything in detail. I was impressed with the service provided during our visit but got the impression that you definitely are paying for their services and their products are marked up a lot. For example we mentioned we wanted an apron front sink and she said that was out of our budget and would cost $1000 when I know galaxy sells stainless apron front sinks in 16 gauge (not 18) for $350.

I should also mention that we got quotes from Oxford Cabinet Shop (an Amish cabinet builder) and he quoted us $12k for the cabinets in the diagram above. All plywood boxes, full extension drawers, soft close drawers and doors.

I guess the whole point of this long and rambling post is that I am wondering whether my budget is a bit unrealistic. I am definitely not the DIY type so I can't build this kitchen myself, but I am willing to put a lot of other type of work into it. I am willing to source my own materials as I have already done in finding my own cabinet maker.

I am starting to think that the one-stop kitchen shop is not going to be able to give me the type of kitchen I desire at a price I can afford. They seem to offer convenience, but charge you an arm and a leg for it. Would I be better off seeking a good general contractor who can just install the items I have picked out myself? Would this save me a lot of money compared to the kitchen design showroom described above?

Finally, does anyone have any suggestions for good general contractors in the Maryland/DC area? I am not sure how much I trust Angie's List given that I found the first kitchen design shop listed above on there and they had good ratings despite the fact that they seemed to offer a very unrealistic budget and were not 100% transparent about what we would be getting.

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I used to live in DC area and it is not a cheap place to live. The cost of living is on par with southern California. All three places that you approached is a one stop shop. Since you are not changing too much to the basic layout of the kitchen, why don't you go directly to the different contractors (cabinet installer, counter top installer, tile setter, electrician, plumber, etc) and skip the middle man. That way you can also supply your own faucets, sinks, hardware, fixture, etc and buy directly from the vendor that will give you the best price.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 2:45AM
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Ditto on what Lilymila said. I had to act as my own "GC" several years ago when I did a similar remodel for the same reason. The "single bid" folks were double what it ended up costing me, as I was able to shop for the best deals/suppliers for each of the individual components.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 5:51AM
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Thanks for the advice. My problem with acting as my own GC is that I have absolutely no clue what I am doing. i have no issue figured out exactly what faucets, sinks, hardware, fixtures, etc that I want in my kitchen and then going around to different shops or looking online to price compare. I just have no idea how to get them all installed. I am not sure of the proper order things should be done and who should be doing what work each day. Scheduling is also a major issue. Both my wife and I work so it is not possible for one of us to be home every day to let a particular tradesman come in.

I guess I was hoping for some sort of middle ground between (1) going to a showroom type place where I pick out components X,Y,Z etc and they have their own people install them and (2) acting as my own GC and finding a different contractor for each individual task in building the kitchen. Does such a middle ground exist? Will I save any money by picking out the items I want in my kitchen, shopping around for them and finding them best price, but hiring a GC who finds and schedules all the individual tradesmen it takes to build my kitchen?

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 6:31AM
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Sophie Wheeler

" i have no issue figured out exactly what faucets, sinks, hardware, fixtures, etc that I want in my kitchen "

Then I have to say that you haven't done nearly enough research to be thinking about beginning a project. And that includes not enough research to be able to set a realistic budget for your project. A basic guideline for a kitchen project is 10-20% of your home's value. That keeps the remodel from being too cheap and detracting from the home or (more likely) choosing too upscale amenities for the area that the home is located in. 10% being for a project that you are keeping signficant portions of the existing kitchen like the cabinets and appliances. For your project, without any structural changes, 15-20% would be about the right target. About half of your budget should be targeted for the cabinets and their installation.

So, you've got a LOT more reading and researching ahead.

Unless you truly don't care about many of your choices. And that's a perfectly fine choice as well. Many people aren't as kitchen obsessed as the posters on this site. But, if you really don't care too much, then choosing any of the "one stop shops" will be more up your alley for your project. But, you WILL have to up your budget for your wants in your location. It's one of the highest cost of living areas in the country and that translates to all labor and materials that you may be interested in.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 7:59AM
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We are in the DC area and just went through this process for the last 9 months and with a similar budget in mind.

The 10-20% figure does not really apply in this area in all cases since home value really are inflated by neighborhood/proximity to metro/schools/just being in this area.

We are converting our u-shape peninsula kitchen to an L with island, we started demo on Monday.

The contractor we are using is pretty no-nonsense/no frills and has been trying to find ways to save us money from the start.

The other estimates that I got were 85-120k not including appliances from a local kitchen all-in-one showroom (Signature Kitchens) she told me the same thing when I liked a certain copper sink that it was too much for our budget (which we told them was 40-50k).

Another estimate that I got was a contractor who does it all - to completely redesign our space was about 75k and to basically replace the cabinets and update the layout without so many major moves was 50k. They really seemed to know what they were doing, but again that did not include appliances.

The person was are using - for their labor was about 9k, then they bring in different trades and coordinate the timing of those, but they add additional cost. Plumber is 3200, electrician is 4k (our house is an electrical mess), flooring is about 4k (they are refinishing all of our hardwoods about 1400 SF plus the floor updates needed for this project).

Cabinets were about 10k (IKEA, we got A LOT of them).

Plumbing fixtures will be about 2-3k (we are getting multiples sinks/faucets/disposals/pot filler).

I have not even figured out countertops yet.

Does that help? Can I provide you anymore info that might help? So far they are doing a great job and really on top of the schedule.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 8:20AM
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Looking at your diagram/layout I think that you are doing less space/redo of your stuff so your pricing should be less than ours I would think.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 8:22AM
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Here's what I think:

Find a cabinet company you like and can work with and with them arrive at the final kitchen design. They can advise you on appliances, but buy them yourself. You decide where to spend your money - but use the KD to advise you on brands - they know more than you do. They can also advise you on sink sizes, etc. Dont order cabinets until you're 100% happy and have procured every appliance, sink that will fit into or around the cabinets. Let them quote the installation - but keep that figure separate. inquire withe them about contractors who have done good installs for them.

You need a contractor (I believe) to do the demo, pull the permit and haul away everything. They can either do just the demo and finish or also provide electrical, plumbing and hvac if necessary. I would NOT have the contractor quote the cabinets.

Appliance install - you can hire someone independently who is certified or you can let your contractor do that (hire or install). But do ask contractors about this. You don't want wobbly dishwashers or anything installed improperly.

Flooring, tiling, window/door casing - that's a toss up. You could source yourself - or let the GC coordinate. Window/door casing, baseboards, finishing details - you may want to find a good finish carpenter you can work with on your own. Depends on your GC. this is important as it's time-consuming and good work shows.

Whatever you do - when you get GC quotes - be sure to require line items which will give you the ability to remove work from their end and put on yours. Specify which items will be provided by owner (should be most IMO).

For example:
kitchen install (cabinets Prov. by owner)
plumbing (fixtures PBO)
electrical (decorative lighting PBO)
flooring (including materials)
tiling (tile PBO, cement, grout, etc provided by GC)
woodwork (be very specific what you want here)
countertops - should be PBO and the fabricator will install.

Hope that helps. gardenwebbers will be a great resource for you!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 8:32AM
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Roberta, I'd be interested to learn more about your no nonsense contractor! We are in the DC area, and haven't really gotten started yet, other than a few years worth of drwaming/drawing/planning/saving.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 8:46AM
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THanks for all the advice.


I really should not type long posts on here late at night. The line you quoted has a big typo. I meant to say that "i have no issue figurING out exactly what faucets, sinks, hardware, fixtures, etc that I want in my kitchen." I have been following this message board for close to a year and have done a lot of research regarding exactly what I want in my kitchen. We have visited Jacob at Oxford Cabinet shop and picked out the exact cabinets that we want and got a quote for about 12k which included the hardware and installation. I thought this was a very very good price. I have also done a ton of research on appliances and have picked out a CD fridge, range, dishwasher, and micro-drawer. I have decided which countertops I want (Cambria fieldstone and torquay). I have not picked out the exact flooring but I know that I would like a tile floor in a very plain tile, nothing too fancy. The only thing I have not chosen is a particular light for over the island or a particular faucet.

I think my issue comes into play with labor costs. I guess I don't really know how much labor costs should factor into my budget. On a budget of about 40k, what is a good percentage for labor.

I am also not exactly sure how applicable the 10-20% rate is. If I were to place a value on my home I would say it is worth about 400k. If I were to spend 80k on my kitchen I would be able to go absolutely crazy and I think I would have the nicest kitchen in the entire neighborhood by a long shot. My kitchen would definitely stand out, but it would also be wrong for the neighborhood we live in. People around here are more likely to have kitchens that are just above builder grade.

For those of you who are familiar with the DC area, we live in Silver Spring. We are in one of the most wealthy counties in the United States (Montgomery County), but we definitely do not live in one of the wealthy areas of the county.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 8:47AM
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rjl443-I sent you a PM email.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 9:15AM
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Here's what we did. We were also on a budget. We took our measurements to Lowes, HD and 2 local kitchen cabinet shops. Each one produced a layout and a price for the cabinets we indicated. The design we loved came from a shop that sold cabinets that were way out of our reach, but we loved the concept. So we knew about a particular KD at a second Lowes and we took the idea to her. By that time we knew we wanted light maple cabinets and she helped us narrow down our choice to affordable cabinets and we spent 2 three hour sessions working out the cabinets and the interiors.
We have an an all around carpenter/contractor who did the prep work. We hired the electrician and the plumber and he coordinated with them. Lowes did the cabinet installation. We shopped for and ordered the counters from a yard that also fabricates. We hired the tile installer.
We already owned the fridge and the DW. I ordered the hood and fan on line. The electrician installed both. The granite guys installed the sink and the our plumber did the faucet which was a demo at a high end shop. The cooktop was hooked up by the company that sold it.
My DH coordinated everything by making a schedule and doing the booking and everything except the back splash was delivered before we started.
The only thing I would have done different was to have discovered this site earlier and posted my layout for comments.
Most of the time we enjoyed the process. We were not terrible inconvenienced because we had a micro and a fridge and lots of paper plates in the garage. From demo to finished kitchen was about 6 weeks because we were sure of what we wanted. We had a glitch when the demo guys discovered a leak behind a wall and that was another expense.
So my advise is:
Relax if you can
Use this site
Get what you can afford and don't be envious of what you can't
This is a big deal and it need to make you happy.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 9:32AM
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Thank you to everyone who has offered advice. It appears that by hiring a no-frills GC or by hiring individual contractors and having them coordinate I will be able to save a substantial amount of money. I have already emailed rjl443, but does anyone else in the suburban Maryland/DC area have contractor suggestions?


    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 1:14PM
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Like sixtyohno we also did our own GC. If you are handy and do the proper research you should be abe to GC this on your own. We got a bid from a one stop kitchen place and it was more than triple what we ended up spending for a lot better finished product. I think the most intimidating part of acting as your own GC is finding qualified workers to do each phase of the work. If you try to DIY too much you slow down the job and quality suffers.

We ordered our cabinets, paid to have them delivered, hired each contractor individually. Our trim carpenter was excellent and hung all our doors did the trim work and hung our cabinets. We found him after touring model homes and asked the realtor who did the trim work in the house we liked the trim work quaity, they happily gave us contact information. It was nice to see the quality of work they did before hiring them.

Tradesmen are a great resource to find experts in a particular field. Talk to them and they usually know other tradesmen that do good work and happily give you a name to call and I always let them know I got their name from X and they highly recommend them and said they do great work. Most take pride in a job well done. When we spoke with the painter we asked who he recommends for drywall, ask drywall guys who they recommend for framing etc. The people that work in a specific trade know what they are doing and if they know the person that they are following I think it makes them take pride in the work knowing they recommended the person doing the job after them. I would not hire a "jack of all trades" they can do it but are not expert at any one trade just adequate at many.

We did have to clean up in between contractors which was alot of work, did our own demo and my DH was able to be on site if needed on occasion.

With GW as a great resource on any topic you would face you have a army behind you to help make decisions on the things you are not familiar with. Good luck hope to see pictures of your progress soon!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 2:36PM
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I am remodeling my first kitchen, similar to yours with the exception of the soffit change. Your typical schedule would look something like this. I used a general contractor that specialized in kitchen for the demolition and cabinet installation, but hired my own counter top people, electrician, and tile setter. If I am doing this a second time, I will definitely act as my own GC.

1. Demo everything. I think cabinet installer should be able to do that.

2. Have a drywall guy to patch up the wall and ceiling. The only part I am not sure about here is what if you have pipes to move in the soffit.

3. Prime and paint the walls. This part is easy to DIY.

4. Install cabinets.

5. Hire tile setter to install flooring.

6. Template countertop.

7. Hire electrician to do lighting. Wait for countertop.

8. Install countertop and sink.

8. Hire plumber to hook up sink and dishwasher.

9. Hire tile setter come back and install backsplash.

10. Install other appliances which is easy and sometimes free with new appliance purchase.

11. Install hardware. Buy a template and you can DIY this part too or pay the cabinet installer a little extra and have them do it (they have to readjust drawers and doors after the counter top installation anyways).

12. You might need to touch up the wall paint.

Clean up and enjoy. I think that's pretty much all since you are not knocking down walls or adding new rooms.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 4:02PM
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Thank you to everyone who has offered advice here. This thread has been very enlightening. I was just wondering if anyone else had any contractor recommendations in my area (MD/DC). I have contacted rjl443's guy, but I of course want to get multiple bids.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 11:04AM
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If you are looking for great contractors then go to

The'll find you a contractor in the MD or DC region. They do the work for you and verify the contractor. I went with them for our kitchen remodel in MD. I just added a project online and they matched me a perfect contractor. They even will save you alot money because the'll bundle your project together with other projects close by to you. The contractor worked both of our jobs with a problem. We all got a great deal. They are trustworthy and local. Not like the other sites i've seen, check them out. we have used them twice already without any problems. its real easy and they are easy to work with.

Here is a link that might be useful: Find a contractor in md

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 11:05PM
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We are not DIY and I had no clue how to be my own GC. What I learned is that it's important to separate the fixed costs from the variables. Meaning...get comparable quotes to compare, truly compare, by getting the details. How much will the CG charge to paint? What will the plumbing, lighting, heaviwork, trimwork, etc. cost? Research and first find out what you're going to spend on cabinetry, appliances, faucet, counters, hardware...then you can give all this to the GCs who are bidding and see what they come up with. Poke a hole in those soffits - find out if there's anything behind them that can't be moved, or will cost a bundle to move. Figure out if it's more important for the GC to buy your sink(and be responsible in case there are any problems), or if you want to buy your sink (at less cost) but be responsible for its timely arrival and get missing parts if there are any. Pick out as many finishes as you can before you start...proper planning will save time and money and mistakes. Except for backsplash. You can always add that later, especially if you're saving pennies at the end and need to wait on that. Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 8:00PM
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Sorry, just read the latter messages. The labor costs will be high in your area. If you find someone much cheaper, make sure you get plenty of references and again, compare apples to apples. We had to have everything GUTTED (circa 1940) so of course all the dirty work was extensive and expensive. It really depends on your house...and if you want things done right. One of my neighbors wanted to move and did a cheapo job on their kitchen with some guy contractor. It looks great on the outside, but nothing in the 1940 home was replaced on the inside. Inexpensive renovation with granite and pretty cabs. But boy, what I not want to risk something going wrong with the electric or pipes!

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 8:07PM
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