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Time+materials contractor - ok?

Posted by dreamojean (My Page) on
Tue, Feb 26, 13 at 13:43

I'm interested in feedback from people who have hired contractors on a time basis (where there is a weekly rate and the homeowner pays suppliers directly for needed materials, no markup, but possibly a trade discount), and whether the job came in more, less or equal to what fixed-price general contractors quoted. We are getting fixed price bids for adding a kitchen in an old brownstone (where currently it's just a laundry room, as the prior owners pulled out the old kitchen), from all but one person, a smaller operator who is more like a carpenter who does everything else in interiors except plumbing/electric and has a great eye for detail, who has a daily/weekly rate plus direct-pay for materials and whatever the electrician and plumber cost separately (he has people he works with who friends love and now swear by, or we could use different people). The time+materials guy does good work, I've seen more than one example, and heard from others positively. I'm told he guesstimates how many weeks it will take him and rarely is wrong. But it is still harder to budget for.

Thanks for any feedback.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Time+materials contractor - ok?

The GC I that I have had work done by is time and materials, and that tends to be a bit more expensive and go a bit over. However, the contractors that I have used that are not time and materials tend to not finish the project 100%. They get bored or something, or think the time they allotted for the fixed bid is up and they move on.


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RE: Time+materials contractor - ok?

I've never used a contractor like that but I have been billed by subs for time and materials. My last electrician used a "not to exceed" phrasing that at least gave me a max number to look at. He came in well under that number.

I've had fixed quotes that I wish had been billed on a per hour basis. Since I'm in an older home, the quotes often prepare for the worst and when the worst doesn't happen I've paid for for twice as much work as was needed. Similarly, I've had to pay over fixed quotes because something unexpected was discovered along the way.

I would put more emphasis on the quality of work you are getting and less emphasis on the cost, especially with an older home.


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RE: Time+materials contractor - ok?

I had the same problem as palimpsest. Although he started out pretty good, at the end, my fixed price contractor didn't seem to have the same standards as I did. He had another job to go to and he'd only planned to be at my place for so long. Also, it turned out I could actually have gotten some of the supplies/materials cheaper than he did and I could have saved some money. If I had to do it again, I think I'd prefer the set-up you describe with the smaller operator. But he should be able to give you a good estimate of how long it should take, right? It's not just carte blanche.


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RE: Time+materials contractor - ok?

It depends on how good your GC is and how good he is at estimating. We thought our friend who is a GC and does time + materials would cost way less than the fixed price bids. In the end he and his crew were very close to the lowest fixed price bid. He grossly underestimated both time and cost of materials. But we didn't lose financially, so no harm done. However, the crew did spectacular construction work but substandard finishing work. Lots of little things were done incorrectly (like a floor vent placed 8" off so that it's now in a thoroughfare, doorway off center, etc.), and if we wanted them redone properly, we would have had to pay lots more in time. Clearly our GC should have bee checking in on his crew more frequently. (But we're still friends.) So it's definitely a trade off. Good luck deciding!


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RE: Time+materials contractor - ok?

We hired an electrician on a time-and-materials basis to do a complete rewire on our kitchen remodel (completely gutted and all old wiring removed) and install all new recepticals, lighting, etc. We would have preferred a set price bid for the job, but we needed someone to come in quickly when our first electrician didn't work out. Anyway, he was highly recommended by someone that we know and trust and he was able to accomodate us, so we went for it. Good guy, but he liked to talk. A lot. After two days on the job at $85.00 an hour, DH came home and had to have some words with him for getting so little accomplished. After that, he settled into work mode and we were completely satisfied with everything he did. We would hire him again in a hearbeat and have recommended him to others without hesitation. But as a general rule, we don't like to do business on a time-and-materials basis. DH is a contractor himself and never bids time-and-materials. Sometimes jobs go faster than expected, and sometimes they go slower, but the goal is always to go in and get the job done and done right so that we can get paid and move on. We would never think about leaving a job that wasn't completed to move on to another scheduled job, nor would we expect a customer to pay us before we had completed everything on the contract ... that's just bad business. If your interior guy can guestimate how many weeks it will take and is rarely wrong, he should be able to give you a set price for the job, IMHO. But if he can get jobs that way, more power to him.

Our first electrician, also working on a time and materials basis, was a PITA. On his first day on the job, he worked for a couple of hours and then left to go to another job. On the second day, after spending quite a bit of time taking phone calls, he again said he had to leave to do something else. When I asked him why he couldn't just stay and put in a full day on MY job, he said that he had to maintain his relationships with his contractors because he gets more work from them, so they take precedence. So not only does he conduct his other business on my dime, then he runs off to take care of that other business, leaving the wiring hanging out of my ceiling. In his case, I was thrilled not to have a contract, because I was able to just pay him for his time and send him packing.

When someone signs a contract with start and finish dates, they are likely to be motivated to get in, get the job done, and get out so that they can get paid. I don't like the idea of someone starting a project without telling me when they are going to be done or how much it is going to cost. A small job billed time and materials is fine. A big job, get a price and a contract. Or be prepared for some irritations.

Best of luck on your decision!


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RE: Time+materials contractor - ok?

Time and materials is a big invitation to go over budget with most contractors. I would NEVER do that on a project of any complexity. You want a set price for a well defined scope of work with a process in place for revisions should something unexpected happen like a discovery of water damage behind the sink wall in the sill.


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RE: Time+materials contractor - ok?

Rare is the contractor who isn't tempted to go slower when he is incentivized for taking longer; it's simply human nature. I had a drywall guy who did fast work for a drywall job; then I hired him on a T+M basis for a lot of odd jobs around the house and he dilly dallied, did a bunch of stuff I didn't ask him to do, then got upset that I didn't want to pay him for stuff I didn't ask for; his rationale is that he was working on my house.

Get a few fixed price bids, take the lowest bid from a reputable contractor, verify licenses and insurance, and put everything in writing including deadlines and penalties for late completion.


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RE: Time+materials contractor - ok?

Thanks for the input - we decided so far, to split the jobs and hired the time and materials guy to do a smaller first job and will consult with him on the bigger job when he's doing the smaller one, and get a feel for what he would do. he also builds custom cabinets so we might end up using him for cabinets and a larger contractor for the rest of the kitchen. I usually agree that T&M isn't ideal, but people who have given us feedback have said he gives an estimate as to how many weeks the job should take and typically is right on the money about the timing, so you can estimate his labor costs that way, and it's more about what the materials cost (and this guy doesn't sell the materials, a friend of mine just pays he supplier directly for them, no markup or anything), he's pretty low key and has a great eye for details. he's the only T&M person we are even considering. so we'll do the small job (2-3 weeks total) with him and go from there, go slower than I'd prefer to avoid mis-hiring either a fixed-price contractor or this guy


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RE: Time+materials contractor - ok?

> it turned out I could actually have gotten some of the supplies/materials
> cheaper than he did

Not necessarily. The materials invoice you see may not be the true price the contractor paid. Some suppliers give contractors a kick-back at the end of the month (dressed up as something like a "prompt payment discount"). Some suppliers even write fake invoices with inflated prices for contractors to pass to their customers.


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