22 posts / 0 new
Last post
Re: How to hire a contractor

If I don't know how much something should cost, I start with the 'due-diligence' (as described by A.Spruce) and then ask questions (and am ready to listen) as I gather quotes. This works for a turn-key renovation, a new house, or a new transmission in the family car. And today it just makes sense to get as many quotes as one can, whether building or dealing with a home issue you're not an expert in...like replacing the septic tank/drain field in the backyard.

MLBSF started with the scenario w/ that crazy-low price of $65K. That should have been a red flag when the other quotes revealed the real value of the work. I'm not saying I haven't stumbled in this area myself. I once got the file for a $1.1 mil. job placed on my desk. The estimate was thrown together quickly & a real mess. I was stretched thin and putting out fires on multiple jobs with too many issues and trades to count. I had to find a contractor for a $100K scope and brought in someone who was sure they could do it for $50K. They couldn't. This wasn't an epic disaster, but just an extremely annoying lesson. Even now, I might take the low bid, but when it's way out in left field, you have to realize something is wrong and throw out it out.

If you have five quotes, $500, $1,000, $1,100, $1,200, and $1,700 it's pretty obvious the value of the work is near one grand. You can add or drop zeros and apply this same thinking to anything.

There is so much good advice by the others on this thread; insurance, bonding, change orders, ect., but hiring a contractor is comparable to plowing through all those books when you're about to become a parent...you read as much as you can, apply what works for your family as needed, and realize that some of what you read was meant for someone else. Just like raising a child, there's not one way to do anything...including construction.

Furthermore, people move around and this is sometimes a factor in their expectations on how much things should cost. What something costs out east may not be the same in the Midwest, the south, or west of the Rockies. Getting 3,4, or 5 quotes will be a reality check, but you have to ready and able to pass on those prices that don't belong.

Blood, Sweat, and Pig's Ears

Re: How to hire a contractor

Hi all,
this is an excellent topic and thank you all for putting together this discussion and expressing your, (contractors') point of view.
All that said I think there is considerable selection bias here. You guys represent the best of the best of your trade. You are passionate about your work, honest and dedicated. This shows in your posts and willingness to help, taking time to write and share.
For us selecting a contractor - is a huge job. I agree that choosing the cheapest one - is not the way to go. On the other hand - there is no guarantee that the middle or higher priced one will do a good job! I know - we have to check and ask for references... But you cannot imagine how many of mediocrities and dishonesty are out there.
Some will post their friends as references, other will became rude to you right after you sign up...
Now with internet advance it is little easier - you can read reviews on certain sites, but even then - no guarantee... I saw contractors' dirty wars on internet as well...
We try to go through a complete check list, checking, doing all that stuff suggested on Mike Holmes show, still - no guarantee...
Personally, we started to go with big retailers - HD, Loews ..etc for our big projects. I know, it may sound subpar to you but at least there is standard price and guarantee and we can at least complain if we are not happy...
Thank you for understanding,

A. Spruce
Re: How to hire a contractor
Housedoc wrote:

Personally, we started to go with big retailers - HD, Loews ..etc for our big projects. I know, it may sound subpar to you but at least there is standard price and guarantee and we can at least complain if we are not happy...
Thank you for understanding,

The Evil Big Box has created a whole new problem. Yes, pricing may be standardized, but all you've done is add a middle man and his fingers to your pocket. You are NOT getting the best quality materials or workmanship, that is a guarantee! I have had several clients who have chosen to go the route of a Big Box sub-contractor and to be able to make money they have to cut corners, which means that the quality of workmanship suffers greatly.

Yes, you can complain, which can get the contractors fired by the Big Box, but the problem may not be the contractors themselves. Again, because they are a sub-contractor to the BB, the BB tells the contractor what they will charge to do an installation. What happens when you try to pay someone $500 to do a $1000 job? They are rushed and don't do their best work. They may use practices that are less than industry/manufacturer approved, and a host of other issues.

Finding a good contractor is no harder than finding a good doctor, auto mechanic, lawyer, or any other tradesman. You MUST use common sense, you MUST use due diligence, and you MUST ask questions. The best time to find a good contractor is BEFORE you need one!

Re: How to hire a contractor


why can a full reno be done for $50k on a tv show (shows on HGTV) and notfor everyone else ?
To have my attic finished and have a bathroom put in I am getting quotes around 40k.
It is hard to be in a old hosue that needs a gut reno (I wish I had the money) but watching people get a full reno done for what I am expected to way for one room only adds salt to the wound.

A. Spruce
Re: How to hire a contractor
kamalmisc wrote:


why can a full reno be done for $50k on a tv show (shows on HGTV) and notfor everyone else ?

For the same reason that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition can build a ground up new home in less than a week. It is cheaply constructed, no attention to details, shoddy workmanship, poor materials, and sponsors donating 90% of the necessities for the project.

Do you really want to be on the receiving end of something that isn't going to hold up for more than the time it takes the contractor to get his truck out of the driveway, much less have to pay for such a thing?

Re: How to hire a contractor

Once you found the contractor you're comfortable with start them off with a smaller 2-3 day project to test the waters. This way you're not too deeply committed and can get a feel for them. Sort of a first date.

But don't give them the line "I have lot's of other work". We here it all the time and it's one of the biggest turn offs you can tell a contractor. It's like you're hanging the proverbial carrot in from of them enticing them for either a cheaper price or "if you're a good boy we'll give you more work"
Don't do it, it's very insulting and it's a red flag for me, and you only get three red flags and you're out. That's right, contractors feel out their potential clients as well. It's a two way street.

Re: How to hire a contractor

When I was young and stupid I fell for the "If you give me a good deal on this project there will be more work later" trick a few times.

Now that I am old and stupid, I stopped doing that.

Re: How to hire a contractor

How about this line: you give a discount now, and I'll get you referrals later.

Re: How to hire a contractor

i go nuts hearing customers telling me that "i saw them do a gut bathroom renovation on tv for $3,500, why is your price $17,000?"

if it's that cheap and easy then do it yourself, you don't need us.

our costs include

time doing an estimate
time meeting with the customer
time purchasing materials
labor for the job
trips to the dump
trips or labor to buy things for all the change orders that come with every job
cleaning up at the end of every day
our gas
our simple mateials, screws, nails, etc
use of tools we spent thousands on
liability insurance
workers comp insurance
time sitting there for hours doing nothing waiting for an inspector to show up
coordinating and arguing with our subs
our licenses are not free for anyone to get

and guess what, this list goes on and on and on.

it all boils down to "You Get What You Pay For"

Re: How to hire a contractor

Digging up an old thread here...

So many people plan their project budgets all wrong. What usually happens, if they are paying cash, is they have some amount of money burning a hole in their pockets and think the job can be done for that amount. Guess what... given enough bids, someone's going to do it for that amount, whether the job is horribly poor quality, or horribly overpriced.

No, it's better to take a systematic approach:

  1. How is your house NOT meeting your needs? This isn't the place to say "I need a full bath reno" -- no, this is where you say "this sunroom is dark and dank and too small and the grout is moldy."
  2. Only after identifying your needs and how they aren't being met can you start addressing how you can change it to meet your needs. This still isn't the time to say "I want a huge picture window in my master bath!"
  3. Once you've identified the shortcomings AND you've identified your desires, only then can you start looking at ways to achieve those changes. Here is where you can finally say "An indoor jacuzzi in my kitchen would really be relaxing after cooking a big meal!"
  4. Now that you know what changes can be made, you can start shopping around to figure out what it's going to cost.
  5. Once you know what it's going to cost, only THEN do you develop the budget. How will you pay for it? Cash flow -- how long will it take you to save up the money? Financing -- how long do you want to pay for that $60,000 linen closet remodel? Still going to cost too much? Time to revisit the scope of the project.

Enlisting a designer or architect can really help you identify your needs and desires and plan things out for the most cost-effective project. They can even help you break up the project into phases. Properly phased, you can plan ahead for future projects with minimal waste. There's little more disconcerting than ripping out $30,000 of finishes that are only a few years old just to make a change that you should have anticipated during the original project.

If you finance, be sure that the cost of the project plus the balance on any existing home loan does not exceed 80% of the value of the home. A lot of people have been burned by home equity loans when the market turned south and they were forced into a short sale.

(One of the most important -- but most neglected -- parts of many home improvement projects is ensuring that the building is level prior to beginning any remodeling. Old houses are notorious for uneven settling. If you don't jack up that sag in the floor before you add that wall or hang those cabinets, your project will cost more because so much will have to be scribed to fit rather than cut on the straight and square. And if you remodel without leveling the building, you've resigned all future projects to expensive custom fitting, because if you try to level it later you'll end up with cracking plaster, buckling paneling, broken or bound windows and doors, intermediate projects out-of-level, and who-knows-what-else. The money you save by not leveling the floor in the beginning will be spent many times over in frustration. Frustration is expensive.)


Sponsored Stories

TV Listings

Find TV listings for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.