Getting a fair estimate for your home remodeling project is important. But what if the price seems almost too good? According to one remodeling industry expert, “Remodeling horror stories often start with a great price.” Why is that?
Shopping for a remodeling project isn’t like purchasing a brand-name product where you get the same product no matter what retailers charge. In fact, comparing bids on “price” alone can be a costly mistake. A better approach is to look at what factors affect the remodeling estimate you’ve received and consider the true value of what you are getting.
For example, to give a lower estimated price, remodelers can base their estimate on lower-quality lumber, cabinets, flooring, windows, doors, and other materials and skimp on the thickness of subflooring or the amount of insulation they actually use. You won’t know this until too late — when things start to warp, fade, crack, jam, leak or squeak. They can also base their estimates on “allowances” for the least expensive option in lighting or plumbing fixtures they install. You won’t discover that the estimate covers only low-end fixtures until you begin making your actual selections. Then, you’ll pay extra for what you thought was already included — a price that may even cost more than the “higher” estimates you received from remodelers who priced their estimates fairly.
Labor is a major cost for remodelers. Highly skilled carpenters, project managers, and specialty tradesmen command higher salaries than those with lesser skills. However, you’ll get a better job that runs more smoothly with a remodeler who offers a well-trained production team versus a remodeler who uses low-cost, unreliable, and less-skilled or inexperienced labor.
These practices are, in our opinion, misleading and shady if not downright unethical, but not necessarily illegal. Plus, by using them, remodelers can cut 30%, 50% or even more from the upfront price they give you.
Some remodelers, however, cross the line by not being licensed or even legally recognized businesses. They may not carry workers comp. If a worker is injured on your job, you can be liable for medical, lost wages and other expenses. General business liability insurance may be missing as well. Or, they may ‘save you money’ by not pulling a permit or getting inspections. That’s illegal. It may let them give you a lower estimate, but it puts you at greater risk.
Some remodelers (licensed or unlicensed) may suggest you take out the building permit in your name to “save money”. Careful! This means you and not them will be legally and financially responsible for the project meeting code. Wouldn’t you rather have your remodeler responsible for their work? Plus, remodelers who take these types of illegal and misleading shortcuts may take other shortcuts when building your project. If they don’t get a building permit, they don’t need inspections and if there are no inspections, do you think someone who takes these short cuts will be concerned about meeting electrical and building code standards?
The bottom line is that without quality materials, skilled craftsmen, and professional project management, a remodeling project is almost guaranteed to disappoint. It can become a true horror story if the project is so underpriced that the remodeler can’t finish it. In that case, you’re stuck with a half-finished project or forced to come up with more money. You may even have to find another contractor willing to “rescue” your project.
When comparing remodeling estimates and contracts, a low-priced bid could look very similar to a reasonably and honestly priced contract. On the surface, they may both describe the same project, but as you now know, the devil can be in the details and not all remodeling estimates are highly detailed. The way to protect yourself is to make sure the remodeler you are working with is qualified, honest, has a good reputation and can show you a good track record plus highly satisfied clients.
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