Negotiating with contractor! Tips for bringing costs down?
October 2, 2011 1:18 PM   Subscribe

I have just bought a home and want to remodel both bathrooms and paint interior before I move in. I got two bids and both were about the same. The companies both have good reviews on Angie's list and are the same size, so this makes me feel ok about the price estimated. That said, the price quoted is still a bit more than what I expected so I am wondering what suggestions people have for managing and bringing down costs.

I am interested in hearing from people that have done remodeling on their homes as well as from contractors.

For instance, I have heard that offering to pay subs directly can help.
What if I use a separate painting contractor after all work is done?
What if I offer to run around a bit for supplies and pay for materials myself? I know it is better if they place the order so we get the right quantities for things but what if I pay directly?
If the company is reputable, can paying in cash help?
Any other tips to bring costs down?

I am going to call the company I like this week to talk to them, ask if they can do any better on the price and maybe bring up any other cost saving options that I come up with here. YOUR help greatly appreciated!

Also, since I haven't moved into the house yet--do I just give the contractor the key while work is going on? I could just re-key the locks after all work is completed. I could hang out quite a bit while work is going on but a medical condition would make it hard for me to greet them at 7am every morning to let them in.
posted by dottiechang to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Painting in general, piece of cake (my most recent AskMe aside).

Remodeling a bathroom, you want pros to do it.
posted by pla at 1:39 PM on October 2, 2011

I am a contractor.

For one thing, contractors can pay Angie's List and improve their image on that site. I would not necessarily trust that site. That web-site can often reflect which company has the largest advertising budget, and not who is best.

Working with the subs directly came be a pain, since you will be responsible to schedule each successive sub. Is it better for the electricians or the plumbers to do their rough-in work first - it matters, and unless you know the answer, you might end up getting extra trip charges from your subs, because they have to come back to take care of things that were not ready.

If you higher a reputable contractor, you can just give them the key. Protecting their license is more important than anything they might be able to steal.
posted by Flood at 2:02 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could save some money by doing the demolition -- if you're going that far -- yourself. And tiling isn't as hard as you might expect. Painting is definitely easy. Leave the plumbing, electrical, and dry wall to the professionals.
posted by crunchland at 3:07 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

To add to crunchland, I would say that putting up the drywall is almost certainly something you could do with a friend. I would, however, get a pro to mud it so you don't see the seams after painting. I also agree that tiling is pretty easy work.
posted by Nightman at 3:35 PM on October 2, 2011

Agreed with drywall, painting, and demolition above. Also, you can definitely do all the finishing touches: toilet paper holder, towel bar, and so forth. Also, were they handling the city permits? You could consult with them on what to get but be the one to go sit in the planning office for a few hours.

What if I offer to run around a bit for supplies

I don't think you want to be their on-call errand runner nor would you want to have to figure out how to strap doors or a jacuzzi to your car roof. And I think they'd rather have their regular errand runner run the errands with their big company truck.

I do think that you paying directly for the materials and subs might be a way for you to negotiate the contract down a bit. It could dramatically reduce their carrying costs and stress. However, do be sure to set up financial incentives for them to be done, done right, and done on time. (I'm working with a highly referred roofer, but they have three or four jobs going and keep pushing mine back even as the rain clouds mount.) And realistically, you can write the checks to the subs or call the roofing supplier with your credit card number, but let the GC find and direct the subs. You and I don't know things like how the roofing and fascia need to intersect for a water-tight building, so they'll be giving the direction regardless, so let them hire companies they know they work well with and be paid for that coordination effort.

Also, how much risk do you think they've priced into the job? I got a lower bid once I tore the drywall off because people were no longer planning on finding the worst case scenario behind the walls. However, this could cut against you, too. Just something else to think about.

Plan on spending more than you're planning on. Carefully attend to the legalities: have a lawyer review your contract; get copies of licenses, workers comp insurance, liabilty insurance, and bonding, and then call the companies to independently verify; call their references (ask about timeliness, communication as things came up, change orders, workmanship; cleanliness). And you need to find someone you like. I'm getting phone calls from mine multiple times a day starting at 7 AM. Find someone you can communicate well with, trust to do what they say they will do, and expect to resolve any issues that arise in a cooperative and mutually respectful fashion. Best of luck.
posted by slidell at 5:18 PM on October 2, 2011

So, you got bids, not estimates, rights? As I understand it, contractors will usually give you bids a bit higher than an estimate, because they'll be held to the bid price in case of any cost run-overs (there are always unexpected delays and expenses with construction).

An estimate would mean their best guess, but it could be higher or lower depending on the actual work. So you might ask them for an estimate instead, if you're willing to pay more if it costs more. (They may or may not do this.)

I wouldn't try to nickel and dime them unless you are very handy and have done stuff before (drywall would be pretty difficult and messy if you haven't done anything like it before--I say that having helped my husband do drywall, and he comes from an construction background).

Also, in terms of paying, they likely get prices that you do not, because they do a lot of business with certain vendors. So you might not save much money (and might have a lot more hassle) if you do it this way.

In general, I do trust Angie's List. I also generally expect that construction takes longer and costs more than contractors say or expect (not because they are lying, but because this is life).

So, if money is a concern, sock away some cash, do one bathroom now (the one you'll be using more often), and wait a bit til you do the second. You'll have a functioning bathroom, so one down for a re-model won't be the worst thing ever. And you'll know if you like your chosen contractor enough to go with them again.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:30 PM on October 2, 2011

Do the painting and the finish details, yes, if you're comfortable with it. Be sure to inspect before the dry wall goes up in the bathrooms, and tell them they WILL be back if there are leaks. (Oh, I can tell you horror stories!) Don't bother to do dry walling yourself unless you are experienced with it or have someone experienced help you. I've done lots of it, but it's a major pain (back and shoulders, mainly.)

Hire a contractor, don't mess with subs. If something goes wrong, you want to be able to know exactly who is going to rectify the problem. Subs can point fingers at each other like you wouldn't believe, and then nothing gets fixed. I would imagine you could have the house painted by a separate entity, but I would think a contractor hired to do it all would be able to give you a better deal.

Doing all the work at once limits the pain, but finishing one then doing the other at a later date does save money in the short run. Balance that out with the mess, though, and you'll wish you'd have done it all at once.

Disclaimer: My son is a contractor for custom built houses, however my husband and I are do-it-ourselfers for our own custom renovated mess home. Oh, the joys.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:04 PM on October 2, 2011

Oh, and give the contractor the key, then change locks when you move in. You'd be changing them anyway, right?
posted by BlueHorse at 9:05 PM on October 2, 2011

The main thing you can do, as noted, is your own demo.

Another is to approach it as a budget under which you need things to be done. Ask the contractor what modifications would get you closer to that budget.

If "new" isn't as important to you, what can you do to reuse existing appliances? Can you get a vanity in a salvage yard, or an old farmhouse sink as a countertop? Experienced rehabbers use techniques like this to both save money and achieve a unique effect.

Is it even possible that all you want is to "update" what you have? That can save tons, and a lot of it is DIY level.
posted by dhartung at 9:35 PM on October 2, 2011

Thanks for the feedback guys! I can't really do any work myself, due to an injury that I have that prevents me from twisting or lifting anything more than 8 pounds.

So, looks like I will ask if paying his subs and suppliers directly will get me a discount. I will take any other suggestions people have for getting to a lower price. Like letting him hang a sign in my yard?

I am a former union organizer. I don't want to nickel and dime anyone out of getting paid fairly, I'm just looking for things I can do to save money. I have a flexible schedule, so I have time where others might not for running errands, etc. But I do have a small car, so point taken about not having the means or the chops for getting big heavy supplies home.

I did get an estimate, not a bid, sorry if I messed up my lingo. The guys came over, measured, etc and shot me back a line by line estimation of work. I am wondering if work goes smoothly or more easily than they thought, will the total be adjusted? Sorry if that is a silly question, this is my first home and I am the first in my family to own a home.
posted by dottiechang at 9:41 PM on October 2, 2011

Just to add to some of the stuff above: Buying materials yourself will probably not actually save you money, since you won't get the contractor/trade discounts. (Also, it might be really inefficient - like, you might buy a whole bag of grout, but your bathroom might only need half, and your contractor would have just used the leftovers he had from another project, thereby it costing you less.

I would ask to get receipts for all expenses so you can reimburse what was actually spent (plus an agreed upon markup), rather than an estimated bulk price.

Make not the mistakes i made: cheap labour is crap labour. Save your money on the things you will buy yourself - the vanity, toilet, tub, tile, etc are all costs you can control. Cheap out on the tub and the tile if you're going to cheap out on anything. (Cheap toilets get clogged more easily, cheap vanities/sinks often just look cheap - but if they don't, cheap out there too!)
posted by Kololo at 11:39 PM on October 2, 2011

oh, and also, it can't hurt to just ask if they can lower the price - to a certain extent, you can negotiate on the price without also negotiating on what they do for you. (Not in a nickle-and-dime way, just in a 'people negotiate these things' kind of way.) Tell them your budget, ask if they can meet it. Let THEM decide if they can do the job for the price, and if they can't, ask them to suggest things that can help you meet the price - there's a good chance they'll suggest compromises that will be better for you than if you'd suggested something.
posted by Kololo at 11:44 PM on October 2, 2011

Kololo's approach is great. I'd go with something like "I definitely want to pay you fairly, but I was expecting to pay closer to $X, so is there a way for us to get there?"
posted by slidell at 12:38 AM on October 3, 2011

The bids for a bathroom remodel would vary wildly according to what you want replaced, and what level of fixtures you want to install. A faucet can be $35 or it can be $350. Do you have confidence that they got the right impression from you about the quality/fanciness you're after?
Anything tools/supplies/consumables (paint, caulk, etc) is something they should definitely buy/handle, but the actual "items" (sink, vanity, faucets, towel racks, handles, tiles, vent fans, light fixtures, etc) you should probably look into more carefully. Try various internet sites until you find what you want. If you really don't care a whole lot about the specifics, try Craigslist (including tile leftovers from a bigger project, if the bathroom is small). yes, this will take you some time, but they're sure not going to spend their hours bargain-hunting for you.
For example, I replaced our crappy kitchen faucet with a nice Delta one off Craigslist (someone moving into a recently-built house and didn't like the builder's choice!) for $35. There wasn't a bathroom faucet I liked listed at the time, and the cheaper ones at Home Depot looked crappy, so I bought a medium-quality one from a type website for $99. If I'd told a contractor "buy me a decent faucet with these characteristics" each of those would have been $200ish at the local big-box. We chose a ready-to-assemble vanity cabinet online (arrived flat-pack like IKEA), and we probably could have found a Craigslist vanity top that would have worked, but husband was pretty decisive about what color he wanted, so we got that new.
Spend a lot of time clicking around and you can probably save quite a bit of money by buying the pieces yourself, but you'll need to double-check with the contractors before you place the order, that your choices are appropriate (doesn't save you money if they have to spend another 2 hrs running special wiring).
posted by aimedwander at 7:16 AM on October 3, 2011

Well, I talked with the contractor and didn't get anywhere. He basically said there wasn't anything I could do, short of just choosing less to do, to bring down costs and that he felt he had given me a fairly priced estimate. I asked him to help me identify things to cut to bring the cost of the project down but they were all small items and didn't add up to much.

I am going to call my second choice tomorrow and talk to him too, see if he would be more willing to work with me. My second choice is actually 10% cheaper than my first choice, but uses more subs.

Maybe I just can't afford this work now. I'd rather wait to do something how I'd like it than to just do a half fix now to make it useable . . .
posted by dottiechang at 1:35 AM on October 6, 2011

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