The importance of getting multiple bids

Friday, September 21, 2018

As a  Realtor, I often feel like I could easily moonlight as a general contractor. I go to so many inspections and contractor appointments that I feel pretty well-qualified to identify issues with homes and feel that I have a good grasp on what things typically cost to repair or replace.

Or so I thought!

Buying this new house has been a learning experience for me in a number of ways. I thought I had a handle on who had the best prices in town... I've culled down my list to my "best guys" for everything, and (apparently) naively assumed they were the best priced, since I'd seen so many other quotes over the last few years that were higher. Well, my list of "best guys" has drastically changed now that I'm getting these quotes and seeing them first hand for myself.

We have a few, really big projects planned at our new house that we've gotten about 4 quotes each for. Buying a new house is expensive in general, and the work we  want to do isn't small potatoes either. We've been diligent about saving, but I want to make sure we stretch our budget as best as possible and are responsible with the choices we make.

One of the bigger expenses we're taking on right away is replacing the flooring in the house. Other than the kitchen floor, which we've decided to leave for now, we're replacing all the flooring in the house before we move in.  The carpet covering the first and second floor is almost 35 years old, worn down, ripped, and stained with crud and paint. It neeeeeds to go. After weighing the pros and cons of leaving it, we decided it's less expensive and less disruptive to our life to just take care of it before we move into the home.

Here's what our floor currently looks like, and the inspiration image for what we want it to be and had quoted:


Over the last couple weeks, I had four different flooring experts come to the house to measure and provide a quote. I had them all price out the same exact floor -- I want site finished, white oak flooring, stained and sealed with a DuraSeal Provincial III  stain (more on the floors later), and wanted to know their price for about 600 square feet, plus a stair case and hallway, with new carpet upstairs. All of the variable factors were the same for each quote - same square footage, same material, same timeline.  The only thing that could have differed was the cost of the vendor's labor and you know what I found? The range of bids I got back varied by over six.thousand.dollars.

Y'all. I couldn't believe it! I was blown away by the spread of this pricing, but ultimately we're really happy with our choice. We've chosen a smaller company that specializes in flooring, and was a  personal referral from a friend who builds homes. I had assumed the bigger shops have the best pricing, and that's why they're big.... nope. Lesson learned.

My second big pricing surprise was when we were getting bids to convert our existing deck into a  screened in porch. This project is harder to price for a number of reasons. Primarily, there is a ton of variance in cost based on the style of the roofline, the materials you choose, and if you're going to make structural changes to the deck itself. I tried to eliminate as much variability as possible for these quotes, but of the four bids I received, there was a variance of over fifteen thousand dollars.

Some of this variance came from the contractors' opinion of what would need to be updated and brought to current code, and throwing in a few things we didn't ask for like wiring for a ceiling fan, but the majority of it comes down to the cost of the labor alone! All of these guys  are experienced deck builders and have the qualifications to do the job right, so it's  not like we called Joe Schmo from Craigslist to come out and he undercut everyone. There's just that much variability in the cost of labor.

Here's the view of the back of our new house, and the inspiration image I showed the contractors for quoting:

Fun fact, we learned this kind of roof line is called a Studio roof, and is about $2-3K less expensive than a gabled roof across the board. While the gabled roofs are pretty, we're going with the studio option since we care more about function than form in our backyard. 

Ok, so here's the thing. If all four bids for the porch had been within the same range, it wouldn't have deterred us from doing this project. Having a screen porch is necessary for us. We both hate mosquitos, and find ourselves not wanting to be outside during the summer when Durham turns into Mosquito City,  but I definitely don't want to spend more than I have to on an improvement to my home. I'm all for fair pricing, fair wages, and honoring people's skilled labor with fair pay for work I can't do myself. But I am  so, so,  glad I have learned this lesson myself, because it not only helps me personally, but also my clients when they need similar help in the future!

I don't need to go into detail about the circumstance of every single bid, so I'll bullet the range differences below for the other things I've had quoted for this home. After the last 2 weeks,  I'm a quoting machine!

Moving expenses:  Range for quotes of the same list of inventory with reputable, national and local moving companies: $3000.00-$975.00

Replacing water heater: Range for quotes from 3 plumbers and the local gas company: $2100.00-$850.00 (the gas company had the best price, and I had no idea they even replaced water heaters!)

Painting the house: Range of quotes from licensed contractors and house painters $8000.00  - $4000.00

I did the math,  and if I had gone with the first bid for each of these projects, I could have spent over $35,000 more for the same work (!), than I will with the vendors I've chosen. That is unbelievable to me. I have definitely solidified the importance in my mind about getting multiple quotes, and hope that's helpful encouragement for you, too.

I will also add that getting all these bids took up a lot of time, and I'm lucky to have a job with the flexibility to manage all of these appointments. But, to me, spending the time getting these bids is 1000% worth it in the end when I can be confident I am getting the best, most fair price for the work I want done.

Until then, I cannot *wait* for closing day when we can finally pull up that narsty carpet and start turning this house into our home!

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