SHOPPING FOR A CONTRACTOR – Step 1: COMPARING PRICES



Successful residential and remodeling contractors build their reputations with satisfied customers by delivering good workmanship in a timely manner for a good price.  Consumers generally have confidence to manage their own project for timeliness and price but may find themselves in some doubt about workmanship expectations.  The most dependable approach to controlling workmanship is to get a contractor with a good reputation.

But since price is where the homeowner is likely to begin – there is one negotiation question and three possible answers that reveal the true workmanship priority of the contractor.   It is paramount that all contractors are bidding on the same plan.  If the contractor is providing the plan as well as the price to construct it, how can the homeowner compare the price offered with another contractor for the same work? If he considers himself a businessman or a designer where will his attention to workmanship come in to the picture.

Ask the contractor where to get a plans prepared from a third party that you, the consumer, can shop for comparison prices.  There are 3 possible answers to this question that are crucial to evaluating the contractor’s priorities in delivering good workmanship.

  1. He can claim he is a designer and does the plans himself, that a third party will not be needed to prepare the plans.  He could say that you will save the money that an architect or designer would charge.  Does this mean you can shop the plans he prepares to get prices from other contractors?  Is he sidestepping the question?  If so, he is manipulating the conversation so as to protect his interests, discouraging the homeowner from considering other contractors for the project.
  2. He can claim he will sketch a design and have his architect or in-house designer create the plans for permits.  In this case he may want to speak about a fee for the plans.  But if the homeowner is going to pay for the plans then the homeowner should have the right to use the plans to shop for other contractors.  Correct?  Even if the contractor does not ask for a fee for the plans he may be reluctant that you use the plans for pricing with other contractors.  It is also likely that plans prepared for free are not thoughtfully prepared, enticing the another contractor to want to offer a better plan, one that he prepares and will build for a price that cannot be compared with the first contractor’s proposal.
  3. He could encourage you to work directly with an architect or designer and to get back to him when the plan is ready to bid.  That approach is the most reputable idea.  It indicates he wants to be associated with the very best end result possible, knowing that a designer will put more time and thought into preparing the plans than he would be able to.  He also knows that it is a conflict of interest to be involved in the creating the plans since he risks omitting something from the plans that he could charge for later as a change order to his contract.

There are experts in every aspect of the building business.  Good contractors can be very helpful in the refinement of a plan prepared by an independent architect or designer.  It is good consumerism to shop for comparable prices for the construction bid from a plan prepared by someone other than one of the contractors doing the bidding. 

In the course of getting construction proposals from good contractors the consumer is simultaneously subjecting the plans to the scrutiny of construction experts that are keen to see opportunities for engineering economy.  The homeowner will have the freedom to adjust the project to any contractor’s recommendation, but that is not the same as having the contractor prepare the plans.  By allowing each expert to compete for what they do best the end result should be the greatest value to the consumer, including good workmanship. 

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  • GREGORY M. FRECH

    Urban Underbelly is a blog that seeks to share the back stories of successes and struggles in achieving the visions of New Urbanism, especially in Hampton Roads, Virginia

    New Urbanism: is a city planning and architecture movement directed at the creation and restoration of vibrant neighborhood places: centralized, sustainable, walkable and socially diverse.
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