Imagine walking into a car dealership and asking the salesperson for a price on a “white medium-sized car.” It would be a silly request, of course, unless you told the salesman the exact make, model, options, and accessories you wanted. Yet many people try to get competitive quotes from contractors for their remodeling project, based on nothing more than a vague verbal description, or some rough sketches.
Most reputable contractors will refuse to quote a price without complete plans and specifications. Some, though, in their eagerness to please their customers, may attempt a “guesstimate,” which will probably be optimistic. Hiring the contractor who has the lowest “guesstimate” is asking for trouble.
The problem with prices based on verbal descriptions and rough sketches is that so much information is left out, no matter how clearly you think you’re expressing yourself, the contractor is forced into making many assumptions about what you want. There’s a good chance that the contractor will guess wrong in some cases, causing either unhappiness with the results, or costly extras during construction to make changes.
The only way to make sure that you get an accurate apples-to-apples comparison between prices is to make sure that the prices are based on a complete and thorough set of plans and specifications.
How complete is complete? Ideally, items should be identified down to the door hinges. Plumbing fixtures and faucetry need to be identified by manufacturer, model number and finish. Specific tile should picked out.
Identifying seemingly picky items like these, however, can often avoid hundreds or even thousands of dollars of difference in bid prices, due to mistaken assumptions. A “builder’s grade” brass door hinge might cost $3/hinge. The nice Baldwin brass hinge that you actually want might cost $23. Multiply 3 hinges per door times 10 doors, and you can see that you could be looking at $600 of misunderstanding on the door hinges alone.
To get accurate bids, you need both drawings and specifications. Most people are familiar with drawings, often called “blueprints.” These show the locations of the various items in the project, as well as the details of how they get built.
But in addition to drawings, you will also need specifications. Specifications outline not only the specific products you want installed, but also the quality level that you are expecting.
For example, while the drawings might show the location of a generic toilet, the specifications would define the toilet as a “Kohler Rialto, model #K-3386, color: Wild Rose, with brushed gold trip lever.” The specifications might also require sealant around the base of the toilet and that the water supply pipes be copper.
Without these specifications, you’d likely end up with a price for a basic white toilet purchased from the building supply store. Specifications also deal with issues such as: Will the walls be smooth or have a spray texture (cheaper)? How many coats and what type of paint will be included in the bid? Will the windows have low-e (energy efficient) coatings on the glass? What kind of a warranty do you expect on the roofing? And many other items!
Leaving out information like this when you get a bid will probably force you into compromises during construction, unless you have plenty of spare money, or trying to prove to a contractor that he should have known what you wanted.
It’s much cheaper in the long run to document the scope of the work thoroughly before construction starts. Although a full set of plans, done by a professional, may seem initially more costly and take more time, they will pay off in peace of mind and a smoother job. You’ll know that the bids included exactly what you wanted, and that expensive misunderstandings between you and your contractor will be kept to a minimum.