Design/Bid | Contracting Disclosures | Be An Informed Consumer
Getting What You Pay For


Roofing Contractor Magazine
People Get What They're Willing to Pay For

Jim Olsztynksi  Posted: August 1, 2003

It was a pleasant dinner party, hosted by the president of the company that employed my wife. He had an elegant home in a plush Chicago suburb. But the backyard was not very spacious, so the 50 or so guests mingled elbow-to-elbow on a sultry July evening while enjoying outdoor cocktails. This led to more interaction than you normally find at this kind of business-social event. Instead of spending all their time chatting with their spouse and one or two of the closest co-workers, people found themselves packed so tightly they would have been embarrassed not to make conversation with folks they were close enough to kiss.

So it occurred that at one point about 10 of us were crowded in a somewhat circular array when the chit-chat turned to a subject everyone in this affluent crowd could identify with — remodeling projects. One after another told a contractor horror story.

One lady's tale was of a sloppy painter who used the underside of new carpeting to blot up spills. Everyone else thought the story a bit funny, but the teller never smiled. Then there was the couple who were left cold by their new hot tub that took forever to fill because, I surmised, the installer connected it to the existing 1/2-inch supply piping. A professional plumber worthy of the term would know to increase the pipe size. Of course, that would add quite a bit to the cost of the project, so whether it was an amateur who didn't know any better or a pro who just decided to keep his mouth shut out of fear of a sticker shock reaction, a customer ended up poorly served.

Gripes abounded of escalating costs, of promises broken, of phone calls not returned. Someone said in an exasperated tone, "What is it with all these contractors?"

The wailing and gnashing grew continuously meaner and more unreasonable. Finally, it reached a point where I felt compelled to share my hard-won wisdom, as well as stick up for my trade buddies. Here, approximately, is what I had to say.

Cause and Effect

"I've heard enough. I write for contractor magazines and have visited hundreds of construction and remodeling jobs. Let me tell you what caused all of your bad experiences.

Competitive bidding, that's what.

"Everybody wants a first class job, but nobody wants to pay a first class price. Instead, everyone blindly follows that silly old rule about getting at least three quotes, and taking the one in the middle." (Several heads nodded.)

"That's bullbleep. Contractors have learned that the only way they can win a job is to quote a price so low they can't possibly make any money. So that's what they do. Then once they land the job, they cut corners or pile on extras in order to make a buck. Actually, they wait for the customer to pile on extras and make changes, which happens on virtually every job. Then they make their profit doing what the customer wants.

"If you insist on taking bids, don't take the one in the middle like everyone tells you to do. Most of the time you'd be better off going with the highest bidder. He's probably the only one who's built enough into the price to do the job right. You'd also be wise to invest an extra $500 to have an architect or interior designer draw up a set of plans so that everyone is bidding apples to apples.

"Better yet, don't even shop for quotes. Ask around, do some background checking, inspect some projects, but find yourself a contractor you have confidence in and let him name his price. If it's more than you can pay, ask what can be done to bring it down. But don't expect someone else to give you the same job at a lower price and then expect top-notch quality.

"You've all heard the expression, 'You get what you pay for.' None of you would go shopping for fine china in a bargain basement store. But that's what everyone seems to do when it comes to home remodeling.

"I know a lot of contractors, and as a group they are no more dishonest or incompetent than any other businessmen. It's just that competitive bidding forces them to play games even when they want to do right by the customer."