Thursday, March 17, 2011

General Contractors - What a Waste

Until yesterday, we had been planning on doing an FHA 203k or the aforementioned Baltimore City program to renovate the house. We want to change that god awful kitchen and add in a half bath (the current second bathroom is in the unfinished basement. I don't know about you, but I'm not all about doing my biz in a dark, damp space like a bat). We were also going to tear out the basketweave tile, subway tile, and put in a claw foot tub and shower enclosure in the upstairs bathroom and put in a privacy fence in the "back yard" (it's tiny and concrete, hence the quotes).

As part of these programs you have to get general contractors out to do estimates and all of the work has to be done by a licensed contractor. So, we got estimates.

First off, let's talk about professionalism. Some tips for you general contractors that might be reading this:

1. Don't show up in sweatpants. It does not inspire confidence and it does not make you look like you know what you're doing.
2. If you have to cancel, cancel. But call first. No one wants to waste their time waiting for someone who's not going to bother to even show.
3. If your prospective clients do not have the same last name, respect that and put both names on the correspondence.
4. Be polite, ask questions and show up with your portfolio if it's requested. Also, taking pictures is a nice touch. One contractor did that and my husband can't stop talking about them. He's so impressed we may use them for work even though we're not doing the renovation loan. They also didn't show up in sweatpants.

As of right now we only have two/three estimates back, but they are breathtakingly ridiculous. Sweatpants sent a word document, without an itemized list of what each thing we requested would cost and a ball-park figure. Without materials, we were looking at roughly 30k (our entire budget) for just demo and install.

Space-Case (the nickname for another nice, albeit spacey contractor) came back with 60k including materials. He did send out an itemized list and was very interactive with us in putting it together, but 60k?

Here are some of my favorites on the list:

Install trim in the kitchen: $690 -- I'm not sure if any of you have ever done trim work, but it's maybe $50-$100 at Lowes to buy trim and paint and another $15 for hammer and nails. You can even have Lowes cut the trim for you if you bring in the measurements. If you want to go crazy, you could throw in the cost of a nail gun, which at around $100 brings the grand total to $165-$265.

Turn sink 90 degrees: $450 -- I'm at a loss. We're already going to rip up the floor, so the cost of flooring isn't factored in, and to adjust the plumbing we just need an elbow joint (or whatever the real term is -- a plumber, I am not).

Both contractors estimated about $300-$400 per appliance to install. Having helped my parents do this when they renovated their kitchen themselves, I'm confused as to why plugging in an appliance and pushing it into the cabinet requires 400 dollars.

My biggest problem is that inherent in the inflated figures is the message that says "Because you're young and it's your first house, we're going to inflate the figures because you're too stupid to know what this really costs". Joke's on them. I was raised on this shiz. Most children have fond memories of the park or fairs or whatever, but my fondest memories are going to Lowes every weekend, hitting the Williamsburg Pottery (which sadly now, as one friend put it, looks like something out of a Stephen King novel), and playing on those gigantic, awesome carpet roles (I have to contain myself when we go to flooring places. I still want to climb all over them, but now that I'm actually an adult, I can't get away with it).

Poor Pottery. I bet there's a creepy clown hiding in the building.

Speaking of creepy clowns, this jewel was at Second Chance, Baltimore's amazzzingggggggggg reclamation store.

So moral of the story: Unless you're messing with plumbing, electrical work, or doing something so far beyond your realm of capability, general contractors are a waste of money. My husband did point out that they're good if you want to get the work done quickly, because they can dedicate a month straight to a project, whereas most people cannot. I'll cede that point, but grudgingly.

I wish I could have more sage advice, like how to get them to bring down their prices, but we're scraping this and doing most everything ourselves. We're even going to take a class on plumbing so I can figure out if an elbow joint is really called an elbow joint!

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