Getting reasonable remodeling estimates for your home improvement project is important. Nobody wants to overpay for a project.

But what if one of the estimates you get is much lower than the others? What if an estimate you get is almost too good to be true? According to one remodeling industry expert, “Remodeling horror stories often start with a great price.” Why is that?

Comparing Remodeling Estimates

Shopping for a remodeling project isn’t like purchasing a brand-name product where you get the same product no matter what retailers charge. In fact, when it comes to remodeling, comparing bids on price alone can be a costly mistake. It helps to understand the factors that affect the estimate you’ve received.

Photo of leaking roof

For example, to give a lower price, remodelers can base their estimate on lower-quality lumber, cabinets, flooring, windows, doors, and other materials and skimp on the thickness of subflooring or the amount of insulation they actually use. You won’t know this until too late – when things start to warp, fade, crack, jam, leak or squeak.

They can also base their remodeling estimates on “allowances.” But what if their allowances are for the least expensive, lowest quality products available for in lighting, counters, cabinets, flooring or plumbing fixtures. You won’t discover that the estimate covers only low-end products until you begin making your actual selections. Then, you’ll pay extra for what you thought was already included – a price that may even cost more than the “higher” estimates you received from remodelers who priced the project fairly.

Labor is a major cost for remodelers. Highly skilled carpenters, project managers, and specialty tradesmen command higher salaries than those with lesser skills. However, you’ll get a better job that runs more smoothly with a remodeler who offers a well-trained production team versus a remodeler who uses low-cost, unreliable, and less-skilled or inexperienced labor.

These practices may be unethical, but not illegal. Remodelers know many people decide who to use based on the lowest initial estimate. By using these various ways to skimp on quality or intentionally allow for quality lower than you reasonably expect remodelers can cut 30%, 50% or even more from the upfront price they give you. But not from the price you end up paying when the project is all done.

Some remodelers, cross the line further by not being licensed or even being legally recognized businesses. They may not carry workers comp. If a worker is injured on your job, you then can be liable for medical and other expenses. General business liability insurance may be missing as well leaving you on the hook. Or, they may offer to ’save you money’ by not pulling a permit or getting inspections. These things are illegal.

Some contractors may suggest you take out the permit in your name to save money. This is a RED FLAG. What they don’t tell you is this means you’ll be legally and financially responsible for the project meeting code. Wouldn’t you rather have your remodeler responsible for their work? Do you want to be on the hook for the extra costs if your project fails inspection? Plus, remodelers who take these types of shortcuts may take other shortcuts when building your project.

The bottom line is that without quality materials, skilled craftsmen, and professional project management, a remodeling project is almost guaranteed to disappoint.

Your project can become a true horror story if the project is so under-priced that the remodeler can’t finish it. In that case, you’re stuck with a half-finished project or forced to come up with more money. You may even have to find another contractor willing to “rescue” your project.

When comparing remodeling estimates and contracts, a low-priced bid could look very similar to a reasonably and honestly priced contract. On the surface, they may both describe the same project, but as you now know, the devil can be in the details. Not all remodeling estimates are highly detailed. Even if they are, you may not recognize if something is priced too low or of the wrong quality.

The best ways to protect yourself include making sure you are crystal clear with the remodeler about the details and quality you are looking for and make sure that what you asked for is priced into the proposal.

Perhaps most importantly is to make sure the remodeler you are working with is qualified, honest, has a good reputation and can show you a good track record of highly satisfied clients.

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