How do I make sure I get accurate bids from contractors?

I am doing a fairly major remodel on my house in San Francisco and I've submitted the project for bidding by three general contractors. Since the bids are just estimates, how do I ensure accuracy from each? The incentives would be to bid low so that I select the low bid but then raise the price later. How do I avoid that?
  5 answers
  • Sherrie S Sherrie S on Jul 19, 2012
    I would suggest talking to people who worked with the contractor. If that is not possible then talk to someone that did a good job for you in the past. Seems to me good contractors know other contractors they trust even if the job is different. Example: My sprinkler/yardman recommended the best company for my well problem.
  • Determining the validity of the bid is difficult. The best method of choosing a contractor is not to have them tell you what they are going to do, but what your going to have them do. Many people make the mistake to simply put a set of plans in front of the contractor and say build it. They never speak about quality, materials, and all the other items that go into doing the job. Each contractor simply listens to what ever the homeowner is talking about, assumes he or she understands what is expected of them and puts a price on what they think they heard. As the job begins all of a sudden the contractor asks for more money. Why? Well you did not tell them that they had to get permits, or you wanted to check off each stage of the job, or thought another window brand was going to be used. The list reasons is endless. To get around that everything must be placed in writing. Long before you even go to bid on the job. Each contractor is to get a set of instructions on what you want, when you want it, and what is expected of them. A contracting management firm, or your architect or engineer should be able to provide this service for you. Depending upon the project being done, the contractors should be able to provide to you exactly what and how thing are handled if one thing or another comes up during the work in progress. I always explain to my clients that they should expect overages to at least 10% of the quote price if there is some sort of major renovation going on. For a simple project such as a kitchen or bath replacement and assuming plumbing and electrical is exposed. There should be very little changes in the cost past the original estimate. So if you have not awarded the contract, be sure that you read each bid carefully. Write down what every contractor is providing. Some will not say things such as brand x windows. and some will say Anderson. Make sure each bid is the same with descriptions, Where they are not, contact those who seemed to miss what ever the rest included and ask for written clarification on the item that was missed. Is is very important that everything is spelled out. From dumpster location to where they are allowed to walk in the house, are they allowed to smoke, what about parking. Once everyone has the exact same description on their bid, your ready to compare prices. If they are all about the same size company, you should expect the bids to be very close together. Contractors, regardless of what they tell you, purchase from the same suppliers in the area. Meaning their material costs are pretty much the same. The difference is who is including something that someone else missed. With a carefully written agreement, you should be able to find out what it is. Be sure to include how extras are going to be charged, how your going to handle the payments, start and anticipated stop dates, All of these items if not properly managed, can cause surprises at the end of the job. Do not accept any extras unless its written down and signed. People seem to forget that they OK'd that extra outlet or door install until they get the invoice.
  • 3po3 3po3 on Jul 19, 2012
    Great advice, Woodbridge. I will be keeping a lot of your notes in mind when I hire folks.
  • I have a book that I purchased a few years back called Partnering Guide. I purchased this from Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association in Georgia. This wonderful book has in it every job description for every trade that a contractor could ever need. Attached is a scan of one of the hundreds of addendum's for the trade contractors that I include in my estimates when bidding out a larger project where other trades are involved. All of this is included in my descriptions when I am working as a consultant for my clients projects.
  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Jul 20, 2012
    Very good advice here. I am not one to have extensive redos so I do not have any experience. But even for small jobs, I insist on every kind of insurance available....will not even talk with anyone without liability, comprehensive and workmens comp. The statement "fully insured" means NOTHING. AND have to get proof of insurance from their agent, not from them! I you are talking about intensive redo, you may want to require a performance bond be purchased. Check the better business bureau. Get your plans, make a list of what you expect to accomplish, pick out your materials, and then have an attorney write up a contract. Be sure and include things like "owner has the right to reject any materials found to be defective from boards that are crooked to blimishes on finishes. Even a simple things like requiring primer and two coats of paint to whether or not it is rolled on full strength or it is alowed or not allowed to be diluted to work in a sprayer needs to be stated. If you get thin paint, you will regret it! And you cannot be an absentee owner. You should inspect the work periodically every day. And you should have a completion date in place with any allowances for things like weather or waiting on certain items you want included to be written in the contract.
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