Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

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Call_Me_Op
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Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Call_Me_Op »

It seems that whenever I contract some work to be done on my house, the contractor's quote is much higher than I had predicted. My predictions are based upon the contractor's stated hourly labor rate, the number of hours required to do the work, the wholesale cost of materials, a modest (say 20%) mark-up on the materials, and then a 5% tax.

For example, I recently received a quote for installation of a condensate drain for my hot water boiler exhaust. I was told by the plumbing company that it would take an hour maximum and labor rate is $104 per hour. The parts required are a drain T, condensate pump, and tubing. There is also an electrical outlet that needs to be added (which I was told is a $150 cost). Condensate pumps can be found for $50 that have plenty of capacity. Here is my estimate of a fair price. Parts include 20% mark-up.

Labor - $104
Drain Tee - $60
Pump + tubing - $60
Electric Outlet - $150
Tax = $19
----------------------------------
Total = $393

My estimate is $393. The contractor quoted me $655 for this job.


I guess my fundamental question is should I insist on him itemizing or will this just make him angry? My gut is that things are marked-up arbitrarily because I live in an expensive area.
Best regards, -Op | | "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Einstein
spectec
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by spectec »

If your estimates are considerably under the quotes, then you are probably using some wrong assumptions. It couild be that the charges are higher based on your location, but it could also be that you are omitting important details. For example, is there a trip charge (either stated or assumed)? Is there a minimum the plumber charges for any project, aside from the 1-hour minimum for labor?

In any event, who cares if the person giving you the quote gets offended if you ask for detail? Unless he is the only plumber in town, you can keep asking others until you get someone to give you quotes in the format you like. Of course, it's a universally bad idea to simply go with the lowest quote, but that's another issue.
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carolinaman
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by carolinaman »

I would tell him that his price is much higher than what I estimated which was $393. Can he explain the difference? This gives him the opportunity to reduce his price to a more acceptable amount. Also, you should get additional quotes from a couple of other contractors before deciding. When contractors realize they are competing with other contractors, that tends to sharpen their pencil.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Call_Me_Op »

carolina,

Good point on the competition thing. Thanks.
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stan1
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by stan1 »

Do it yourself if you think you are paying too much for a contractor to do the work. You may also need to factor in commute time into the rate (yes, they can and do charge for commute time).

Right now in many parts of the country the contractor/home improvement business is doing very well so don't expect low ball bids from contractors who do good work (or from those who do bad work). They don't need to bid low to feed their families. Now if there's a recession in 2017 as some pundits are predicting you may be able to get good work done at a low price in 2018.
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Call_Me_Op
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Call_Me_Op »

stan1 wrote:Do it yourself if you think you are paying too much for a contractor to do the work.
Technically, this work requires a licensed plumber (by law), since it involves critical safety systems and CO dangers.
Best regards, -Op | | "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Einstein
adamthesmythe
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by adamthesmythe »

I buy a service, not a list of parts and tasks. Some things I do myself. Other things, I decide whether the price is acceptable.

If I feel a price is too high, I might say that and give the guy a chance to respond. Either he comes down or not; he will come down if he has the flexibility and wants the work, not because I prove to him his price is too high.
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cheese_breath
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by cheese_breath »

This is one reason why you should get multiple quotes. Your contractor may be out of the ballpark, or you may be. Additional quotes should help you decide which one.
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ralph124cf
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by ralph124cf »

For a job under $1,000 I am willing to accept a non-itemized quote, although itemized is usually better.

Sometimes in an itemized quote or bill you will find an extreme math error. One time I was quoted a drain cleanout based on yards of cable used. The service person measured the feet of the run(75) and then multiplied by three to get 275 yards. When I pointed out the error, he said "but that's the way we always do it".

In any case, I normally prefer a time and materials bid, with the work being done when I am present. Most tradesmen like to show-off their good work, but when they have made a firm bid, will work as fast as possible and do the minimum possible. Also, if you don't like the work being done,with a time and material bid, you can call a stop work at any time and hire somebody else.

Ralph
WhyNotUs
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by WhyNotUs »

When someone makes a bid they need to cover themselves for problems. One can suggest a time and materials basis if they want to shift that risk to themselves.
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Call_Me_Op
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Call_Me_Op »

Thanks all. Turns-out that heating contractors here are very busy with rebate installs right now. One company turned down quoting on my job because they are so busy. I am going with the original quote I received because I have a history with the company and they have always done well by me.
Best regards, -Op | | "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Einstein
Mingus
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Mingus »

Call_Me_Op wrote:
Labor - $104
Drain Tee - $60
Pump + tubing - $60
Electric Outlet - $150
Tax = $19
----------------------------------
Total = $393

My estimate is $393. The contractor quoted me $655 for this job.


I guess my fundamental question is should I insist on him itemizing or will this just make him angry? My gut is that things are marked-up arbitrarily because I live in an expensive area.
You're forgetting overhead, which I don't think is included in the $104/hr labor charge

That includes: Owners pay, secretary's salary, gas, tires, and maintenance for the plumbing van, electricity and heating at the shop, facility lease or rent payment, etc..

Plumbers are expensive!
ralph124cf
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by ralph124cf »

Mingus wrote:
Call_Me_Op wrote:
Labor - $104
Drain Tee - $60
Pump + tubing - $60
Electric Outlet - $150
Tax = $19
----------------------------------
Total = $393

My estimate is $393. The contractor quoted me $655 for this job.


I guess my fundamental question is should I insist on him itemizing or will this just make him angry? My gut is that things are marked-up arbitrarily because I live in an expensive area.
You're forgetting overhead, which I don't think is included in the $104/hr labor charge

That includes: Owners pay, secretary's salary, gas, tires, and maintenance for the plumbing van, electricity and heating at the shop, facility lease or rent payment, etc..

Plumbers are expensive!
I'm going to disagree about the overhead not being included in the $104/hr.

If the plumber is willing to work on a time and materials basis for $104/hr, then clearly the $104 covers overhead.

When a boss hires a plumber and sends him out on a job, the boss collects the $104/hr, but definitely does not pay the employee $104/hr.

Ralph
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whaleknives
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by whaleknives »

As carolinaman and cheese_breath noted, you avoid questions about high quotes by getting more than one. And it's more important to specify the details of the work you want than to know the cost of each detail.

Arguing with a contractor over an estimate reminds me of body repair estimates from Allstate adjusters. You can take their estimate, but you can't find a shop willing to do the work at that price. In fact, you start seeing signs saying "No work done to Allstate estimates!" :)
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Mingus
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Mingus »

ralph124cf wrote:


I'm going to disagree about the overhead not being included in the $104/hr.

If the plumber is willing to work on a time and materials basis for $104/hr, then clearly the $104 covers overhead.

When a boss hires a plumber and sends him out on a job, the boss collects the $104/hr, but definitely does not pay the employee $104/hr.

Ralph


Maybe plumbers also work on commission. The more they can charge the customer, the bigger their paycheck beyond their hourly pay.

The 104/hr does not include materials.
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nedsaid
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by nedsaid »

My guess is that your plumber is marking up your plumbing parts. Auto mechanics do that too. You also have to consider their overhead and cost and time of getting back and forth to your home.

If you have a choice between a plumber who operates out of his truck and a little home office and one whose business is in a beautiful large building, probably the one with the little home office will charge you lower rates. You aren't having to pay for a fancy building.
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daveatca
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Itemize? Maybe.

Post by daveatca »

For $393, don't be silly.
For $39,300, down to gnat's eyeball.
denovo
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by denovo »

cheese_breath wrote:This is one reason why you should get multiple quotes. Your contractor may be out of the ballpark, or you may be. Additional quotes should help you decide which one.

Yes, trying to itemize and nitpick over every line item is time-consuming and futile. You don't know the details of the work. I see you've already decided, but in the future get a few bids and make sure when you compare that the scope of the work is the same i.e. that Contractor A and B's quote both include the outlet.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by dbCooperAir »

Call_Me_Op wrote:
stan1 wrote:Do it yourself if you think you are paying too much for a contractor to do the work.
Technically, this work requires a licensed plumber (by law), since it involves critical safety systems and CO dangers.
This is area dependent, a fair number of jurisdictions will allow the homeowner to do the work, actually I think its safer to allow homeowners to such work. If a homeowner was not allowed to do such work a lot of work would go not inspected and get done without a permit.

I'm not a licensed HVAC/Plumbing contractor but last year was able to get a permit to install a new furnace as an example.I still had to pressure test the gas connections, etc. like any other contractor. From what I have seen the inspectors are much tougher on homeowner installs compared to contractor installs. I'm lucky enough to see this work every day, some of the work I see done by contractors is appalling, how some of this work passes inspection is beyond me.

Electrically we are state inspected, a homeowner can do that work with a permit. Some cites will pass a ordinance to not allow but in a nut shell you can tell the city to pound sand.

My city is friendly to the homeowner, when I did our addition we were able to do all the work ourselves. I did have to prove all the point loads, energy code calcs, elevations, footing calcs etc. with a full set of drawings that they reviewed before they would issue a permit. They asked for more information then they would have from a typical builder but in this case I agree with the city, a little test of the homeowners capability is not a bad thing.
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Rodc
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Rodc »

I think you will find that they give you a price based on whatever they want which is their right.

Your right is to accept or decline.

Most do not haggle, though you can decrease scope in some cases.
We live a world with knowledge of the future markets has less than one significant figure. And people will still and always demand answers to three significant digits.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by snackdog »

I very much prefer to work with contractors who provide a labor rate, bill me for actual hours, and itemize parts provided. My electrician does this and I have no issue with it.

When getting bids on jobs, I frequently get a single figure with no breakdown. When I ask for and can get a breakdown of labor time, they say nonsense like "if the job takes less time, we will use the extra money for other costs but if it takes more we will eat it". A plumbing company came up with this one when I asked if it would really take 3.0 hours to install a gas valve next to my outdoor meter. I imagine that includes at least an hour of commute time plus the time already invested to bid on the job. Another bid was made without a visit to scope out the job which seems fraught with peril for all parties.

The other thing that gets under my skin is when they won't specify, in advance, the particulars of what is to be installed, ie part manufacturer and model number. Should I not be able to understand what is being offered before it is installed? Vendors seem reluctant to provide this out of fear clients will google the part and see the online cost. I don't care if they have some markup, but I need to know what is being installed before I commit. in the worst case, I have had HVAC vendors provide only the capacity of the system to be installed, but no mfg or model info. Terrible.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Sandtrap »

Call_Me_Op wrote: Thu Oct 15, 2015 5:44 am It seems that whenever I contract some work to be done on my house, the contractor's quote is much higher than I had predicted. My predictions are based upon the contractor's stated hourly labor rate, the number of hours required to do the work, the wholesale cost of materials, a modest (say 20%) mark-up on the materials, and then a 5% tax.

For example, I recently received a quote for installation of a condensate drain for my hot water boiler exhaust. I was told by the plumbing company that it would take an hour maximum and labor rate is $104 per hour. The parts required are a drain T, condensate pump, and tubing. There is also an electrical outlet that needs to be added (which I was told is a $150 cost). Condensate pumps can be found for $50 that have plenty of capacity. Here is my estimate of a fair price. Parts include 20% mark-up.

Labor - $104
Drain Tee - $60
Pump + tubing - $60
Electric Outlet - $150
Tax = $19
----------------------------------
Total = $393

My estimate is $393. The contractor quoted me $655 for this job.


I guess my fundamental question is should I insist on him itemizing or will this just make him angry? My gut is that things are marked-up arbitrarily because I live in an expensive area.
In general, Contractors can bid on a project "Lump Sum", or "T & M" (Time and Materials).
Either can be itemized in a general way or detailed, or broken down in phases of the project if it is complex and/or large.

Plumbers and Electricians and HVAC Contractors, etc, can specialize more in "Service Work" or "New Installation" or "New Builds".
For example: An 1 person Electrician with a Van can specialize in "Service Work" which is repair or modification or addition to existing electrical systems. Or, specialize only in New Home or New Commercial Construction builds.
Most Homeowners encounter more often, contractors that do "service work".
Here's the pricing is often more along the line of a "T & M" job.

But, as always, it depends on the project and the contractor.
Some, more informal contractors, just look at a small job, like a water heater replacement or whatever, and give a lump sum price with a "very general" breakdown for the homeowner, if at all. So, if the Electrical Outlet is charged at $150, it's for the entirety of putting it in and also some of it might be spread elsewhere.
Or, there might just be a lump sum price for small jobs because more than that is a hassle to that contractor if he's really busy. So, he might just have standard, sort of, fees for wiring a water heater, changing out a breaker, or installing a plumbing fixture, etc.

Like buying a car, it is best just to focus on the "OTD" (Out the Door Price). How much are you paying out of pocket for the entirety of the project, no matter the breakdown. And, compare the same project between contractors estimates.

Homeowners often take a contractor's estimate and break down the prices in this way.
Home Depot (4 electrical outlets at $2 each = $8)
Reasonable hourly rate for an electrician = $50/hour (just an example).
Time to change 4 outlets = 1 hour
Total price for the project = $58

But, there's more to things than that so sometimes, not always, the homeowner's price breakdown is from a lay person's point of view, whereas the contractors breakdown is based on "his" and "only his" past experience putting in electrical outlets for 30 years and how much he has to charge to make it worth his time and effort, etc, and stay in business, and feed his family.

See?

And, the price, for example, to fix or replace a toilet, will be different, if done by a General Contractor, one person licensed plumber with a van doing service work, a plumbing "company" with a fleet of vans/trucks and employees, a family run plumbing company with 3 vans, and so forth.

This is why it's so important to get at least 3 estimates from reputable licensed contractors with on site visits by each and written detailed estimates given by each. Then, choose the contractor on the basis of best price (not always the lowest) and the best quality work and so forth, unto itself, while taking into consideration one's own estimates of what the project should cost. But, as you do want the work to be done, you still have to choose amongst the contractors to do the work, unless it is a DIY of course.

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Californiastate
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Californiastate »

This is why I never liked to contract to retail customers. Most are reasonable but some are nightmares who believe they deserve a Cadillac for Yugo pricing. I predominantly worked for GCs who wanted a good job at a reasonable price. I bent over backwards to make sure they were taken care of all of the time. They paid on time. I discarded the rest or provided huge mark ups on their quotes.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by winterfan »

We've only used contractors a couple times on our house. They didn't itemize and I never thought to ask. The costs were in line with what I expected though. I have someone coming out today to give me a quote to have a gate and fence installed. I know if we did the work ourselves, the materials would cost around 3K. I'm guessing the estimate will be around 10K? Of course, the contractor said they are backlogged about 5 months, so maybe there will be a premium added on because they have so much business. If it's less than $10K, I'll be pleasantly surprised. My guess is the job will be north of $12K.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by lthenderson »

Call_Me_Op wrote: Thu Oct 15, 2015 5:44 am Labor - $104
Drain Tee - $60
Pump + tubing - $60
Electric Outlet - $150
Tax = $19
----------------------------------
Total = $393

My estimate is $393. The contractor quoted me $655 for this job.
The thing I see most home owners forget is opportunity cost. If a plumber has a choice of spending the entire work day at one site or trying to find a handful of small jobs like the one above to equal what they will make at the entire day worksite, they are going to choose the entire day worksite. In order to make small jobs like that worthwhile, they are going to add padding to it to compensate for having to travel between multiple worksites, unload and unload their tools multiple times, work around the complicated schedules of home owners wanting to be there, etc.

I recently remodeled an entire kitchen and had a plumber on site for three days. His per hour bill was much much more reasonable than the plumber I had install my last water heater on a per hour basis.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Patzer »

Itemization isn't really the issue here.
He could itemize and have a 70% part markup and you would be just as unsatisfied with the price.
The issue is you have a price you want and they are nowhere near it.

I found from my years running an HOA that contractors are usually ~10% flexible in price without taking it personally.
When I have negotiated down significantly, i.e. 20-30%, the contractors usually performed poorly or took a very long time to get around to the job.

If he was a little above your price, I would suggest asking him to come down 10%.
Since you want a 40% reduction to be happy, I would suggest just using a different contractor, and maybe even anchoring the next contractors estimate by suggesting you are looking for bids in the $350-450 range. If someone still gives you a much higher bid after anchoring with that, then your idea of a fair price is probably wrong for your market.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Mr. Rumples »

In a word: No. I have pretty much used the same contractor for over 30 years - except when I lived out of state of course. They have a book of prices and that's it. It will include what they need. In the past, when they find its more complex and need more parts, they honor the quote. If the work takes less time, they throw in extras. By that I mean, one job was done fast so their electrician hung some light fixtures for me (with a health issue, I am not suppose to get on ladders). Another time, the HVAC guy was done fast and then he fixed the dishwasher for me.

As a long term customer, I learned that if I wait over 30 days, they will come down on the price a bit. I have used my status as a long term customer to even dicker them down further, but I am switching however after 30 years since a relative is now working for their competitor and I will get family/employee rates.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by adamthesmythe »

I look at the price for the total job, and make a decision based on that. I don't care how they break it down, mentally or on paper.

Almost all contractors add a markup on parts (if they itemize).

Personally I do what I can myself and hire if (1) I'm not sure how (2) it's messy (3) it is excessively tedious or (4) it will probably involve too many trips to the hardware store.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by JackoC »

We have a 'go to' plumber for work on our house, to whom we are 'loyal customer' (so for example probably got us our new furnace after Sandy some days earlier than otherwise, when many/most houses around here needed a new furnace after flooding). I go sole source with him and don't haggle on small jobs like the one mentioned, though I know his prices are not the lowest. We own rental properties and sometimes use other plumbers on those, though actually when we've been over a barrel on rental property (heating system failure where pipe freeze is imminent) this guy hasn't taken advantage as much as some others we've gotten quotes from, so won some jobs on price. But in general there are really three choices,
1) accept the price
2) haggle. 'Itemization' is really just a gambit in haggling (though sometimes a tax difference on a rental property if some items of the job are 'repair' and some are 'capital improvement'). Otherwise who cares how it itemizes?
3)get more quotes.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Monsterflockster »

Call_Me_Op wrote: Thu Oct 15, 2015 5:44 am It seems that whenever I contract some work to be done on my house, the contractor's quote is much higher than I had predicted. My predictions are based upon the contractor's stated hourly labor rate, the number of hours required to do the work, the wholesale cost of materials, a modest (say 20%) mark-up on the materials, and then a 5% tax.

For example, I recently received a quote for installation of a condensate drain for my hot water boiler exhaust. I was told by the plumbing company that it would take an hour maximum and labor rate is $104 per hour. The parts required are a drain T, condensate pump, and tubing. There is also an electrical outlet that needs to be added (which I was told is a $150 cost). Condensate pumps can be found for $50 that have plenty of capacity. Here is my estimate of a fair price. Parts include 20% mark-up.

Labor - $104
Drain Tee - $60
Pump + tubing - $60
Electric Outlet - $150
Tax = $19
----------------------------------
Total = $393

My estimate is $393. The contractor quoted me $655 for this job.


I guess my fundamental question is should I insist on him itemizing or will this just make him angry? My gut is that things are marked-up arbitrarily because I live in an expensive area.
If there is any complexity to the job you are also paying time for travel, to go to the store, work off site, etc. A lot more goes into a project than what you see on-site.

I had a small project that had a 4K cost. It was due to labor and the fact it needed to be done over multiple days and required building materials. All things he had to pay his crew for (going back and forth, etc.).
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by tibbitts »

Call_Me_Op wrote: Thu Oct 15, 2015 5:44 am It seems that whenever I contract some work to be done on my house, the contractor's quote is much higher than I had predicted.
Not knowing the specifics of the installation the price sounds reasonable, or at least in-range. It seems like for little (sub-$1k or so) jobs like this it's pretty hard to get actual estimates, so that you even got one is probably a relatively good sign.

I don't think I'd be an investor if you decide to go into the plumbing and electrical business, incidentally. But I might use your services.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by ponyboy »

OP sounds like my friend who over analyzes everything when it comes to renovations. He'll get quotes then complain about each one, then do a cost analysis on what items cost. He typically goes with the cheaper contractor then has a headache throughout the entire process on how terrible the work is. Yeah dude, you're too cheap to get someone that knows what they're doing.

If you want to break down every single item being used, then diy. You're not factoring in their overhead. They have tools you do not. They are licensed, you are not. They pay for insurance on their company, you do not. Also, you're paying for their expertise. If you want to save money, do it yourself, its as simple as that.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by sc9182 »

If insurance is involved anyway ** - yes, your invoice/work-order need to show breakdown which matches (don’t exceed) the insurance line items, and tax. If it doesn’t — you be in for lot or mess !! As insurance happily “seals” low priced line items - and beats down high-prices line-items to what “max” they allow !! Do it right the first time !!

** OP May not have mentioned insurance involved in this process - but sharing this piece of wisdom on the line-item break-down of topic .
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El Greco
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by El Greco »

Itemize? I'm just happy if they show up.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by sureshoe »

Call_Me_Op wrote: Thu Oct 15, 2015 5:44 am It seems that whenever I contract some work to be done on my house, the contractor's quote is much higher than I had predicted. My predictions are based upon the contractor's stated hourly labor rate, the number of hours required to do the work, the wholesale cost of materials, a modest (say 20%) mark-up on the materials, and then a 5% tax.

For example, I recently received a quote for installation of a condensate drain for my hot water boiler exhaust. I was told by the plumbing company that it would take an hour maximum and labor rate is $104 per hour. The parts required are a drain T, condensate pump, and tubing. There is also an electrical outlet that needs to be added (which I was told is a $150 cost). Condensate pumps can be found for $50 that have plenty of capacity. Here is my estimate of a fair price. Parts include 20% mark-up.

Labor - $104
Drain Tee - $60
Pump + tubing - $60
Electric Outlet - $150
Tax = $19
----------------------------------
Total = $393

My estimate is $393. The contractor quoted me $655 for this job.


I guess my fundamental question is should I insist on him itemizing or will this just make him angry? My gut is that things are marked-up arbitrarily because I live in an expensive area.
Despite the feedback above, I think it's fair to ask for a breakdown. If you start nickel and diming, then you might be wasting time. If the real price is 66% more than your estimate, I think it's reasonable. Here's what I'll tell you - if the place you're using is a company/franchise, you're going to pay a 40-50% markup compared to an independent owner/operator.

Give you an example, there is a company in Cincinnati called HELP who does plumbing, heating, etc. They employ technicians, so they're carrying cost and risk. If they quote a faucet install or electric outlet, it's going to be $250-$300. If you call Joe's Plumbing, Joe will come out and do it for $150.

But - like someone else above mentioned, Joe doesn't always show up on time. When you overpay, people show up.

I just got a very big quote and I'm going through that now.
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hand
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by hand »

No contractor wants to go through the hassle of itemizing for a $500 job - majority of the cost is likely a trip charge (which you didn't appear to include in your itemized list.

If you want to drive down cost, get a couple of other quotes, but make sure you focus on quality as well as cost...
RobLyons
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by RobLyons »

Never.
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phxjcc
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by phxjcc »

Sandtrap wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 7:49 am
Call_Me_Op wrote: Thu Oct 15, 2015 5:44 am It seems that whenever I contract some work to be done on my house, the contractor's quote is much higher than I had predicted. My predictions are based upon the contractor's stated hourly labor rate, the number of hours required to do the work, the wholesale cost of materials, a modest (say 20%) mark-up on the materials, and then a 5% tax.

For example, I recently received a quote for installation of a condensate drain for my hot water boiler exhaust. I was told by the plumbing company that it would take an hour maximum and labor rate is $104 per hour. The parts required are a drain T, condensate pump, and tubing. There is also an electrical outlet that needs to be added (which I was told is a $150 cost). Condensate pumps can be found for $50 that have plenty of capacity. Here is my estimate of a fair price. Parts include 20% mark-up.

Labor - $104
Drain Tee - $60
Pump + tubing - $60
Electric Outlet - $150
Tax = $19
----------------------------------
Total = $393

My estimate is $393. The contractor quoted me $655 for this job.


I guess my fundamental question is should I insist on him itemizing or will this just make him angry? My gut is that things are marked-up arbitrarily because I live in an expensive area.
In general, Contractors can bid on a project "Lump Sum", or "T & M" (Time and Materials).
Either can be itemized in a general way or detailed, or broken down in phases of the project if it is complex and/or large.

Plumbers and Electricians and HVAC Contractors, etc, can specialize more in "Service Work" or "New Installation" or "New Builds".
For example: An 1 person Electrician with a Van can specialize in "Service Work" which is repair or modification or addition to existing electrical systems. Or, specialize only in New Home or New Commercial Construction builds.
Most Homeowners encounter more often, contractors that do "service work".
Here's the pricing is often more along the line of a "T & M" job.

But, as always, it depends on the project and the contractor.
Some, more informal contractors, just look at a small job, like a water heater replacement or whatever, and give a lump sum price with a "very general" breakdown for the homeowner, if at all. So, if the Electrical Outlet is charged at $150, it's for the entirety of putting it in and also some of it might be spread elsewhere.
Or, there might just be a lump sum price for small jobs because more than that is a hassle to that contractor if he's really busy. So, he might just have standard, sort of, fees for wiring a water heater, changing out a breaker, or installing a plumbing fixture, etc.

Like buying a car, it is best just to focus on the "OTD" (Out the Door Price). How much are you paying out of pocket for the entirety of the project, no matter the breakdown. And, compare the same project between contractors estimates.

Homeowners often take a contractor's estimate and break down the prices in this way.
Home Depot (4 electrical outlets at $2 each = $8)
Reasonable hourly rate for an electrician = $50/hour (just an example).
Time to change 4 outlets = 1 hour
Total price for the project = $58

But, there's more to things than that so sometimes, not always, the homeowner's price breakdown is from a lay person's point of view, whereas the contractors breakdown is based on "his" and "only his" past experience putting in electrical outlets for 30 years and how much he has to charge to make it worth his time and effort, etc, and stay in business, and feed his family.

See?

And, the price, for example, to fix or replace a toilet, will be different, if done by a General Contractor, one person licensed plumber with a van doing service work, a plumbing "company" with a fleet of vans/trucks and employees, a family run plumbing company with 3 vans, and so forth.

This is why it's so important to get at least 3 estimates from reputable licensed contractors with on site visits by each and written detailed estimates given by each. Then, choose the contractor on the basis of best price (not always the lowest) and the best quality work and so forth, unto itself, while taking into consideration one's own estimates of what the project should cost. But, as you do want the work to be done, you still have to choose amongst the contractors to do the work, unless it is a DIY of course.

j :D
^^Listen to this advice.
tibbitts
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by tibbitts »

phxjcc wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 2:06 pm ^^Listen to this advice.
Well, except that it isn't always possible to get multiple actual estimates (vs. non-committal guesses from a distance, maybe) for a few-hundred-dollar job. Actually it often may not be possible to get even one.
Broken Man 1999
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Broken Man 1999 »

I do not ask for an itemized bill from contractors.

In remodels we usually furnish fixtures. The contract lays out what we need to furnish to be installed, like faucets, cabinet hardware, etc..

I also do not furnish parts to mechanics to install on our van. My part fails, it is on me. Their part fails, it is on them.

Our trades people know I respect their craftsmanship, and that I won't haggle with them or nickel and dime them. We have used some for decades. They like working with me, and I like the quality of work they put into our jobs.

Sometimes I get preferential treatment if they get booked up, they find a way to help us.

Win-win for both of us.

Broken Man 1999
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Morris
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Morris »

Labor isn't the time they spend at your house down to the minute, they need to bill 8 hours a day somewhere, so you are going to be paying driving time between jobs. I personally only bill in 4 or 8 hour blocks for the specialized work I do in an urban area. When I'm in a rural area I bill in 2 or 4 hour blocks depending on where the customer is. Parts markup is a straight 30%.

Also, when you are asking for a quote in advance they aren't quoting you the best case scenario, they are quoting you the *worst* case scenario because you are almost always going to get in trouble somewhere and things will never go as planned. You will save money with a time and material bill from a contractor you trust, but I wouldn't do it unless you actually trust them.
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cashboy
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by cashboy »

yes.

after a couple of bad contractor experiences with just a 'number' i now ask for an itemized estimate. i find that eliminates many of the questionable contractors that just pull a number out of their ***.

YMMV, but a reputable contractor should be able to provide a detailed estimate.
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Monsterflockster
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Monsterflockster »

El Greco wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 12:38 pm Itemize? I'm just happy if they show up.
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vested1
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by vested1 »

Three in person quotes in our location would be impossible, especially since only about 10% of the contractors I've called actually answer their phones or return a call when I leave them a voicemail. Good contractors are like the sellers of single family homes right now. They know what they offer is in great demand. The trick is finding one that you trust.

I always put in the effort to pick out all the materials and order them myself, wholesale if possible, so I know what they cost. We're expanding/replacing the master shower right now so I picked out all the fixtures and the porcelain tile. I told the contractor which wall to move, where to put the can light, what type of drain I wanted, the size and location of the alcove, the accent tile, the floor tile, told him to use the aluminum trim I picked out instead of bullnose,and how I want the rotating glass doors designed. I'm retired so I have the time to watch their work and to give a suggestion when I think something could be done better. Believe it or not, this is appreciated because it saves them time and doesn't make them guess what I want.

We're also replacing the basement floor, and had 7k of unexpected costs when demolition uncovered problems that had to be fixed. Unlike home improvement shows where customers complain out of ignorance, I didn't blame the contractor for the problem or the extra cost. Again, I picked out and ordered all the material at wholesale.

I always coach a suggestion keeping in mind that I may be off base and deferring to them if I am. I apologize if I waste their time. I accept any extra cost for any delay I caused. I compliment their work regularly if they deserve it. I always tip their help. These small efforts compel the contractor and their workers to do a better job.

Some customers think of the job only in terms of what is being done on site, and are unaware or unconcerned about the cost of overhead, workman's comp, liability insurance, and so on.
Californiastate
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by Californiastate »

I contracted the plumbing on a custom home in Palo Alto post 9/11. It was in very affluent neighborhood near Stanford. Somebody else was doing the same thing down the street and wanted a quote. Let's call him Cisco. He worked at Cisco. He had just fired his GC because he was sure he could save some money. RED FLAG. I provided a quote and he said he had found somebody to do it for 2/3rds of my quote. I wished him luck. Fast forward 6 months and guess who calls me. The 2/3rds quote unlicensed contractor wasn't performing. He wanted me to contract the water and gas piping and leave the DWV to the other plumber. I informed him that my insurance wouldn't allow it and I wished him luck. Fast forward another year and I get a request to quote the plumbing for another home in the area. The owner said he got my name from Cisco who said we were friends. I informed him that I wasn't a particular friend of Cisco. I had provided him a quote. I also informed him that I would provide him a quote. I would proceed as soon as I received $500 for the quote. That $500 would be deducted from the quote if accepted. I heard him gasp over the phone. I held back my laughter. He said he would get back to me. I chuckled as he hung up.
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Re: Do You Insist that Contractors Itemize?

Post by sk.dolcevita »

In my MCOL metropolitan area, getting quotes from plumbers and electricians is expensive. They charge to come and give a quote with the premise that the $75-$100 charge would be applied against the invoice if the work is done by them. Do the math on a sub $1k job - three quotes and it doesn't make any sense.
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