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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
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    Default written estimate?

    Hi, I'm a homeowner for 11 years now and own a circa 1900 house; yes, we've had many professionals work for us over the years!

    I just had a disconcerting encounter with a plumbing company that came over to give an estimate on some new work. After about 5 minutes of surveying, he asked if I was going to pull permits for this job; we could do it 'legally', or "illegally"; of course it was going to cost much more to do it legally.

    I then turned the conversation to what he was going to note on the estimate in either case, and I was made to understand that they only give oral estimates; for the privilege of a written estimate I could pay him $150 and they would take the estimate price off the job.

    I was always under the impression that it was prudent to get 3 written estimates and check references; Is the economic recovery so good that a free written estimate is a thing of the past?

    My time is valuable as well; I had to get in late to work to meet this plumber.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    7,242

    Default Re: written estimate?

    More and more contractors are going this route, thinking that their time is worth more than getting the job. This attitude is used by "volume" contractors, as opposed to those of us who prefer to have meaningful relationships with our clients. It is the general consensus among reputable contractors that estimates are always in writing and always free.

    If I were you, I'd continue interviewing contractors until you find what suits you best, and that would be free estimates. Yes, before you hire you should check references, license status, insurance and bond status, etc. Lastly, good contractors are ALWAYS busy, so that is also a sign that you are looking in the right direction.
    I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Boston
    Posts
    1,004

    Default Re: written estimate?

    to add to spruce's response.

    by adding permit fees into the mix, depending on how much work is being done and what kind. the permit fees might run you $50 - $150 and the additional labor would be 2-4 hours of the contractor's time for going to get the permit and meeting the inspector at the site. if he's adding on something like $1,000 to the job for pulling a permit, it's time to look for someone else.

    always check references and NEVER let anyone start a job without having a signed contract. any contractor that's too lazy to write out an estimate isn't worth hiring.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Location
    South*East
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    Default Re: written estimate?

    Run away from this guy. Find someone that will give you a written estimate. We would write our estimates on the spot. Don't do the work without a permit that could come back to haunt you when you sell the home.
    John

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    SoCal
    Posts
    6,762

    Default Re: written estimate?

    Due to the recession, more and more contractors accepts cash jobs, off the books with no written estimate. We all know why, but the consumer, who might pay less for these jobs, is left unprotected and without a useful effective warranty.

    So, you do the math. Pay more now or take a chance and possibly pay a lot more later.

    When a permit is pulled and the work is inspected and approved - you know that it was done right, and that's the way you should go.

    Sometimes contractors ask the homeowner to pull the permit, and that's OK, as long as the work is inspected. Examples: electrical panel upgrade, main sewer line replacement, and so on.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Posts
    2,203

    Default Re: written estimate?

    Estimates are either ballpark or comprehensive- the latter takes time which is valuable. Sometimes a customer just wants ballpark figures to know whether they can afford to get the work done right now. Neither is a firm quote and that is what you will always need before agreeing to have the work done. Some use the comprehensive estimate as their quote, this shows they aren't going to pop up with extras because they didn't check well enough ahead of time. That's what I do.

    As to permits and such, for legal protection you need them. But there is also the issue of insane code requirements these days, and while current codes should be followed it is my contention that some parts of them are more a waste of time and effort than an improvement. Beyond legalities, unpermitted work can cost several hundreds of dollars less than work done otherwise. To work in one local city I have to pull the permit (starts at $35 and goes up), get that cities business license (even though I'm legal in the county that surrounds it) for another $75, get a contractors license (seperate from the business license- you must have both there) for yet another $150, and then provide for their required debris removal process which prevents me from tossing a small bag of trash into your municipal waste container at another $50 and up in costs. Now you know why I don't do any work there and laugh at the suckers who live in that town, just the same as most other contractors here do. You want to spend the $310 for nothing then be my guest, I'd have done the exact same thing for you either way. I stand behind my work either way. I would gain nothing extra either way but one way you lose $310 and the other way you don't. It's really that simple.

    I sometimes do minor plumbing and electrical work without permits and inspections when it is something I can do properly and safely. I always give my customers the choice of having it done in full compliance with the law, including inspections. None have ever asked for that once they understand that I'm not going to do anything that will be a problem in the future. Nobody will know a sink and it's piping was moved a few feet along a wall or an electrical outlet moved to another stud bay so I can add a doorway where it was. The work will be done right either way. There will be no problems either way. I'm totally happy to do it either way. What more can you want?

    I'll note here that if it's anything extensive or obvious I am not going to take on illegally period- I'm not trying to rip anyone off (including the government), I'm only trying to inject some common sense into a world where it's not very common anymore. If something fails after the inspection and your licensed contractor has gone broke in the meantime, you still lose. And sadly, many good ones have gone broke in recent times. It's more the person than the process, same as it has always been and will always be, and were it not for bad people in the business we'd not need permits, inspections, and such anyway.

    Phil

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    27

    Default Re: written estimate?

    Maybe he could sense you were in a hurry too?
    In my experience they do often give you a rough idea of costs verbally and then go away and write up a written estimate, I've never been charged for one, although having said that who knows what hidden charges there are in the cost of a job?

    I'd say the thing about permits is common too, as the previous poster said. Sometimes it is worth it for just a small job.

    I'm not sure where you are but if you're in the DallasHouston/San Antonia are then these guys are pretty good http://www.aramendiadallas.com

    But I'd also advise you to get a number of quotes and don't necessarily go for the cheapest option.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Portland, Oregon, formerly of Chicago
    Posts
    1,808

    Default Re: written estimate?

    You have to wonder why a reputable contractor would want to work without a written , signed contract. If problems develope, a court has no document of what was agreed to. A handsake isn't worth the paper it is written on

    I was always amazed at how few times over the decades that customers asked to see a Certificate of Insurance. Without Liability and Workman's Compensation Insurance from the contractor, the homeowner is extremely vulnerable.

    I once worked for a customer who had had decent painting in the past. I ask him why he changed painters. He stated that he had asked for a certificate of Workmen's Compensation and the contractor had answered that his workmen provide their own. The customer was an insurance agent and knew better!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Posts
    2,203

    Default Re: written estimate?

    Quote Originally Posted by ordjen View Post
    You have to wonder why a reputable contractor would want to work without a written , signed contract. If problems develope, a court has no document of what was agreed to. A handsake isn't worth the paper it is written on

    I was always amazed at how few times over the decades that customers asked to see a Certificate of Insurance. Without Liability and Workman's Compensation Insurance from the contractor, the homeowner is extremely vulnerable.

    I once worked for a customer who had had decent painting in the past. I ask him why he changed painters. He stated that he had asked for a certificate of Workmen's Compensation and the contractor had answered that his workmen provide their own. The customer was an insurance agent and knew better!
    And where I live a written contract isn't much better unless a lawyer wrote it specifically for the job being done. In SC, if any part of a contract is not legal according to SC law, the entire contract is void- and most of the usual commercially-printed contract forms you get at the office supply stores do not meet SC legal specifications. So in the end it's always up to the integrity of who you're dealing with.

    As to insurance, your customer-friend may have been wrong. If I hire folks individually as subcontractors and not employees, while I am still legally liable for them, they can be made to provide their own workmans's comp and liability coverage, much the same as when you hire a company as a subcontractor. Most individual subcontractors here do not carry their own insurance so the company they contract under has to do that. Laws vary a lot from place to place so you always have to check with a lawyer where you're at to know where you stand.

    Around here, few customers ask to see your insurance policy, fewer read it to be sure it covers you and them, and almost nobody calls the listed agent to be sure the policy is up-to-date and hasn't been cancelled. Contractors always do all this with subs since they know the real scoop, which is that well over half the employed residential construction workforce here is not insured at all!

    Phil

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    SoCal
    Posts
    6,762

    Default Re: written estimate?

    Phil, SC has some tough laws.

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