Friday, March 22, 2024

Cost vs. Value

By Warren O’Shea

After doing a walkthrough of a bathroom remodel project, the potential client asked me how much it might cost to do the project. After taking into consideration what she wanted to do, the age of the house, the difficulty in accessing the bathroom, permits, design, the plumbing and electrical, existing code violations that needed to be corrected, etc., my ballpark estimate was $23K.

The very nice lady was taken back a bit by my figure and thought it was quite high. “It’s only a bathroom, it shouldn’t cost more than $15K.” I was curious, so I asked how she came up with the number that she felt was reasonable. “Well, my neighbor down the road has a house as old as this and had her bathroom done for about $15K.” I said “Wow, that’s great, do you have any details on how they were able to get it done at that price?”

Did they have a contract, did they get permits, did they arrive on time, did they leave it neat every day, did they stay on the job until it was done, was the work completed in the time frame listed in the contract?

Were they transparent with their billing, were there licensed plumbers and electricians doing the work or was the contractor doing that portion of the project illegally? Were they courteous and respectful of her time and property?

The problem was that she was basing her assumptions on what she felt was a fair price solely on the end price of a different project, without having any of the details of that project. Doing a quality job completely from start to finish includes time spent in design, scheduling sub-contractor labor and deliveries, acquiring materials, set up time, clean up, and waste disposal.

What she could not see was all the time and money spent vetting subcontractors, paying workman’s comp, being OSHA certified, and complying with insurance safety audits. She also did not know that I provide my employees with not only a good living wage but a benefits package comparable to companies four times as large as we are. They are offered health, vision, dental, and 401K benefits. They get two weeks’ vacation, holiday, birthday, and bereavement pay. Their personal and family time is encouraged and respected. Their happiness is related to a happy client and a successful project, just as much as their knowledge and skill are. They get paid to go to trade shows and product seminars. They get quizzed on residential code, life safety code, electric and plumbing code, deck code, and win prizes for their correct answers.

The State of Maine does not have classes or a certification process to verify if a builder/remodeler has knowledge of residential construction. Becoming a certified home inspector is one way for us to let the homeowner know that we have passed a national test, which is why I pay tuition for them to become certified if they choose.

When you consider the cost for a remodeling project, keep in mind that you pay not only for the material and the work to be completed. You also pay for knowledge, years of experience, commitment to quality and customer service, professionalism, specialized skills and tools, work ethic and transparency.

If you are requesting a proposal from a builder or remodeler, please don’t disrespect them by trying to get them to lower their prices or by devaluing their experience, time, or efforts. They have worked incredibly hard to get where they are, making sacrifices to provide for themselves and their family. They shoulder the risk and responsibility of all the things that can go wrong while being held to industry code, having to account for unknown, unseen conditions, and maintaining a productive and skilled labor staff.

If their proposal exceeds your budget, there is nothing wrong with getting another proposal. I am confident that you will always be able to find somebody cheaper to do your project, but at what cost? Just remember, you get what you pay for.

The author is an advocate for consumer rights and a supporter of contractor licensing in Maine. He is a board member of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Maine and the Portland Arts and Technology High School. His articles have been published in CEO World, USA Today, New York and Miami Weekly, and Journal of Light construction magazines. He is the owner of O’Shea Builders LLC, a remodeling contractor with more 5-star reviews and more awards than any contractor in Maine.

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