How to Compare Remodeling Bids

Written by Roone Unger, founder and CEO of EXOVATIONS
Updated March 22, 2017
fresh remodel after homeowner compares contractor quotes
Make sure you get the best deal when comparing home improvement contractors' quotes. (Photo by Jay Madden)

The devil is in the details when it comes to the prices of home improvement projects.

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If you have ever solicited quotes for a home improvement project, you were probably more confused about what you were paying for than when you started. The more quotes you receive, the larger the variance between proposals may appear.

Pricing is in the details. Regardless of the type of project — siding replacement, window replacement, roofing replacement or any other home improvement — the price on the quote really doesn’t mean anything without knowing the specifications of all the work to be performed.

Know what's included in the contract

For example, “Replace all siding on the home,” is not a specification. Does that include removal of the old siding? Probably, but it may not include the disposal of the waste. All siding manufacturers require a moisture barrier, or house wrap, between the structure and the siding. Would this be included? Very doubtful. What about inside corner boards, outside corner boards, window trim, window flashing, and cornice molding?

Describing the process of replacing the siding on your home should be specific and should contain a list of specifications, such as “Remove all existing siding and place in contractor provided job site Dumpster.”

Window replacement costs are confusing

Window replacement pricing can be just as confusing and sometimes misleading. A $189 window does not meet the same specifications as a more expensive window. In fact, it does not qualify to meet the Federal Energy Star qualifications.

Replacement windows are manufactured using many different materials, including vinyl, cellular PVC, fiberglass, wood and aluminum clad wood. A double-pane window can be produced using single strength or double strength glass for each pane.

The glass can then be coated with a low-E, or low emissivity, coating. The low-E coating will lessen the ultraviolet sun rays and reduce the heat infiltration in the home, resulting in the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SGHC) rating. The space between the two panes of glass can be filled with a gas with denser than air, such as argon or kryptonite, which increases the insulating value of the glass and determines the U-Value rating.

The other things that can affect window replacement prices are grids which can be installed between the two panes of glass or on the interior and exterior of the glass. Again, pricing is in the details.

Analyzing the low home improvement bid

There are two ways a contractor can earn your business; he can try to be the lowest price or the best value. The lowest price typically comes with a large amount of risk. A low price typically indicates:

• Low overhead (lack of capital, needs large down payment)

• No business location (moves around a lot)

• No workers compensation insurance

• No general liability insurance

• No business license and/or no contractor’s license

The more items on the above list that apply, the greater the risk to the homeowner. The best value is typically achieved when the customer knows exactly what they're going to receive, with detailed specifications, from a company that has solid reputation with a history.

A reputable company will supply a large reference list of previous customers in your area, require little or no down payment, provide proof of insurance with a contact and phone number, proof of business license and a state contractor’s license.

Analyzing the high home improvement bid

Don’t think what is described above will result in the most expensive quote. Pricing for all reputable contractors is basic economics. The more material and labor you purchase, the lower the costs you will be able to obtain. The more material a company purchases will enable them to negotiate larger discounts from the distributors. In fact, they may be able to buy directly from the manufacturers.

Labor is the same way. Do you think a roofing crew would prefer to work three days a week on average or five to six days on average at a little lower rate? The people who are good at what they do and are highly specialized in their field want to be paid on their performance — a per job rate, not an hourly rate.

The benefit to you is access to the highest quality craftsmanship and name brand products with superior warranties at the most competitive prices. Remember, pricing is in the details.

Don’t make assumptions or rely on verbal commitments. Keep all contractors accountable. The more you keep them accountable to you, the more they have to account for each other. Greater competition leads to higher quality materials and workmanship at more competitive prices, but this cannot be obtained without the details.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on Aug. 18, 2011.

What did you learn when you had to compare contractors' bids? Share your insight with us in the comments section below.

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About this Experts Contributor: Roone Unger is the founder and CEO of EXOVATIONS and Total Exterior Franchise Systems, providing home exterior remodeling services in Cumming and Atlanta, Georgia. Follow this contributor on Twitter and Google+.

As of March 22, 2017, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check AngiesList.com for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.

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