Contractor Confusion

I’ve died and gone to contractor hell. We’ve been calling contractors since the end of April to schedule them to give us estimates on finishing the basement. As of now I’ve had five different contractors here. I can tell you that this basement project is already painful. Big is already stressed because this job is going to cost more than he expected. I’m stressed because as usual I’ve been the middle man who has had to schedule everything and please Big and the contractors.

The one thing that absolutely amazes me is the price ranges and logistical differences between all these contractors. The base prices have almost a $30k price range difference. The higher base estimate does includes a few things that the lower based estimates don’t. But none of them include all the options we discussed. So, by the time we count up all the options the prices go up and up and up. Three contractors use lumber studs and two use metal. Some contractors include carpet and carpet allowances in their prices and others don’t include any carpet or allowance in their price.

Personality and business method is also very different between all these guys. One company talked ad nauseum about all the intangible things his company offered (employees that are drug screened, better class of employees because they offer benefits and workers’ comp). All that is wonderful but umm, sorry it doesn’t justify your high price tag to us. We’re not into paying thousands more to meet your company’s overhead costs, especially since another company has the same business set up and they are much cheaper. This same contractor also grilled me on what the guy before me had quoted. Hello, are you just here to find out what the competition is charging. I would think that someone who’s been in business for 20 years would just be able to give me the price he thinks the job will cost and not worry so much about what another contractor is charging. So, right there I was put off. Of course, I have stolen his idea of how to set up the doors to our storage and powder rooms. So, thanks for that.

We called the company who did our next door neighbor’s and across the street neighbor’s basements. Apparently, he must think Big and I look like we have more money because his quote was almost double what he charged them last year. I know prices have gone up but please, we’re not that stupid. Or maybe our neighbors have lied to us about what they paid. Plus he wants to charge me almost three times as much for an electrical sub-panel as what the other contractors are quoting. Is he doing something magical down there that is going to give us some cool special effects? I’m guessing not.

The last contractor who came in blew us away with his presentation package and his quote seems about right. I think this will be the one Big will want to hire. I have some slight reservations. He mentioned two things that make me question how up-to-date his remodeling techniques might be. We’re worrying about heating solutions for the basement so we don’t freeze and his suggestion was to install baseboard heating. Who in the year 2008 does this? I live in a less than three year old, 3300 square foot house. How stupid would it look to have baseboard heaters. I already told him no baseboard heating. I won’t bore you with the other thing that concerns me but let’s just say I worry about aesthetics. But since it’s my right to say yay or nay on design issues like those I’m willing to consider him.

The guy I like has impressed me with his building knowledge but Big hates him because he thinks he looks like a drunk. I don’t think he looks like a drunk. The guy grew up in Northeast Philly and he still has some of those Philly ways about him. It’s not like he showed up in a wife beater shirt or anything. He lives in the burbs now and my impression is that he knows his shit but he’s not as polished as some other guys. His prices seem more in line with what I expected. He does need to work more on sales presentation and how he handles estimates. He prefers to give verbal estimates until he knows people are serious about considering him because he got tired of putting together three page proposals then not hearing back from clients. I can kinda understand that but at the same time if you want someone like Big to take you seriously you have to have your paperwork in order and give him a good presentation to assure him that you’re professional enough to do our basement right. Still I have this strange feeling that his construction abilities are more in line with what I am thinking and more current with today’s building standards.

The first contractor we had here isn’t bad but I think he kinda got lost in the shuffle. He was the only one who gave me a written estimate on the spot. I thought that was kinda odd. He apparently has a standard form he uses for all basement jobs and when he goes on site he brings it with him and fills the numbers in based on the customers wants and needs and how large the job is. It’s great that he gives you the numbers without making you wait but is he just too cookie cutter? Shouldn’t each client and their space be given a more personal approach?

Also, after reviewing the design layout from the contractor Big likes we hit a few snags in our original layout decisions. Big does not like the size of the exercise room so now he only wants us to wall that area off from the rest of the finished area but leave the walls in the exercise room unfinished. It wasn’t the vision I had but there are some merits (besides lower cost) that might make that a good decision. We’re planning on discussing it tonight. I would like to have a service bar but right now I’m not happy with the placement and how it will look. Lastly, it looks like I have to have a structural beam at the bottom of the stairs if I want to open up that wall. This is so not what I envisioned. I wanted to cut the wall back about 4-6 steps and have a banister with oak railings and spindles like what’s in my kitchen. The contractor I like is pretty sure he can do this and still keep the structural safety and support of my house intact and the one Big likes insists we need a beam. I really do not like the beam so now I’m at a loss for what we should do and who is right and who is wrong.

So, I am feeling confused and frustrated because I have to make sure that Big is satisfied with the price and still make sure that I get the basement to look the way I want it to look. I do not want to spend all this money and think that it could have been better. I also really wish there was some way of knowing for sure that the person we hire is going to make this experience as pleasurable for us as possible. Unfortunately, in some ways this is all a gamble even though I’ve done extensive homework.

So, my wish for today is some divine knowledge to come my way and for a light to spell out exactly who is our perfect contractor.

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