Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Don't Beg For Quotes

Most of those who read this post will be familiar with the song by the Temptations titled Ain't Too Proud to Beg.  Well when it comes to gathering estimates for your project, I'll encourage you to think of this song and then ignore it's message.  But this advice is not about pride it's about common sense.  Don't beg for quotes.

I've written more than once that it's important to work hard to get multiple price estimates whether you're trying to sign someone up to re-roof your house, install wood floors in the living room, or agree to take down a big tree in the yard.  Three prices is good, four is better, and five different quotes is ideal.

This is an example of how you get the value of work:  if you get five apples-to-apples prices for something that'll cost three grand, there's a good possibility you'll get estimates like $2500, $2900, $3000, $3100, and maybe $3500.  Assuming you don't know how much this work should cost, you will after you look at the five different prices since $3,000 is the average.

Now, this gets me to today's point.  I'm telling you to work really hard to get multiple estimates, but don't go too far for a proposal and into the area where it feels like you're begging.  Simply put, you don't want to enter into an agreement with someone that sets you up into that circumstance.  Furthermore, if you have to ask them for their number a second time, take this as a red flag and don't forget it.  If they can handle your business, they'll be able to deliver on the task of working up a written price estimate.  It stands to reason that if you have to do anything that feels like begging them for the quote then you'll likely have to do some similar pleading when it's their turn to work or finish their part as required.     

Also, if a business person says they'll get you a price by "tomorrow morning," then they better have it for you by the next day before noon.  However, it's another warning signal when someone promises to provide your written estimate and are late.

If you find yourself working a little too hard just to get a price, that's okay.  Don't hang up the phone or slam the door.  Just acknowledge what you're doing and get the estimate you've been after.  Thank the person for their time, but use someone that quoted you in a timely, professional way.  These may be tradespeople more accustomed to using their hands and tools than office equipment or computers, but providing written estimates is part of the job too and you should accept nothing less than basic courtesy and professionalism.

See Push Hard to Get Quotes (July 9, 2012)

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Social Network and Harvard's Special Old Building

I caught a few minutes of The Social Network last night.  The film about Facebook has nothing to do with renovating old houses or anything closely related to construction, but something grabbed my attention enough that I'm still thinking about it this morning.

There's a scene in the movie where the Winklevoss Twins (played solely by actor Armie Hammer) are waiting to meet with Larry Summers, the President of Harvard.  The receptionist says, "This building is a hundred years older than the country it's in. So do be careful."  Her warning is not connected with Cameron and Tyler's meeting about Facebook or their dispute with Mark Zuckerberg, but it's part of the attitude that the people of Harvard had throughout the film.  However, it's more than attitude, it's an underlying impression that the folks that make up the Harvard community know more than those outside their circle.  In this example, the people that preceded them were wise to build Massachusetts Hall to last and mindful to leave it as it's stood for all these years.  (To be accurate, Mass. Hall of Harvard Yard is not "335 years old."  A little fact checking confirms that it's been standing since 1720, making it's age closer to 292.)

The receptionist represented in the film presumably had nothing to do with any of the decisions to save that old building, but she seemed to hold some pride about working there none-the-less (and I would too.)  To people like me, a building that's almost 300 years old is pretty cool and something to boast about.  The people of Harvard sure aren't concerned about what's cool, but they know having that old building in the middle of campus is something worthy of attention.  It is cool and I think that's why that little line was popped into the movie like it was. 

Going to the trouble of saving an old building or a run-down house is not the easiest path, but there's wisdom in this course.  In the end, having something that's been around for multiple decades (or centuries) is special, unique, and oftentimes better than an equivalent structure that's brand new.  I believe that it's worth the effort to save a decrepit building and the snooty administrative assistant of The Social Network helps make this point for me as she proudly delivers her only line of the film.

If you can save an old home, I'm here to encourage you.  It won't be simple, but if you push forward and do it right, it'll be worth your effort and diligence.  In the end, you'll be proud of yourself and what you have when your finished.   

Monday, October 1, 2012

Step 27 - Countertops

Countertops are the obvious partner of cabinetry.  However, I'm describing them as two separate steps because they're different scopes that can have unconnected craftspeople.  When you visit a big home improvement retailer, you'll see all the cabinet and counter samples displayed in the heart of their respective Kitchen Departments because they go together.  Home Depot and Lowe's would love for you to sign them up for everything in your kitchen (Steps 26 & 27), but it doesn't have to be that way.  Keep this in mind and don't be misled by remarks that insinuate some unspoken industry expectation of cabinets and tops always being purchased/installed together as a team.  Or plainly stated, be alert to comments like, "You need to buy it all from us.  This is just how it's done.", "We always do the cabinets and countertops in the houses we do,"  or "Every cabinet shop does all the mill work and tops in the entire house."

To take this point a step further, I'll add that it's not too tough for a DIYer to find someone to do all the cabinetry and counter work, have it completed in a few work days, and then write a check before moving onto the interior doors.  I've done it this way many times myself, but when you're trying hard to stretch your budget (and actively playing the part of the do-it-yourself rehabber) you need to at least realize that paying two separate tradespeople for cabinets and counters is a possibility.  And also keep in mind that it might even help you more to break it down further by considering the kitchen cabinets and their counters as one thing and the bathroom vanities with their tops as something else.  There's more than one way to skin a cat and it's okay to deal with your cabinets and countertops in whatever way works best for your rehab and your bottom line.

And finally, understand that this separation of the cabinets and tops is not just a dollars and cents issue.  You may have a great option to complete Step 26, but maybe this cabinet contractor doesn't install the type of top you've planned for (i.e. granite, marble, tile, etc.).  Don't settle for something if it's not really what you want.  For example, finding yourself saying, "Since our cabinet guy does laminate I guess we'll just go with that instead of the countertops we really wanted."   One trades person can usually do it all, but it may be more economical (and a better match for your vision) if you think of cabinets and tops as two separate scopes of your project.  Link Steps 26 and 27 together if you can, but don't do it because you think you have to.

I'm not going to get into the details of how best to install them, etc.  because Step 27 is something I typically prefer to hire out.  I've done a few kitchen counters myself, but it's not something I'm highly skilled at.  If you can do you're own I'd say "Go for it," but if not just keep in mind what I've said regarding the relationship between cabinets and tops along with my advice in previous posts; ask questions, spend some time getting more knowledgeable, and work hard to get multiple quotes. 

Top Ten Kitchen Countertops at About.com