Total gut could be a con job

How to accurately assess contractor bids for bathroom remodel

Q: I have a question for you about conflicting information from contractors. I have had a few contractors come out to my home to look at some remodeling.

For my bathroom, one said the whole thing needed to be gutted. The other said we could work with what was there and make improvements with paint, tile, etc.

Also, I had a contractor come out to check on a sunroom that looks to me to be in sad shape. I was considering tearing it down, but he said it could be brought back to life with some replacement wood siding, a new roof and windows. He has great credentials with the Better Business Bureau and he checks out with the Contractors State License Board. His price blew me away — much lower than I had anticipated.

The cause for confusion is that last year another contractor came out and gave me a figure that was 2 1/2 times the price. I end up confused, and then I do nothing because I am not sure how to proceed.

So what is your advice when the price and opinions vary and I am clueless? Is there a construction consultant who can advise homeowners on these dilemmas?

A: There are project managers, but we don’t think it’s necessary to hire one, and we do understand the confusion. Rehabbing an older home is as much an art as a science.

Before calling a contractor, it’s critical you decide what you want in a finished product and set a budget. A journey of a thousand miles doesn’t begin with the first step. It begins with the destination. Without a clearly defined end point, even a small remodel will be nothing but frustrating. Spend time with this phase. Once the work starts, change orders can be difficult and often come at great cost.

So, in the bathroom, if you’re looking to move the toilet, tub and shower, a gut job is probably necessary. All of the plumbing needs to be relocated. That means tearing into the walls to move the pipes and wiring. Once the rough work is done, drywall, flooring and all the finishes are installed.

But if what you’re after is a facelift, the second contractor’s right. The whole feeling of the room can be changed with paint, flooring, tile and faucets, and tub trim. You might also consider replacing the toilet and vanity, and adding a glass shower door or tub enclosure depending on your budget. Doing all this will give you a new bath without doing a total gut job.

Ask questions of each contractor to lessen your confusion. We’d ask the first contractor why it is necessary to totally gut the bathroom. Relay this information to the second contractor and see what he says. Questioning each bidder not only makes him justify his proposal and educates you, but it also may present another solution that you hadn’t considered.

In evaluating the sunroom project, determine whether the structure is sound. This will tell you if it’s a teardown or a rehab project. Is the foundation solid? Are the walls straight and plumb? If so, a new roof, new siding and new windows will make a new room.

Prices for the same project can vary due to the scope of the job, the contractor’s rate and just how busy the contractor is. To compare apples to apples in the bidding process, make sure to give each bidder a well-defined description of the work you want done.

As always, with jobs over $500, hire a licensed contractor, verify liability and workers’ compensation insurance, and make sure any agreement is in writing. Check to see if the contractor’s license is valid at www.cslb.ca.gov.

The contract should specify, at minimum, the work to be performed, the materials to be used and the schedule of payments. Finally, a down payment should not be more than 10 percent of the job cost or $1,000, whatever is less.

                                     

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