There are many sayings out there about cost and value. While “you get what you pay for” is often accurate, I think it’s helpful to think about how that works out with respect to remodeling. To help make it easy to understand, I’ll give you an example in story form about a basement finishing project. The characters will be fictional. The situations are real-life stories I’ve seen first-hand or heard from those who experienced them.

David and Sarah want to finish their basement. They have two kids in their 4-bedroom house and are pregnant with their 3rd. They’d like to have the extra 1,100 sq ft of living space, and an extra bathroom and guest room for when they have visitors would be ideal. This is their first home improvement project they’ll hire someone for but they’ve done some minor work to their home themselves.

Finding a Contractor

They start by asking friends who they’ve worked with, and also ask for recommendations online. After getting 7 different recommendations they read reviews, look at websites, and decide to call all of the contractors to get a bid for their basement finish. Three of the contractors never return their phone calls. Four of them do call back to set appointments, but one never shows up.

The first who does keep their appointment gets there on time. He looks like he may not have showered today and is somewhat gruff. He does seem to be confident about doing the project and provides a quote of $15,000 to complete the project after walking through the basement for 5 minutes. The contractor says he’ll take care of all of the work, but David and Sarah will have to apply for the project permits and provide all materials. The contractor says he can tell them everything they’ll need to buy.

The next contractor gets there 25 minutes late without calling, but seems nice enough and apologizes while blaming traffic for being late. He looks at the basement and asks them for the overview of what they want. He takes several measurements and gets back to them within a week with a quote of $45,000. The quote is emailed and seems very generic. In the email, the contractor says he can design the basement for free, but only after they sign a contract to do the project with him.

The remaining contractor calls them back and talks with Sarah for 25 minutes about their home, their family, their goals for their project and their budget. They don’t have a budget so the contractor shares a range of what he expects the project to cost. It’s more than they’d like to spend but she decides to get a bid from him anyway so they have 3 to choose from. After all, that’s what you’re supposed to do.

David and Sarah meet with the third contractor for an hour in their home. He shows up on time, is dressed professionally and they enjoy talking with him. The contractor asks them a lot of questions and listens to them. The contractor then talks about his company’s design and building process. He tells them it will cost $3,500 to design their basement finish, and from there he can provide a fixed all-inclusive cost for completing the project. He tells them the basement project will likely cost $60-80k to complete. David and Sarah thank him for his time and agree to discuss the decision and get back to him.

The next day they talk about the differences between the contractors. David can’t stop thinking about the $15,000 number but Sarah got a weird feeling from the guy. She also points out that they have never purchased materials for a project like this and David agrees that part makes him nervous. They decide against the low-price contractor.

While it bothered them that the second contractor was late, they liked him well enough and the price seemed like a great deal. Sarah isn’t sure that he completely understood what she wants, but maybe they can work out the details after getting started. They agree he’s a contender.

The third contractor was obviously the most professional. Both David and Sarah were surprised about the number of questions they hadn’t thought about and the number of solutions and ideas the contractor brought up. They found themselves feeling excited about designing the project first and how everything would be when the project is complete. However, they don’t want to spend the extra money when the other contractor was so much cheaper and would design everything for free. How much different could it really be?

If you’d like to know what happens next, read part 2 of this series!

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