Bathroom Remodel Part 2: Meeting the Contractors

Yesterday I posted the details of my upcoming bathroom remodel. It’s a pretty basic project, and I’m expecting materials to cost less than $1,500. Tuesday I met with two contractors. I found both through referrals. My biggest concern going into the meeting was how they interacted with me; Past experience has taught me to trust my gut. The contractors who I’ve been kind of blah about, their work was mediocre. The one I felt wasn’t listening to me, and kept pushing discussions off “for later” was terrible. That experience ended with the involvement of the BBB, me sending them a “cease and desist” letter, and both of us threatening with lawyers. The contractor I hired to finish their work I loved, and I loved his work. Of course, he only does exteriors.

Luckily, both contractors were pleasant, easy to talk to, and actually listened to me. But they were still very, very different.

Contractor A: This contractor was referred to me by my cousin. She had friends who used this company, and she was looking to use him herself for a major project, but is opting to go with someone who specializes in historical homes. The guy I met with was young and friendly. He took tons of measurements and pictures. We talked about the entire project, and he made several recommendations.

Scratching the surface a little, it was obvious this guy was a salesman, and had never really done remodeling work. He kept saying he’d have to check with “his guy”. He also made a comment about my tub, and how it was totally plumbed wrong: “Why did they put the faucet up there, and then cover up that hole? Obviously there’s a hole in the tub for reason!” I let what he was saying sink in, then pointed out “that hole” was the overflow. And seriously, it’s exactly like every other overflow in every other tub I’ve ever seen. “Oh yeah. We’ll still have to completely rearrange all the plumbing.” Um, why?

He said he’d be willing to quote the job broken out, but they preferred to do the whole job. He said I wouldn’t really save much money doing the “small things” myself. Which seemed a little odd, since we were putting the minimum at me demoing everything but the tub and subfloor, then them replacing those two items and the surround. The toilet, sink, walls, flooring, etc. would all be my responsibility.

When we started talking about timelines, he pointed out that it may be a week or two before he could get with “his guy”. A little more digging turned up that this is a large company that outsources all their projects to subcontractors. The company I was meeting with would not be the company doing the work. Most of their subcontractors are booked months out; When I said I was hoping to do the job within the next 3 months, he said it wasn’t likely to be possible.

Contractor B: The second contractor did a variety of jobs for my Aunt and Uncle, and completely remodeled another cousin’s bathroom. Honestly, I don’t like my cousin’s bathroom, but only because it isn’t my taste: Dark, shiny blue walls, etc. The few very minor issues they encountered the contractor came out and fixed immediately, at no extra charge. I met with the owner, who is actually out on the job sites, and has his own crew.

It was obvious that this guy knew his stuff, and had worked in old houses before (mine’s a 1929). He pointed out that the subfloor was often several layers in old houses. That isn’t a big deal, but if they ripped out several layers, they’d have to build it back up to be level with the rest of the house.

I know from my family members that his prices are very reasonable. At the same time, he has no issue with me doing some of the work myself. I wouldn’t want to do a vinyl sheet myself, and it would definitely save time and money to have them do that. He did point out that they don’t charge a lot for toilet installs, since it’s quick and easy, so it might be more worthwhile to just have them do it as soon as the floor is in. I’ll admit, installing toilets isn’t high on my list of things to do. It’s favored to garbage disposals and ceiling fans, but still not something I enjoy. And he said if I had the vanity repainted when they were done with the floor, they’d reinstall it for no extra charge.

He expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to get to it “right away”, since they have several projects ahead of mine. I told him I was hoping to have it completed in the next three months. “Oh! I meant we couldn’t do it in the next 2 weeks! We’d have it done before the end of April, no doubt.”

The Problem

The problem with being an avid Do It Yourself-er is that you have a good idea of the cost of materials, and you don’t put enough value on your own time. I could do the entire bathroom remodel for around $1,500. But it would take me forever. I’d definitely have a lot of waste, especially trying to do the subfloor. And it would pull me away from the other projects that need done. I could spend years trying to finish up everything on my own. Or, I could buck-up, and pay someone for the things I don’t enjoy and am not skilled at.

The big question is: How much is that labor worth? Both contractors agreed the project would take less than a week. Contractor A stated they usually can’t do a bathroom for under $5,000. He came back with a “rough estimate” Wednesday of $4,600. Ouch! That’s over $3,000 for labor! Over 2/3 the cost of the project! I don’t have an estimate yet from Contractor B, but he told me it might take a week. I don’t expect his estimate to be nearly so high. I’ve budgeted $3,000 for this project. I can put more money into it, if need be, but that takes away from other projects.

Some people are probably thinking I’m being unrealistically cheap. You hear all the time about people spending tens of thousands of dollars on bathroom remodels. But you have to take into consideration the type of remodel. This is going to be a “basic remodel”. No tile. No garden tubs, with separate shower. No electrical. No drywall. We’re not moving anything. And we’ll be reusing some items, like the vanity, and some of the fixtures. It didn’t cost much over $3,000 to remodel my kitchen, which included all new appliances, cabinets, granite tile counters, and new flooring, lighting, paint, outlets, etc. Granted, I did all of that work myself, so I’m counting labor at $0.

Contractor B’s estimate will be the deciding factor, but I’m pretty sure I already know who I’ll be using. Price is a big factor. But, I also have concerns about hiring a company that is only acting as a middle man. I’ve had terrible experiences with that in the past. Contractor B seemed more knowledgeable. Plus, I’ve personally seen his work, instead of just relying on second-hand testimony.

Overall, I feel positive about this project. And that’s a great way to start any remodel!

– Cindy W.

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