11 Questions to Ask When Comparing Bids for Your Remodel

Once your plans and design choices for your remodel or renovation are complete, its time to get the real cost, which means bringing in any third parties you may decide to engage. When you reach out to various contractors for bids on the work, however, you'll likely get competing bids that you'll need to compare. Remember that this process is of little value to you unless you are comparing similar proposals, so be sure to give clear detail about the work you want to have done when initiating the bidding process. With all that in mind, here are a few things to consider when comparing bids: 

  • Is the company giving you a fixed price or cost plus bid? With cost plus you assume the risk of costs being different than expected, but you don't pay the contractor a percentage to assume that contingency. If the carpentry or lumber costs more than anticipated, you will pay the difference plus the overhead and profit of the contractor. With fixed price the contractor assumes these risks. The proposed work may appear to cost more, but in many cases you could end up paying more for the cost plus once the project is complete.
  • For fixed price proposals, what is not included? For example, Castle Crafters includes extra work we have to do as a result of discovering plumbing or wiring that has to be moved to complete the design, but we don't normally cover repairs we have to make resulting from termite or water damage that was not apparent until demolition began.
  • Does the proposal include all the materials and work you expect? For example, does each proposal include all of the door hardware you specified? Do they include the cost of (instead of an allowance for) specific tile you chose as well as removal of the old tile?
  • Does each contractor have appropriate licensing and insurance? Does the company have any required state or local licenses? Do they carry liability insurance? (Remember that you often must add a rider to your home owner's policy to be fully covered during construction.)
  • Have you spoken to references? Are they happy with the process and the results?
  • Does the proposal includes costs and work associated with the less-glamorous aspects of the process? What kind of insulation is being proposed? How about the shower pan (rubber liner vs longer lasting fiberglass)? Make sure you are making choices that will ensure the work will still look good years after the project is complete.
  • Is all of the work necessary to meet codes included? For example, in some cases if you do electrical work as part of your project you may have to add interconnected smoke detectors in rooms that are not affected by the remodeling, or make changes to the main electrical panel. While it is not unreasonable for a contractor to exclude these things if they are not part of the specification you provide, they should indicate what is or is not included as part of the proposal. And both proposals should include or exclude the same items if you are to be able to make fair comparisons.
  • Are there special items the renovation company has made note of? For example, our cabinetry is of all wood construction (vs. composition board or MDF) unless the customer specifies otherwise. We also shop finish all of our cabinets vs. painting or finishing on the job site. If there are items like this indicated by the remodeler make sure you understand the benefits, decide how important they are to you and can determine if alternate proposals have the same standards.
  • Is any professional engineering work required, such as structural, septic or survey work? If so, make sure any proposals you are considering have made provisions for it.
  • Who is responsible for paying permit fees and actually applying for and acquiring the necessary permits? The actual permit fees are often not part of the actual proposal, but your remodeling contractor (or the architect) is usually in a better position to apply and go through the steps to get the permit. Unless you expect to do this yourself, or an architect has already included it, any proposals should include this service. 
  • What about job site maintenance? Does the proposal indicate the remodeling company will provide a temporary toilet for workers? Have provisions been made to protect areas of your home that are not part of the work being done? If tree work is necessary is it included?

Overall, carefully compare each proposal to your plans and specifications. If there is language that is not clear, make notes so that you can clarify any questions when you meet. Finally, if there are aspects of your project you consider optional, make sure you tell the remodeling company in advance that these prices should be separate. You should feel completely confident in your decision, so make sure to take your time to review and ask questions before choosing a partner for your project.