You want to remodel your kitchen and bathroom, have a good idea of what you want, but have no idea what the right price is. Welcome to Home Renovation 101! Today’s question: should you get three bids for your kitchen or bathroom renovation or just one? The answer depends on the work you want performed and whether price is more important than inconvenience.
I’m Mitchell Newman, a general contractor for over 20 years and owner of Stratagem construction in Chicago. In this article, I will explain when three bids make sense and when they do not, as well as suggest the best way to handle your bidding for a high-end kitchen or bathroom renovation.
First, where did the idea of three bids come from? The answer is a balance of two truths: the first, many contractors can be all over the place with their pricing. This doesn’t mean better contractors cost more because they’re better (though they generally do). It means that on any given day, contractors can double or triple their prices. It depends on everything from whether they’re busy to which side of the bed they woke up on that morning. I have had a subcontractor bid $400,000 for a job and then lower his bid to $61,000 when someone underbid him. He wanted to match the price. No thanks!
Secondly, many contractors will simply refuse to bid if they don’t get awarded enough of the jobs they’ve bid. A general contractor who routinely sends plans out to more than three contractors finds that contractors will not look at their plans. Bidding and not getting contracts is the bane of most contractors’ existence, so three bids turns out to be about the right amount when competitive bidding is appropriate.
So when is getting three bids for a bathroom or kitchen excessive? Simply put, when price is more important than quality. In other words, when you are looking for contractor grade work (“good enough to get paid”) and the work is fairly cookie-cutter.
This is the kind of bathroom in an apartment for rent or a run-of-the-mill condo you want to fix up before selling. If you just want everything to be “good enough”, the marketplace is full of contractors who can deliver at this level. The limited choices make bidding quick and easy, so getting three bids is feasible and might save you a few thousand dollars.
Let me add that it’s better when they’re not in your home. Whatever they do, whether it’s poor workmanship, leaving their lunch wrappers and cigarette butts around, not showing up or scratching your floors, it’s a lot less maddening when it’s not in your home.
In higher quality projects, like high-end kitchens and bathrooms in your Chicago home, three bids make less sense. First, a high-end bathroom and kitchen is anything but cookie-cutter. No one can give you a price without plans and specifications. The tiles, fixtures, and cabinetry you choose can have vastly different pricing. Second, it takes hours, if not days, to pull all the pricing together. Third, a contractor mucking up your home may make you want to commit murder. The money you saved will not seem worth it.
For high-end kitchens and bathrooms, take another approach. Choose contractors first based on their reputation. Read their online reviews, check out their online photos, then talk with them and ask about things that concern you, such as how long do they expect to take and how will their project be managed?
Part of that discussion should be about their price range. If someone comes to us seeking a competitive bid for a kitchen or bathroom, we ask for photos or look at them online, then give them a ballpark estimate. It takes almost no time at all and I’m happy to do it.
This kitchen which included opening the wall to the dining room and adding an island penciled in at 60K to 75K. It’s difficult to know the cost of moving the heating ducts and plumbing stacks in the wall. The half wall makes it less expensive by making those moves easier.
This kitchen penciled in at $25K to $30K without appliances. Much of the existing kitchen was reused. A pantry on the right was added. Also an additional table top was married to the island. Painting existing cabinetry saves a lot of money in kitchen renovation.
This kitchen penciled in for about $30K without appliances. It’s entirely new with many interesting features that raised the price slightly over what was planned. Note the narrow cabinets along the wall which increase storage and counter space.
A master bathroom like this with both a tub and shower (just out of sight to the left) pencils in at $45 to $60K. This one came to be less as it was part of a gut rehab of the entire home which results in a savings. Also, the materials which look great, were not particularly expensive. The cost was more in the $35K range. Great design can achieve a lot with inexpensive materials.
This bathroom penciled in a $20k to $25K and came in at about 28 due selections and the addition of the tall cabinet in the center. Often clients will add to the scope of the original project.
This bathroom penciled in at $35k to $50K. It’s had some construction challenges and wonderful tile work. It came in at about $45K.
A small bathroom in a high-rise building starts at about 20K and goes to 28K or more depending on what materials they choose. The more they know about what they want, the more I can hone the approximate price. Similarly, if they tell me they have 22K, I can tell them approximately what they can get for that price. The same holds true for master bathrooms (32K to 55K and up for gut rehabs) and kitchens (15K to 95K depending on what you want). With Covid right now, add 15% for the escalated costs of materials.
As the clients gain an understanding of how I work, I also gain an understanding of who they are. Not everyone clicks. When that’s the case, I’m also happy to guide them toward a contractor that might better suit them.
Ball-parking prices is never perfect. I might even be off by 15 or 20%, but in the large scheme of things, it’s very helpful. Clients get to understand the pricing landscape and we avoid spending a lot of time bidding projects we were wrong for from the beginning.
One more thing, among high-end contractors there still can be bait and switching. The initial price can be low but their modus operandi is to make it up on expensive extras. The cheapest contractor is usually not the cheapest contractor, another reason to make cost less of a deciding factor.
To summarize: in order to find a contractor for a high-end kitchen or bathroom renovation, I recommend doing your research on-line and asking your friends for suggestions. Then talk to the contractors about your job, specifically zeroing in on how they manage design aspects if needed, what their anticipated time frame will be to complete your work, how the project management will be done and the ballpark pricing you can expect.
This is a conversation that will be revealing.
If it leaves you with a good feeling about the contractor, a sense they’re easy to talk with and genuine, and the price point they describe fits what you’re looking for, it’s likely that you’ll be their next happy customer.
Be sure to take your time. If you’re new to the game, call around. Many times, I’m the first contractor to call back and we have a good conversation, but the client wants to talk to others. I encourage it. I want them to see what’s out there and make an informed choice.
For me, it’s not about scooping everyone in, it’s about finding customers that want what we deliver so we can do our job right and make them happy. If the fit is right, we almost never go wrong.
Besides that, if you’re looking for top-quality construction and design work in Chicago, look no further and please send your comments and thoughts our way.
Mitchell Newman, M.D. began his career as a family practitioner. He’s now a full time house doctor and continues to enjoy helping people. He’s the principal of both Habitar Design, a top-ranking interior design firm in Chicago and Stratagem Construction, a top-ranked construction company. Both his firms have won numerous local and national awards.