Why pay more?

It is often difficult for clients to discern why there can be such a big difference in price from one contractor to another for ‘the same’ set of plans.  While on our last family vacation, I noticed several things that stood out to me as to what the difference is.  The home we stayed in was, at first glance, attractive and comfortable, though within minutes of being there I started noticing things that had me asking “why did they do this?”  I know the answer, its lack of job site supervision, lack of planning, lack of knowledge, and lack of skilled tradesmen.  In other words, they saved money everywhere they could.  This home was the perfect example of why one contractor may have bid significantly more than another for the ‘same’ product.  The truth is, in the end, it isn’t the same product.  One build requires more planning, more time, more management, and more money to build.  For some examples of differences I noted in design and construction quality:

The tile on the shower walls was did not have even grout joints and the tiles weren’t flush with each other.  The tile wall stuck out an inch beyond the face of the drywall and it wasn’t detailed with a mud cap or any other trim piece.  Had the job been a job done by someone I consider a true competitor; the walls would have been made flat and even with the sheetrock before the first tile was laid.  Our installers take too much pride in their work to have uneven grout joints or severe lips between adjacent tiles.   How edge details are handled is thought through in the design process so that the installer has the materials he needs and the plan to provide a finished and professional product.

Once I got passed the tile and stepped into the tub, I immediately noticed how much flex there was in the bottom of the tub….the plumber didn’t set the tub in a bed of mortar as he should have.  There are various reasons I can think of why this may have been overlooked, but in the end, it all comes down to saving money.

Then it came time to do some dishes.  My bare feet were standing right on top of a HVAC floor register, placed right in front of the kitchen sink.  Obviously, zero thought went into where this register was placed.   Technically the contractor did his job, there was a register to supply heating and air to the room.  The results however, were less than satisfactory.

After doing dishes, I decided to relax on the couch and looking back at the kitchen, I immediately noticed that the furred down soffits in the kitchen were laughably out of level.  A well compensated carpenter who is more concerned with the quality of his work than how fast he can finish and move on to the next job, would have ensured the soffits were level.  Mistakes will happen, but a detail oriented job site supervisor should have caught this and insisted it was fixed.

Any remotely reputable contractor will provide the spaces and materials specified in a contract.  How those spaces look, function, perform, and feel, however, can be drastically different.  With a design/build firm, you have the added assurance that the details are being thought through before construction begins, the contractor is well aware of the details and expectations and his eye is on the details throughout the process.  When hiccups and surprises do occur, as they will, the solutions will be well thought out, not whatever is quickest, easiest, and cheapest.  In the end, the old adage holds true, “you get what you pay for”.

– Russell

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