Electrical Contractor Ups Estimate
We are building a 960-square-foot addition onto our house with about 200 square feet of outbuildings and are upgrading from a 200-amp system to a 400-amp one, with a new panel going in the addition and a larger meter outside.
Our electrician just finished the rough-in wiring and presented us with a bill that was almost double what we were quoted for the first installment and told us that the job would now cost quite a bit more than the original estimate, not including the new meter which will be even more. The price has jumped from $4,300 to $7,300 for new construction wiring for the above-mentioned project, without the as-yet-unknown price for the meter.
We had a verbal agreement, witnessed by my husband and myself, as to the original estimate and nothing was mentioned about higher costs during the three weeks of rough-in work. A few lights were added, and a heat pump connection, but in the initial request I listed all the rest of the fixtures, outlets, outside lights, ceiling fans, and 220s that would be expected. I have now asked for everything in writing, something I should have done initially, but one hopes people will honor their word.
I paid the first installment today, which was almost as much as the original estimate. The electrician is licensed and belongs to a union and seems to do very good work and is pleasant to work with. He said that he priced the job by square feet and based on code, but I listed the extra fixtures and outlets on our original list of needed items for this job and was told that all these items were included. The "square feet estimate" is new to me.
I would appreciate any suggestions as to how to handle this situation. I certainly don't want to pay these inflated costs but I don't know how to get our project finished peacefully and professionally without getting overcharged. I searched the internet for several hours and am finding it very difficult to find any lists of standard pricing so I don't know if we are being treated fairly, price-wise, or not. Any help will be most appreciated.
Pam in Tennessee
Wow Pam you're in one tough spot....verbal agreements are about as good as the paper their written on. I'm not an electrician by any means, but I would be leary of any square foot pricing for most trades, there's just too many variables IMO.
How to finish up? Have you talked with the Sparky to get his take? You could then ask him about the original "understanding." If you don't like what he says, you always have the option of having him stop and getting new estimates on the remaining work, and get a signed contract before work begins. As for what's already done, I believe you're on the hook.
If you refuse to pay, you can almost guarantee he'll slap a construction lien on your house. When you give him your last payment, have a lien waiver in hand and have him sign it. If you don't have a waiver, contact your attorney or bank, the construction loan manager would have one with the correct wording. Do the right thing.
Very good points, thank you
Thank you for your prompt response and moral support. That's a very good suggestion about the lien waiver. And I know a verbal contract is not the best way to go, but I live in a small town in the country and usually we try to take people at their word. My only concern about getting a new electrician at this stage is that neither worker would want to take full liability for the work, if anything goes wrong, since two companies would have been involved.
I spoke with the electrician today and he said he charges $3.50 a square foot, but I didn't ask if that included supplies. That would make the total cost more in line with his original estimate so I don't understand the price increase of $3,000. Then he suggested charging $55 per outlet and more for fixtures, but that would make the price even higher.
The electrician also said the change from a 200 amp service to a 400 amp one will be $2,000-plus more, which I believe is in line with current pricing. The bottom line seems to be that this 1200-square-foot addition will cost $10,000 for electrical work, a very high price for a job in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee.
I also insisted on a written contract and he said he never uses contracts. I told him we had to have one to proceed, since I don't want anymore surprises, and he said he would make one up.
What latitude do contractors have when estimating? What is considered fair when they go over an estimate and is there any recourse if a contractor goes way over what he or she says they will do? Do state licensing boards deal with these issues at all?
Thanks for the help you have provided.
Pam from Tennessee
Is this guy legal? No contract?!? Ever? Is he insured? Licenced?
On projects like this, the price, and contract comes AFTER a walk-thru with the customer, so the price is based on what will be installed. A square foot estimate, is just that, a very rough estimate.
In his defence, however, let me point out this word - estimate. The definition of this word has NOTHING that says "exact" in it. When did an estimate become a hard price?
Should have had a signed contract before beginning. Protects everyone involved
Actually the price of 7300.00 isn't all that bad. When you are getting a 400 amp service upgrade it gets expensive. A 400 amp meter pan alone cost anywhere from $400 to $600 not to mention the additional panel plus costs of larger conduit and wire. It would cost more if fed from underground than overhead. I coudn't see it being less than $4000.00 for labor and materials just for the service entrance.
It is always best to get a written contract before work to start. It seems the electrician had already started his rough-in and then you decided you wanted to add things to the list. That too is very costly because added labor and materials. People think that just he's already working, that added work "while he's there" is going to be done for free.
There is no standard pricing of electrical work amongst electricians. That's why it is best to get at least 3 estimates. $4300.00 does sound unreasonalble for all the work you are describing and you're wanting all the extra's without paying for it. Also remember, the electrician is union and has been trained and educated for his skills. You've already said that you like his work and you're pleased with him. He's not going to be cheap.
I feel in my opinion that the price is within reason and you should meet with him and take the time to go over the job and the extra's so that you and him are on the same page.
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