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Old 03-20-2013, 06:20 PM   #1
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What's funny about the Homeowners' naivete?


I happened across a lengthy discussion on the contractors' side about the seemingly idiotic assumptions homeowners make when they try to get a "ballpark estimate" over the phone. Could it be we're not greedy or moronic, but just naive?

I got that there are a zillion variables, and respect a professional's desire to give an accurate estimate, as well as avoid shooting himself in the foot (losing the job, or getting stuck with a nightmare he doesn't want for any kind of money) by over- or under-estimating, sight unseen. Those were some impressive and funny horror stories.

But I also thought, "Hey, guys, were not stupid, so have a little respect, please...." I mean, we all know when we have our car oil changed that the BMW garage probably costs more, and 5 vs 4 quarts, or full synthetic vs house stock run higher, but if we called XYZ garage and asked, "How much for an oil change?" and heard, "I have no clue without seeing your car first", we'd be amazed and disgusted. We would wonder how they got a license, right? Mostly, a car is a car, so there is a range, right? So it could seem.

Most of us homeowners have to hire many good-sized jobs, before we (sadly) learn how many variables there are, and how wide the range of professionalism and craftsmanship are. And how few "standard" things there really are, especially in custom or antique (aka "money pit") houses!

We learn about the evil-doers and low-ballers (usually the same) only by asking around to see if we are being charged WAY under, or way over. the usual, a sure sign of something not right. When I ask for a ball park now, it is just so I will recognize these creeps before I get taken to the cleaners as I have been more than once.

I now know a reputable contractor or trades-person will take the time to give an informed written estimate based on the facts. But I learned the hard way, and NOT by trying to grab a bargain ; I was just a beginner (and single woman with no DIY knowledge), with an old house.

There's nothing more embarrassing and infuriating to, when we tried to ask around, have been told, "You can't ask for a ballpark" and then AFTER we're ripped off, also be told, "A new bathroom for under X grand??? What kind of an idiot are you! No wonder you got ripped off!" Soooo, are we supposed to know the common-sense "ballpark", or not?

I'd have been grateful for a few warnings from a kind contractor, rather than the sarcastic laughs a few of you guys have about the people who "want it done yesterday for half price". (Amazing how some who would NEVER give the "idiot homeowner" a "ballpark" over the phone, are sometimes quick to tell you how far OUT of the ball park your evildoer's price was, after the fact. Some even laugh at the things you were told made it more or less expensive, to justify the "idiot price" you believed was honest.)

It seems the real truth is that you are expected to learn by osmosis, from friend-of-a-friend, and your own more expensive DIY failures. Which can leave those of us who have no trades-persons in the family clueless. Not fair!

But I thought of a new way to look at this from both sides...

I do diabetes patient education for a living, and I know that eating 15 grams of sugar will raise the average person's blood sugar about 20 points. So why, the "average" ("standard") person asks me, does it not work that way when he eats 15 grams? Isn't that what all the diabetes guide books say? (Yep, it is!) They naturally get a little steamed when I tell them, "It's not quite that simple."

I could ask:


...old are you?
...fat are you?
...much do you move around?
...late in the evening do you eat?
...much stress do you have?
...sex are you?
...fat or fiber did you eat with it?
...many hours since your previous meal?
...time since your last dose of medicine?
...and a whole lot more.

So, contractors, I must ask you diabetic (and almost-diabetic) guys, how much of those variables did YOU know? But also to other frustrated laypeople, does this help us understand why we can't get an accurate estimate over the phone? Once I saw the parallels, it did for me. :-)

Of course, I've also learned many of the "slime ball warning signs", too, so it's been a while since I've been TOO badly burned. I've gotten used to the last-minutes add-on mark-ups, too, and that I have yet to see a last-minute "came in under budget". Best of all, I have had the luck to hire some good guys at last.

Sign me,
Wiser Now in St. Louis

P.S. I never use mood icons, but it has been fun adding irritation value to this post. Hope you can laugh with me.


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Old 03-20-2013, 06:48 PM   #2
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I love HowUthink .

I too found this place as a result of getting burned over some reno's. I vowed it would never happen again.

I can't comment on the other place, but you will find for the most part that the Gents and Ladies here are of the non condesending variety although the pricing thing is as you so eloquently pointed out..an issue



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Old 03-20-2013, 06:51 PM   #3
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Comparing an oil change to repairs on your house is not fair. An oil change is almost exactly the same on all cars. There is not much that is the same between houses one of them being age and every one of them being built different.
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Old 03-20-2013, 06:53 PM   #4
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It has been stated that understanding the variables was brought to light through her diabetes education.
Just as two differing bodies burn carbs at differing rates
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Old 03-20-2013, 07:09 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by joed View Post
Comparing an oil change to repairs on your house is not fair. An oil change is almost exactly the same on all cars. There is not much that is the same between houses one of them being age and every one of them being built different.
But it might be fair if BMWs were each hand made by a different person, using different parts and instead of an oil change the question was "My BMW stopped running. How much time and money to fix it?"

This is why most reputable contractors offer free estimates. But here we don't worry about that since we are here to help you Do-It-Yourself.
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Old 03-20-2013, 07:23 PM   #6
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I thought it was a great post.

Kinda like a "Light Bulb Moment" for her (was my take anyway).

Welcome to the forum...Hope ya come back and see us again ya hear.
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Old 03-20-2013, 10:55 PM   #7
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It sounds like the OP went over to Contractor Talk and got a little steamed over contractors blowing off steam about their clients on their own dedicated site. Seh should try to bear in mind that over here is the place where contractors go to help DIYer's free of charge.

If the OP is a Diabetes educator, she is probably a Doctor or RN. As such, she has undoubetedly heard conversations in the break room about dopey patients with unrealistic expectations. That is how she should look at Contractor's Talk- as a sort of break room for contractors.
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Old 03-22-2013, 11:33 AM   #8
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I noticed ContractorTalk redirects you to this site if you click that you are a homeowner. Perhaps the sites are related/co-owned. I'm too new to know.

I'm glad this forum here exists though.
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Old 03-22-2013, 02:06 PM   #9
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I think she hit it perfectly. I don't do remodels, so its a little bit different. But if I get a call for an insulation job, I ask some questions about what it entails, and throw some numbers around. Saves myself some time too. I had a guy freak out on me for being twice his first estimate. I just told him beware of the red flags and have a nice day.

Its qualifying, and it helps both contractor and homeowner. The only problem is when the homeowner will not reveal any of the numbers at their disposal. If I don't know your budget, I don't know what your capable of accomplishing, and I really don't like my time wasted when I spend an hour on an estimate with somebody to find out they have a $500 budget. Works both ways I suppose
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Old 03-22-2013, 02:23 PM   #10
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First off, I get that the guys on Contractor Talk were blowing off steam in a semi-private setting. I work with the public and some of the things I say when in the company of other people in my field would probably not go over well if we were overheard.

However, one of the reasons I became a guy who does so much DIY work is because of bad experiences with contractor quotes.

Shortly after I bought my first house I had two separate plumbing issues arise. I'd never had to call a plumber before so I started calling around to ask for quotes and quickly heard everyone say they needed to look in person and would not quote over the phone. I was annoyed but agreed in both cases. In the first case the guy gave me such a ridiculously high quote I almost yelled at him to get out of my house. He wanted almost $1000 to replace a worn out gasket. He even told me that's all he planned to do, although he made it sound very complex. I could easily see that it wasn't complex and I did it myself for under $3 and about 10 minutes of work. He still charged me $20 just for the quote. I suspect many people would just pay and that's why he had no trouble quoting me that price with a straight face.
The second plumber to come to my house was a little more reasonable, but still wanted $350 to replace the flex pipe on top of my water heater in addition to other work I called him for, unrelated to the flex pipe (replacing a leaking gate valve with a ball valve). When I told him I'd replace the flex pipe myself he said he couldn't do the job without replacing it himself. I thanked him and fixed it all myself. It was a very small leak so I had plenty of time to teach myself to solder. It was far less intimidating than I thought and I found I'm pretty good at it.

The thing that really struck me was in both cases these guys looked at my plumbing and then consulted binders full of prices to tell me what they would charge. My immediate thought is, "So there is a base price they could have told me over the phone." It would have been easy to say something like, that work starts at X dollars, but there are many variables and we can't give you a quote without seeing it." Even saying, "That will probably cost more than X dollars, but I cant give you a better number without looking." Would make me feel better about the honesty of the guy I'm calling.

Basically I get the feeling that one of the primary reasons for an in-person quote is to add some subtle psychological pressure to accept the quote when it is delivered in-person. Most people have a hard time saying no to a another person's face. It's also a hassle to set up appointments with multiple contractors for small repairs, so I suspect many homeowners just go with the first guy who shows up and seems somewhat competent. Especially if that guy offers to fix it right then.

Like the OP said, this feeling gets re-enforced every time I read a comment from a pro here who says it's impossible to give a ballpark figure, then scoffs when a homeowner posts a cost that the pro feels is too low or too high. I read those comments here constantly, for big and small jobs, and it really annoys me that some pros can have such disrespect for the homeowners who could be paying them.

I don't do most of my work as DIY because I'm cheap. In fact, I suspect I sometimes spend much more than I need to as I learn the proper way to do something. I also place a high value on my time. I work long hours at a fairly stressful job. Coming home to more work isn't the highlight of my day.
A big part of the reason I DIY is because I've learned that without a base knowledge of what things should cost it's too easy for a disreputable contractor to take advantage of me. I have no problem paying a pro to do good work, but it really irritates me to feel like I'm being lied to or manipulated. I have no good way to know who's fair and honest when the industry seems to be colluding to hide prices.
Is the guy quoting me a lower price than the others being fair, or is he a hack? Is the guy with the higher price really good and going to do superior work or is he trying to rip me off? I have no good way to know when everyone refuses to even discuss prices in general terms.

I'm sure some pros will get upset. I've seen a lot of posts about pricing with pros angrily defending their practices. I still haven't read an argument that has swayed my way of thinking. If I had I'd be happily paying plumbers and electricians to do work on my house while I relax in front of the TV with a beer.

On the plus side I'm a little more well-rounded person than I used to be. I know how to sweat copper fittings now.
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Old 03-22-2013, 03:12 PM   #11
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I've never given an estimate over the phone. When I get the call, I tell them I'll come over and look at what they want and then give them a price, no charge. I can't ballpark because so many homeowners haven't a clue what is involved in electrical jobs and therefore cannot give an educated and detailed explanation of the work they want done, unless it's something simple, like installing a ceiling fan.

Yes, there are contractors with no conscience. And there are contractors who are hacks. But there are also many very good contractors. Being in the trades, I can spot who is who fairly easily. But I've walked on to jobs where I have felt sorry for the homeowner. They didn't have a clue, until the end, or worse, after they paid for the work and everyone was gone.

I understand the OP's side of things but it seems the OP has run into the hack and got taken and has learned from the school of hard knocks. If so, that's unfortunate. It's sad there are hacks like that out there creating this kind of thing, and giving all contractors a bad name along the way. Maybe that's why Angie's List is so successful.

But to the "no ballpark over the phone" issue, that depends on the job and the ability of the homeowner to explain exactly what they need. If you say, "I just want to change a few fixtures" and I find out your wiring or loading or switching needs attention first, that ballpark estimate goes right out the window. Then the homeowner gets upset and possibly refuses to pay for the extra and much needed work. One never knows what they are getting into until they open up the patient. If you want a ballpark estimate, don't hold my feet to the fire if the final costs are more because you didn't, or couldn't, explain all the work that needed to be done when you pressed for that sight unseen ballpark estimate.

Last edited by JulieMor; 03-22-2013 at 03:17 PM.
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Old 03-22-2013, 03:13 PM   #12
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OP joins...1st and last post is a long one....has not been back to even read the responses......go figure...
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Old 03-23-2013, 07:39 AM   #13
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It helps me a lot knowing many of you guys are dealing with a number of the same problems I run into. People will hold you to a price even over 20 dollars. A job you told them over the phone would be 150 dollars. Or the homeowner that gets impatient and gets in the middle of what you are doing and does what you told them they can not do until you were done with your part. What about the homeowner that calls you out to tell them how to snake a circuit through their house only so they can then do it themselves. No, I do not understand how contractors could show resentment to homeowners
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Old 03-23-2013, 08:13 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by ddawg16 View Post
OP joins...1st and last post is a long one....has not been back to even read the responses......go figure...
It's kind of like banging on your front door, asking to be let in, then pooping on your living room floor and leaving.

After being pressed one time for a ballpark figure over the phone by a doctor, I said to him, "I don't feel too good. Can you give me a ballpark figure what it will cost for you to make me feel better?" He replied, "When can you stop by to take a look at the job?"

But I think too often we shoot ourselves in the foot. We devalue our knowledge and experience. There's no shortage of professional trades people willingly giving out free advise, on forums and elsewhere. We spend years learning the trade, then more years improving our knowledge and skills only to jump at the chance to help someone out, for free, who is trying to avoid paying one of us to the work in the first place. It's only when we stop handing out free advise that non-professionals will respect us for our knowledge and skills, and willingly pay us to do the work.
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Old 03-23-2013, 09:24 AM   #15
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I'm glad a few of you give estimates over the phone or at least after a free visit. There are jobs that I would have guessed cost a few hundred dollars but they're much more in every case, and it's good to know that ahead of time. I recently read that building a typical bedroom closet costs about $2000. I would have figured about $100 for drywall and drywall supplies, $50 for framing, $50 for wooden shelves and rails, $200 for doors, $40 an hour for four hours work for one man. That's $560. If I had three times that amount I'd feel more than confident that was enough but it wouldn't be.


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ballpark price , contractor cost , dmub homeowners , estimates

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