At least, not just because it’s the cheapest one.
Look, everyone loves to save money. So when a home improvement estimate comes in lower than the others, it’s hard not to pounce on it. But two recent projects have reinforced my belief that the lowest bid needs to be questioned carefully.
In fact, we rejected the lowest bids on the HVAC unit and the fan installation. Here’s why:
Thoroughness of the bid
The bid we chose for the fans was nearly twice what the cheapest one was. The contractor we used had done the most thorough inspection, so we trusted his quote.
He removed the existing fan to see whether it would be better to replace or repair. We mentioned problematic wiring in the house, so he took off the switch plates to check. He also went into the attic to check how much clearance he’d be working with.
The other guy glanced at the fan. We told him the first contractor had found that some extra wiring work would need to be done. This guy didn’t look behind the switch plates. We offered to let him into the attic. He just went outside, eyeballed the roof and said it would be fine.
It didn’t instill a lot of faith in the accuracy of his estimate.
Lest you think the first guy was just padding the estimate, another bid was more than $1,000. Another contractor estimated $600-750 over the phone.
Clearly, the second guy was purposefully lowballing the bid to get the job. Once he started working, he would have “discovered” problems that extended the repair time and, therefore, our bill.
Or perhaps he genuinely thought it was an accurate bid. Even so, I’m certain he would have run into wrinkles — ya know, the ones we tried to tell him about — that would have changed the cost.
We had a slightly different issue with the HVAC quotes.
If you read my earlier post, you know we had two contractors telling us different things. One guy was sure a one-ton unit would be plenty. The second said we’d need 1.4. A third one said we should get a two-ton unit.
A reader was nice enough to let me pester her husband with questions about this. He confirmed that a one-ton wouldn’t be enough.
This might have been an issue of bad calculations. All I know is that three other people in the field disagreed. If we had blindly accepted the lowest bid, we would have spent $3,600 to get almost what we needed.
In other words, you have to be sure that you’re comparing apples to apples on your bids. And that your contractor knows just how many apples you need.
Cheaper can be okay
I’m not saying the cheapest option is always a bad idea.
I had a friend who started his own tile installation business. On his first bid, he figured out his estimate, then doubled it. Apparently, it was still significantly cheaper than the other quotes.
Sometimes a contractor just doesn’t know the industry standard (or doesn’t like overcharging for his work), so you’ll get a better deal. Sometimes the worker just wants to build up a good customer base, so the rates stay low.
And sometimes, it’s just a question of overhead. Smaller companies have fewer expenses, so they can afford to charge less.
Don’t forget that bids aren’t always final. If the contractor you prefer is a little more expensive, call and ask why. I called a contractor last year to ask about a price disparity. He knocked off $600.
In the end, it’s really all about informed decision making — not just getting the lowest price.
Have you ever chosen a higher bid? Have you ever taken the lowest bid and regretted it?