By: Revanche

On the home(buying) front: money choices

July 31, 2017

The costs to build our future castle (home!) [Part 7] This whole post is going to be so much money. About so much money, I mean. Lots and lots of money. Stimulating the economy beyond anything I’d ever imagined would happen in this lifetime.

Hiring out work

The contractor’s labor, and the subcontractors’ labor, is a set price for the most part. I’m saying up front that we’re paying a premium for the general contractor whom we’ll call Bob and I didn’t negotiate a penny of that. Those of you who know me won’t even open your mouths to ask if I was “too embarrassed” to ask for a discount like some people thought.

It was deliberate. I’m a star performer at work, and I know how to treat them. You pay good money to get exceptional results. You do not nickel and dime someone who is going to play a huge role in quality control, and attend to your every need. That’s the best way to demotivate them.

Every week, my decision and refusal to negotiate his rate proves that Bob is worth every penny. He’s honest, hardworking, prompt to reply to any and all questions (stupid or not), shows up whenever and wherever we ask, on top of keeping the project on schedule. By the way, he wrote up a highly detailed schedule for us to work by. All of that makes him a total gem and a complete anomaly as a General Contractor, from the anecdotes of all the horrified friends and family hearing we were on a tight timeline.

But that’s not all!

  • He advises us on the best places to source our materials and helps us find discounts without compromising on quality.
  • He’s cultivated relationships in the contracting world: he chatted up the project reviewer which resulted in the job being classified as an update, instead of a renovation, and saved us $2700 in permitting costs. I would not have known to ask for that concession!
  • When we decided to save money on one of the “work in every room” aspects of the project (lighting) delaying it for later, he discounted his own rate by $350 to do the full job now. We didn’t ask, he offered.
  • When he made the wrong call on one of the walls, costing us an additional $500 in work, he made up for it by footing the bill for expensive aesthetic work that I wouldn’t have wanted to pay for, but PiC would have wanted.
  • He’s offered us lots of reclaimed and leftover supplies from previous jobs that the owners just wanted dumped. So far, that’s worth a smidge north of $1000.
  • The quality of his work is top notch so we passed rough inspection with flying colors.

By the end of this job, I anticipate that he will save us at least half the cost of his fees by doing stuff like this for us. Then there’s simply no price I can put on the sanity that he preserves by doing his actual services: coordinating all the work, hiring and managing the subcontractors, picking up all the materials that we purchase and checking them for damage, making all the returns.

The power of a warranty

Pretty much everything in this place is old enough to be replaced but we have to pick our battles. The roof is old, the wiring is old, the plumbing is old, the water heater is older, the furnace probably has a beard.

However, our realtor bought us a warranty that will cover all appliances, minor roof leaks, the water heater failing. She’s not so sure how well it covers plumbing because her experience has been that they’re finicky on which bits of pipes they’ll cover. Neither of us are willing to play the odds on whether or not the old wiring will catch fire, either, so we’re attacking those items now.

We’ll cross our fingers that the roof isn’t damaged and the water heater keeps truckin’ – but if it does, the warranty is more straightforward on those.

Negotiating costs

There are two places where we can really run up the bills, according to Bob.

The first is our selection of the finished materials like cabinets, flooring, fixtures, and so on. You can choose a $200 toilet, or an $800 toilet. A $20 showerhead, or an $800 shower fixture. Oh yes, you can spend $2000 on a door! (We did not.)

There’s not a lot of negotiation to be done but there are some bits you can do, aside from asking yourself if you REALLY need that super awesome rain bath showerhead.

  1.  Ask for large volume discounts. Home Depot’s Pro shop gives a high volume discount on any orders that are over $1500 in addition to whatever other sales and discounts you can get.
  2. Ask for small discounts. Our contractor gets a small discount if you use his pro account. We do!
  3. Bob also advised us that you can often request a 10% discount at Home Depot just because if you go to the assistant store manager, or escalating to the store manager.
  4. Ask for discounts just because! I online chatted with the good folks at to ask if they could beat the pricing I had in my cart and they did.

The second place is scope creep, AKA those AWOs that pop up on our progress invoices: Add Work Orders.

Those come up when you’re taking down walls to studs, thank crepes that you did and howl a few choice curses at the moon for what you found: more dry rot. If you didn’t find it, you would have fallen through the floor in about 8 months. Or your new windows would have fallen out when the dry rotted framing inside turned into a pile of splinters. Or when you realize that there’s black mold creeping across the back walls that the seller’s piles of belongings covered up. These weren’t in your original contract and that’s how the Bobs of the contracting world really make their money.

I’m so grateful that Bob was upfront about this little detail – we restructured our entire plan in the first week based on that advice and the saving is clear.

Spending choices: charge it up!

I could have chased down discounted gift cards to pay for supplies, saving 5-7%. For this project, though, I wanted the price protection from my credit card.

American Express will make it right if a store won’t honor their return policy. If something breaks or goes missing, I have protection for 90 days. We are buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. I do not need to expend any personal energy fighting with any single merchant, and paying with the credit card is my insurance against that.

:: Would you (have you) have made any decisions differently? Do you have regrets on hiring someone cut-rate or did you have a great success story in getting a deal?

Before: Background, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Next on our Home Buying Adventure: Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11

14 Responses to “On the home(buying) front: money choices”

  1. Wow, you have found a gem of a contractor. One of the things that worries me with Jon’s “I Can Do Everything” motto, besides the obvious delays when he gets sidetracked, is that I’m pretty sure he doesn’t always find the best values. Sounds like your guy comes pretty darn close.
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    • Revanche says:

      That’s definitely something that I worried about – and Bob has made it a point to tell us when he thinks a price point is too high for the quality we’re getting, or even too low (and therefore a shoddy item).

  2. Bob sounds like a great contractor. Great find!
    I don’t like working with contractors at all. I feel their fee is ridiculous.
    Good luck with the renovation.

    • Revanche says:

      He is, thankfully. My family has always worked with them for business reasons but that gave me a healthy respect for the good ones who are definitely worth their fee. I compare it to all the places that we would have made mistakes ourselves that cost way more than his fee 🙂

  3. What an adventure!

    Kinda glad it ain’t me…but on the other hand, it sounds like you’ll have a very nifty place by the time you’re done, and your concerns about the crazy neighbor will go away.

    Agreed, it’s best not to nickel-&-dime with something you’re going to have to live with for a long time. We did that with the landscaper at M’hijito’s house…and now the landscaping needs to be redone.
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  4. Cindy in the South says:

    I built a log house in 2003. I was the general contractor. Actually, it worked out great. I worked full time and it did make for a lot of planning, but it was doable. A Mennonite group actually built it from a log kit, and they did an awesome job. I wish I had not sold that house and acreage….sigh

    • Revanche says:

      Did you work full time at your day job AND do the GC work for your log house? Log houses look amazing, I didn’t realize they could be built from kits. That must be so helpful.

      • Cindy in the South says:

        Yes, I did work full time and was the general contractor. However, you have to realize where I lived back then, I only had to pay $100 for my general contractor’s license and get a permit for my septic. The Mennonites built the log house kit on top of a basement I had prepared. The only hiccup was that the sub contractor I used for the basement did not do a very good job, and I made him redo some of the work. I ended up with a substantial basement concrete wall. The Mennonites put the kit together (I had ordered the kit from a company in Tennessee and they recommended the Mennonite crew. They were fantastic, and had it assembled in two days. I then subcontracted out the electrical, roofing, plumbing etc. I had a construction loan from a local bank. Actually, everything, except for the original basement hiccup which I had fixed immediately, went very well. I knew who I wanted to use as subcontractors so it was actually a pleasant experience.

  5. Linda says:

    With everything else you have going on, I’m sure it’s a huge relief to have Bob there to handle the renovations. He sounds like a treasure, and you’ve made the right decision to hire him. Whenever you open up walls you find all sorts of interesting things, that’s for sure.
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    • Revanche says:

      It surely is! It’s a part time job getting all the materials together in time for him to do the work, we just could not have done the rest of the job without his guidance.

  6. There are times to seek discounts and definitely times to appreciate quality and pay for it. Bob has proven himself time and time again based on your story! We are almost done with the “make over” for our house sale and on to the renovations at our other house. Still feeling your pain – at least somewhat! Maybe next year we’ll be able to talk about things other than our houses 🙂

  7. SP says:

    Sounds like a huge undertaking, I’m in awe and overwhelmed just reading this! Would love to catch up and hear more some time.

    How did you find the contractor? We haven’t undergone anything major enough to require a contractor yet.
    SP recently posted…Homeownership, 3 years inMy Profile

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