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Exterior House Work: Bill Question

I’m hoping someone here knows something about billing norms for having house work done. Typically, I’ve gotten quotes for completing a job, and then paid for them doing that job. We recently had our NorCal house painted, and before it could be painted it needed to have some boards with dry rot removed, a new aluminum garage door, and a portion of the wide siding replaced. We live in a Victorian-style house in the Bay Area, which we bought about one year ago (don’t ask what we paid; you’d never believe me).

So, the painter’s go-to contractor was unavailable, and he found someone else. They had good reviews, and were impressive to talk to. However, they quoted us at $9-10K to have the exterior work done to get it ready to paint, because of the scope of the work and the dry rot. More than I hoped, but okay, that’s fine.

The final bill came in at $15K. The invoice listed what they did (which was on the quote), and when questioned about the increase was told that “we bill only on labor hours and materials”. He explained the nature of repair work is that you can’t anticipate the job costs/effort, so billing is different than, say, putting in new kitchen sinks and cabinets. I asked why the invoice didn’t then have “hours charged plus materials” if that’s how cost was computed, and he said most people don’t want to see that, so they just list what they did.

He did provide me with that info on a second invoice, listing hours and a blanket materials cost of ~$5K.

Are they required to give a more detailed “materials” cost, if that’s what I’m being charged for? Does that seem right? There’s no way for me to gauge if he’s giving me an honest price.

Thanks for any help.

I would review the quote he provided. Did it have a clear scope of work? Was it in fact a quote, or was there verbiage that makes it not a firm price? If it’s a firm quote, or bid, then ask him how the scope of work changed from what he bid.

As far as not needing substantiating and demonstrating the additional cost, I’d call bullshit.

What type of ‘contract’ do you have?

Wow. 50%-60% greater than the estimate?

That is messed up. Sounds like he low balled you to get it then jacked it up to what ever he wanted it to be. A couple of contractors I’ve known that used to do that are no longer in business.

Not saying that is absolutely what happened, but I’d definitely need a walk through of exactly what happened to increase the bill that much above the estimate.

I can’t comment too much on the type of work that your contractor did. However, I work in roofing. When we provide an estimate, that’s the price. If we didn’t perform our due diligence and it runs into more hours and labour than originally thought, then that’s our problem. The only exception would be when a home owner is informed that we can’t be certain about the state of the entire roof deck under the shingles and it may need to be replaced at $x/sheet of plywood. Before the work is executed, the homeowner is made aware of it. If it comes up it’s typically because it’s likely to need replacing and they are informed.

It sounds like they don’t really know how to estimate their work properly. Did you sign a contract to perform the work? It should be a firm price and any change to the scope would need to be approved by the individual initiating the work (you). If you haven’t provided authorization for the work, I’d say they are SOL but read what you signed to authorize the original work.

Thanks for all the comments. I have a meeting scheduled to review the bill with him. His stance is that he can only estimate the man hours for jobs like repairing exterior rot, window sills, etc… and not until they start taking things apart can the true extent of damage be gauged. So, it’s different than hiring someone to install cabinets or a bath tub, which is strictly estimated beforehand. I haven’t had this type of work done, so was taken aback by the difference in the estimate and bill. I feel like they did a poor job keeping me informed on the price and scope of the work as they progressed.

Since we’ve moved into our new place, we’ve had flooring re-done, the interior painted, roofing work, and tree work. All were billed consistent with the estimates. The joys of home ownership…

I just don’t buy that line of reasoning on their part.

The main question then, if that is what he’s sticking to- Did he do anything outside of the original estimate, and if so, does it justify that much of an increase?

I’ve done a fair bit of contracting, repair, and various types of construction, so I know that stuff comes up. But not to that extent, and not without everybody being on the same page.

I don’t buy that line of reasoning either. It’s not like 10% +/- which, perhaps, you could swallow. When they presented their original price, did they clearly outline that it was a budget price only? They they, either verbally or in writing suggest that the price presented is a guideline only? You can’t be the first person who swallowed their tongue on being presented with an invoice far in excess of the original price.

It’s very unethical, especially if you’re asking them to explain something they can’t estimate. They could have used those hours to check the workability and quality before they bill you, which is how they do business when they do single story house plans. If they have other reasons for doing this, they should have warned you ahead of time so that you could make edits to the invoice without making a new invoice. You would have to discuss it with them. It’s a pretty strange situation, but they are entitled to it. When you do new work, you have to estimate it separately from other completed orders