Wednesday, December 06, 2006

House: Quandary 1

So, as you might know, the first thing that I want to do in my new house is to get the electricity turned on. This is going to mean a fairly extensive amount of work, and so I've just had my first experience with soliciting bids from contractors. Up till now, I've always been on the other side in these negotiations.

Today, I had the second of two electricians look at Phase I of the electrical work to be done. The first guy, Dave, had given me a bid right on the spot when I walked him through the place on Monday. Steep, but not out of the realm of reality. Today's candidate, Les, said he wanted to think about his bid and would call in the evening.

Les called a short while ago, and gave a bid that was considerably lower than Dave's. After talking to him, I decided to call Dave, to see if he wanted to refigure his bid. He did, after a small amount of hemming and hawing, and essentially matched Les's bid.

And now, to the quandary. I liked both of them, a lot, on first impression. They are night and day as far as personalities go, or more precisely, are taciturn and loquacious to respective extremes. They both assure me that they'll be able to get to work as soon as the bureaucratic details with RG&E (the local utility) are worked out. They were both recommended by the same source. Dave gets a point by being the first to come look at the job. Les gets a point by giving the better number first. Still pretty much a tie.

The card-carrying ditherer, which is too often me, might think to postpone resolve this dilemma by getting a third estimate. Maybe. But I want me some E-lectrici-T!

What to do?


Anonymous said...

You've probably already resolved this quandry by now, but I would say weighting between being first and being lowest the nod probably goes to the lowest bidder out of the box. Being the lowest bidder is a pro-active choice. Being first, may just have to do with being in the neighborhood that day or having just got fired off the last job and therefore having time on his hands. The guys who are really good usually are so busy they can't drop everything and rush right over.

On the other hand being first may mean that he's better organized and tends to get the work done efficiently. If his bid was correct the first time, when you came up with a lower bid, he should have come back with the reasons his bid was correct and you were going to get a superior job done right and efficiently by paying the extra amount. Getting the job done right isn't only about the amount of money. Anyone can cut corners and do it cheaper, but is that what you want? Are we talking a difference of hundreds or thousands?

On the other hand did you get a written estimate of exactly what each was going to do, so you know both will put in the same circuit breaker box with the same quality breakers and wire the whole job with 12 gauge wire etc. The code says 14-16 gauge wire. My brother's million plus dollar house was wired with 16 gauge wire throughout including the garage so that every time he plugs in a power tool it throws the breakers.

On the other hand being first with the higher bid may just mean he tried to slide one past you on the chance you weren't going to check for other bids.

On the other hand being first may mean the guy isn't fooling around and will get on the job and get it done. Does each of them do his own work or will you hire one or the other and then Julio and his no-English gang who works for both of them will show up to do the actual work regardless of the one you hire?

To sum it up -- you're in a quandry. But, wait a second, this is where I came in. :-)

Don't forget it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You could always hire the one you feel best about to do one little part of it like put in the ground and circuit breaker box so you can get the city juice hooked up. Tell him you'll call him back once the meter is in or something. Then see if he shows up on time, works quickly, and does a good job. If he does you can tell him to go ahead and finish the whole job. If he doesn't you can tell him you'll call him as soon as you get your meter hooked up or whatever and then call the other guy and have him finish it, and tell the first guy you were unhappy that he showed up late and didn't do this or that right so you're going to get someone else to finish it.

Or if you want to be up front about it you can hire one or the other and tell him you want to do one little phase first to "make sure we can work together" or something like that. That way you can slide out of it with no reason really.

If one of them says no way I want the whole job right now or I can't do it, that tells you something. If the other one says "sure" it may mean that he's confident in what he's doing and that you'll be pleased with his work and he's not afraid.

Of course it might also mean that the first guy knows he's good and he's busy and doesn't need you and your crazy shit. And the second guy might be willing to do anything and jump through any hoop for a job because he's not in high demand. So you'd have another quandry on your hands.

A third bid would help you decide about the first bid being in the right range or not. You might also drop by the local wholesale electric place and ask them to recommend either a good or a cheap electrician and see if they name one you're talking with. If not, there's another name you can check with and get a bid from. And don't forget you can ask for referrals. Or you can ask any electrician to name someone outside of themselves who would do cheap, good work around here or whom to avoid. Or you might ask the electricians to name plumbers and the plumbers to name electricians. People in the trades usually have an idea of what the others are like even if they're in different specialities.

Whew! What a quandry finding an electrician. :-)

bjkeefe said...

As it happened, I decided to go with the loquacious one. Part of the reasoning was the fact that the first guy's estimate was, at first, so much higher. We all make arithmetic mistakes, which is what he claimed after I asked him to rebid, he declined, and then called back. However, someone with experience in a given field should be able to recognize a number that's in a different ballpark. Thus, one can be excused for a slip of the pencil, but less so for not recognizing the bottom line number must be wrong.

But that's inflating the weight that I gave to that particular bit of reasoning. In the end, it wasn't much more than a coin toss, and I decided I'd go with the guy who was so voluble about fixing up old houses.

The fallback is that I haven't hired the guy to do the whole house. He is signed on to do the bare minimum to get the juice back on. If it goes well, he'll probably get first crack at the rest of the work. If not, I left on good terms with the other electrician, and of course, there are plenty more out there.

As this part of the job is just a first step, I decided I'd rather get on with things, rather than try to squeeze another few bucks out by getting a third estimate.

But thanks for your input. The reminder about wire gauge was especially noteworthy, as the house will have to be extensively rewired.

Clare said...

So, what's the status of the electricity?

bjkeefe said...

My bill still reads: $0.00