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Square footage vs. actual bids


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Randy's Forum Posts: 98
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By Randy in Dunlap, TN on 4/23/2006


All,

     Recently met with my designer attempting to finalize plans. He has been in the design business for 50 years, so I consider him a trusted resource. He suggested that showing all finished living space on the plans in the final square footage was not the best way to approach the bidding process. House will be approx 4,200 square feet of heated space with approx 600 square feet of garage space. He recommends that we show approx 3,600 square feet and show the other 500 square feet of living space (basically upstairs media room and guest bedroom/bath) as "optional space" on the plans. Even though I plan from the start to build the entire house as it is drawn on the plans. He claims that many subs will draw conclusions based on the finished square footage and "adjust" their bids accordingly, i.e. the bigger the house the more subs will jack up their bids??  

     This is my first rodeo, so looking for some rudder here. In a way I see his point, but how do I handle this in the bidding process? It shouldn't matter from a framing perspective, since the house will be framed to include these "bonus rooms", but basically all other subs involved in finishing these rooms will be affected (plumber, rockers, electrician, painters, floorers, finish carpenters, etc...)?? Doesn't seem workable for bidding. Doesn't seem workable for the bank when presenting the package for the bank. Do I have subs bid on the 3,600 sq ft and then go back and tell them I want to build the additional 500 square feet so they need to adjust their bids based on their initial quote?? I certainly don't like the idea of entering into a working relationship with a sub by being less than forthright about my intentions.

      I know I have rambled, hopefully someone will understand the scope of this question! Maybe I'm overthinking this, should probably just approach it from the outset that I plan to build the entire house when screening subs and getting bids. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Randy


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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 4/23/2006


There is no problem getting inflated numbers if you're still getting them together for the bank. You will want to have everything rebid when you're ready to go. If you think you're gaining anything by this it would probably be the headache you are going to have when you find yourself thousands of dollars short to pay these people when you have the whole job completed. Trust your instincts.


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By Jay in Elkhart, IN on 4/24/2006


I agree with Tom. You really need to get pricing for everything you are doing so at least you can make a good decision about what direction you want to go. It is a lot easier to come down from a number then to try to put 5 lbs in a 3-lb bag. 
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By Richard in Coventry, CT on 9/2/2006


I agree with your designer; get quotes not including the extra sq. footage and then negotiate when the sub is on site for the additional. When I built my house, it had a 400 sq. ft bonus room and the first subs added $8/sq. ft. to frame for a total of $3,200.

If your room is like mine it is only two or three walls over the garage and the subfloor, at most four hours of work.

I waited towards the end of the framing asked the framer to frame this out for me and I would give him $600. He agreed and I saved $2,600.

Unfortunately, if you want to contract your own house these type of things are required to build it within a reasonable price and save money. Do you think a GC is paying $3,200 to frame three walls in a bonus room?

These subs will try to take advantage of you and you need to know what takes what amount of time and negotiate every step of the way, or you will get taken at every turn.


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By Pat in Denver, CO on 10/25/2006


No offense, but I completely disagree. Sure, you were able to negotiate the framing price, but you ended up paying more for insulation, electrical, drywall, and any other finish items needed for the bonus areas. If you have the liquid assets on hand to cover this, great, but the person asking the question may not.

Telling contractors one thing, with the intention of doing more, is only asking to have a budget short of money in various phases. It is like going into a car dealer and overstating your income to qualify for a luxury car, and then being stuck with payments you can't afford. Sure, you got the car, but at what cost? It is much more advisable to get the TRUE costs of the project so there are appropriate funds in the budget. He will be in a much better position down the road to negotiate, than springing subcontractors with the idea several rooms need to be insulated, drywalled, painted, etc., and expecting them to do it for cheap.


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By Phillip in Tampa, FL on 10/26/2006


I think a balance of the two may be best.

It is true that many bids will magically inflate if your square footage goes up - if your framers are used to getting $6/sq ft and you tell them you have 4,000 sq ft, you're going to be starting $6,000 higher than if you told them you only have 3,000 sq ft.

Our bonus area was built into the trusses and therefore required very little framing, so it really upset me when I first started that these guys were going to make a killing off of that area, especially since my trusses were already quite expensive.

I also agree that not including it on your plans to the bank would be foolish unless you have lots of cash.

The best alternative, and what I did, was use one set plans when you prepare your package for the bank (showing the upstairs area completed), and use another set of plans to get bids on from trades. It is unfortunately true - when they are on site doing the downstairs area, they have a different mentality - they are already making the money they want to make on the main house, so asking them to do anything else extra for cash (within reason) is just money in their pocket for their family and the weekend. They can also see how simple the job is and will bid accordingly.

Beware though - there are some subs who will try and take advantage of you, so be prepared to perhaps finish off a trade or two yourself upstairs, or bid out the upstairs separately, but that could quickly negate your savings.


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By Richard in Coventry, CT on 10/26/2006


Maybe I did not make myself clear. I knew I was going to need to complete the room and had a rough estimate for those costs based on bids.

Once you get the estimate without the extra sq footage, you do not need to be Toll Brothers to guesstimate the added cost.


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By Pat in Denver, CO on 10/26/2006


"Guesstimating" has lead to more cost overruns than any other aspect of a construction project. I am not saying you do not know what things cost, but most people have a tough time comprehending how one little item can affect a multitude of areas.


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By Richard in Coventry, CT on 10/27/2006


"Guesstimating" is what a budget really is. If you do not have reserves, building a house is probably not a good idea.

I got firm prices during my budgeting on concrete, which was $66 per yd. and then went to $82 three months later when it was time to pour. Copper prices went up over 60% in the 6 months from bid. Should I have relied on my budget 100%, not have any reserves and just given up? My guess is you have not actually owner-built as of yet, so you do not have much experience with what actually happens when you build a house.

I would guess that less than 10% of projects are actually completed on budget. I am not trying to be offensive, but a lot of people read these forums and including a 800 sq ft bonus room over a 3 1/2 car garage and allowing subs to price as normal sq footage, is a HUGE mistake and will be the first step in evaporating your owner-builder savings. If you cannot negotiate or do not have some knowledge of how subs do business, then you should probably go ahead and hire a builder.


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By Phillip in Tampa, FL on 10/27/2006


"Budget schmudget." That is my wife and I's new favorite saying.

Richard may not be the most tactful contributor on the forum (sorry Richard), but I must say I agree with his general comments... my budgets for drywall, copper (we have both wire and roofing), concrete (live in Florida so hello $1.59/block), cherry wood for cabinets and even fill dirt have simply blown my budget out of the water. Reserves were crucial to keep our project alive.

Now that prices are stabilizing, many of you just pulling together your budgets may be more fortunate than I, as I don't think the construction industry has seen a price surge like the last 12-18 months in some time, but I would dare say if you don't plan to build in 6 months then you should add 15%-20% minimum to your budgets for overruns.

The best O-B in the world can't negotiate staple materials - concrete, dirt, and other similar items are in great demand and tough to source for reasonable prices. You can certainly shop around - my original bid for fill dirt was $279 per load, and I ended up paying only $175 - but I only budgeted $125, as $115 was the going price 18 months ago. I need 75 loads!

The bottom line is, plan for high costs across the board (including the budget you submit to the bank), and then work like a dog to find ways to cut those costs. As an example, try to negotiate with the subs on site for add-ons like the bonus room mentioned above.

Phillip


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 3/4/2007


One thing I would be concerned about would be the change orders if the square footage wasn't included in the original bids. But if this was a means of getting the total down to a point where the bank was happy and you could cover the extra, then go for it.

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By George in Wharton, TX on 10/18/2007


The unknown change order cost after they started building was exactly what I was concerned about too. Maybe the best of both worlds would be to get the original bid first, then before you hire him ask about adding "that little bitty bonus room".
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