Without a clear scope of work, you really don’t know what a bid for construction work includes, and the more complex the job, the greater the chance of this unknown factor coming back to bite you. But I would say, if you haven’t discussed the specs, or didn’t understand them, or didn’t probe for more detail, you as the buyer have set yourself up for the fall. It’s amazing that consumers have gotten quite savvy about shopping and negotiating for the purchase of a car than a large renovation project. The former typically involves a much smaller sum of money and yet customers have no bones about negotiating here. Gone are the days people walk onto car lots and look at stickers—if you don’t have the buyer guide report in-hand when you meet a car salesman, you’re living in the 80’s (and I’m not talking about leg warmers and Duran Duran). Why is it, then, that when it comes to remodeling a kitchen, building an addition, or even building a new home, contracts that are $30K – $1M+, all you ever hear is “I found someone to do it for $5K cheaper than the others.” What does that mean? It’s like saying “I got a red car cheaper than a blue car and saved $1,000.” Huh?
Understanding the scope of work is important when looking at different bids because if you blindly trust the contractor will deliver the level of finish and workmanship you expect, their perspective will likely not match yours. Just like you hope to get the level of finish and craftsmanship you want for the least amount possible, your contractor wants to get the project done for the least amount of cost possible to him or her. If you don’t make sure that they understand how you expect it to be done and look once it’s done, then you are leaving yourself wide-open for a big, ugly surprise. It is a rare thing these days that a contractor delivers a project that exceeds expectations. Even honest contractors have a level of finish they need to solve to, and while you might expect them to deliver a sexy Italian sports car, they might build you a Japanese sedan. While both are desirable in their own way, one is much cheaper to do than the other. In fact, I would say that if your expectations were exceeded without reviewing scope of work, it would be plain dumb luck and good for you! Usually, if you haven’t gone over the gritty details and set mutual expectations, it will be unlikely that the contractor will intentionally “wow” you.