We are renovating our home to make it wheelchair accessible for our son and have received bids, very different bids, from three contractors. Two of the bids include “allowances,” while the other does not. Having never done this before, what exactly is an “allowance” and how do we begin to evaluate each bid and select a contractor?
Barb, Apple Valley, MN
What a fun time for you, however, I sympathize with your confusion. Here are a few guidelines to assist you in reviewing the bids and selecting a contractor for your home access project:
Apples-to-Apples: The first step in any successful bid process is to ensure the design, details and information going out to contractors for bid is equal in scope, enabling them to provide bids that compare “apples-to-apples.” This can be done by defining the design/access solutions, all the products and materials prior to requesting bids so you can ensure each contractor is bidding on the same information.
Professionalism and Accountability: If you are not already familiar with a contractor’s suitability for your project, ask them for a list of referrals … then follow through and contact them. Asking previous clients about a potential contractor’s experience working with home access, their sensitivity to the unique needs and schedules of a family with a member having a disability, finish quality, attention to detail, meeting timelines, sticking to the original bid, etc., are issues to be aware of before getting involved with them . . . especially if you don’t have an independent company assisting you with project management.
It is also important that you request information from each of the contractors to ensure they are appropriately licensed and carry insurance.
The Numbers Game: An allowance is a dollar amount that includes the total project cost, but is set aside for a specific item that has yet to be selected or finalized (i.e., plumbing fixtures, flooring, etc). If you don’t use all of the money reserved for the selected item(s), the remainder of the allowance is reimbursed back to you. If, however, your selections cost more than the allocated allowance, you owe the additional amount to the contractor.
Establishing the right amount for allowances can be tricky and a “desperate” contractor may play the game of providing you with an unrealistically low allowance allowing him to present a “low bid” hoping you will select him based on price…so watch out! You may owe more money at the end of the project for selected items, which exceed the allowance amount. Making selections prior to putting your project out-to-bid can avoid this mistake.
Your Budget to Bank On: Examining the numbers can tell a story; in a perfect world, the ideal bid is the one that has the lowest overall base price and the highest allowance amount built into it. This combination provides the most money to go “shopping” with when picking out allowance items as well as the budgetary reassurance of being the lowest bid on the base items.
Your “Gut” Level: Finally, which contractor do you want working on your project and be in your home every day? Keep in mind that the person from the construction company that went through your home when the project went out-to-bid may or may not be the person “swinging the hammer.” Contractors and their sub-contractors often work as a team and may have a foreman that will be the main contact through the duration of the construction. If meeting this person is an important element in your decision, you should request to meet those individuals who will be your primary contact.
Good luck to you! Send us photos when your project is done.
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