Help with understanding remodel bids- Bay Area
Josh Zaroor
April 24, 2013 in Other
We have received two bids on a remodel of our home- what's an appropriate cost per square foot to consider in the San Francisco Bay area? The remodel is about 1900 sq feet and includes a kitchen, master bed and bath, dining room, and some minimal changes to bedroom closets. Also includes adding a new covered porch and a small 200 sq ft addition. 2 Bids so far- one for $150 s/f and another for $250 which include high end cabinets and appliances. Need a little help understanding which is really accurate! Any guidance?
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Deborah Butler, Brickwood Builders
Every remodel is completely unique - there are no two alike. Since in remodel you have to deconstruct and build back as well as sometimes add on, everything has to be brought back to today's building codes (including electrical, plumbing and the new energy code). You are not starting with a blank slate like in new construction. Square foot pricing is absolutely meaningless in the remodel industry - I assume you calculated it after the fact as I can't imagine a professional remodeler ever quoting a per square foot price.

I would run from the low bid if it is supposed to include high end appliances and cabinetry. You don't give the square footage of the new covered porch so it is hard to tell what the total affected area is. The porch, while small, may be costly depending upon what is being done. The configuration of the spaces, the age of the house, how much you are moving around items (plumbing particularly), whether a new HVAC system will be required or not, accessibility to the work area - all make huge differences in price.

You may want to get another bid (or two) and then ask lots of questions until you understand what is included in each. Are there allowances - if so, are they reasonable? Comparing bids is difficult at best, spend some time at it and call people back for additional explanations. I can guarantee you that two bids that far apart are not assuming the same quality workmanship, materials and finish products. Good luck.
April 24, 2013 at 4:13pm     
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Ironwood Builders
Right on, Deborah!
April 24, 2013 at 10:03pm   
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charleee
Deborah and David - won't it also depend on which part of the Bay Area? A remodel in Marin is likely to cost more than one in Union City, no?
April 25, 2013 at 3:31am   
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Deborah Butler, Brickwood Builders
bobbi, hope all is well with you. Yes, the location does impact cost - and sometimes dramatically. In this case though, there are two bids on a project that are pretty far apart. I would contend the two bidders are not even bidding on the same project if you could tear it down to the details. The low bid is, IMO, way off base given the brief description we have above. Of course, "high end" is a relative term and may not mean what I think it means, so I may be incorrect. A couple of other bids should flesh out the price range some.
April 25, 2013 at 8:32am     
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charleee
Deborah, good point. I usually try to get three bids and then go with the middle price, AFTER I make sure the contractor and I are on THE SAME PAGE. And since the devil is in the details, I make sure the details are good.
April 25, 2013 at 8:35am     
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Josh Zaroor
Thanks for the discussion. A couple clarifying points (if anyone cares): I really was just looking for a ballpark figure for a major remodel and thought cost per sf made sense as a point of reference to other projects. I completely agree there are a lot of components which impact a final bid and price. We live on the "Peninsula" in San Carlos where most remodeled 3/2 homes are going for $1.3M+ these days. Our remodel should get us up to that amount and will be substantial in scope. The house is Spanish Revival style ranch and we'll be getting a totally re-done master bedroom/bathroom, kitchen, and entry which will include a new half bath. We'll be expanding the dining room by 100 sf and adding an 80sf covered entryway. We'll be updating another full bath and improving closets in two bedrooms.....ie, this is a big project and we are choosing materials consistent with other homes in the area. So while we won't have a Wolf range, we won't be too far down the "upscale" ladder.

Our bids (2) have come in at $230k and at $475k...both off the same set of architectural drawings and after walking the contractors through several hours of discussions with our architect. We are still trying to get two more bids. If this helps with ballparking a per/sf cost to think of for a major remodel- great! If not, thanks for the time and discussion...isn't Houzz great?
April 25, 2013 at 1:23pm     
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charleee
Houzz is great! Wouldn't it be easier to just move?
April 25, 2013 at 1:24pm   
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Josh Zaroor
you don't live here I take it! Just getting a house is an accomplishment. We bid on three before getting this one. First had 28 offers, second had 10, and ours had 5. It's definitely crazy.
April 25, 2013 at 1:48pm   
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charleee
I do live here! But in San Joaquin county. Houses are incredibly cheaper here, IF you can stand the heat. Do you remember at the height of the market, the little 1/1 house in Palo Alto, 500 sq ft, that had multiple offers of over $500,000 BEFORE it hit the market?

We got lucky with our little ranch house. 3/2, 1500 sq ft, 2 years ago $169,900!
April 25, 2013 at 1:50pm   
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charleee
Oh, and we made an offer on ours before it hit the MLS, that helps :))
April 25, 2013 at 1:51pm   
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Deborah Butler, Brickwood Builders
The $230k seems just way off to me. Were we bidding on a 2100 sf remodel (200sf of which is addition), given the rooms are those that are most expensive (kitchens, baths, master suite) and an addition, we would probably be closer to the $475k than the $230k. I think the other bids will help you narrow it down for your area. Good luck.
April 25, 2013 at 1:53pm     
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Deborah Butler, Brickwood Builders
Wish we had that kind of market here!
April 25, 2013 at 1:55pm     
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charleee
Deborah, which market? The $500,000 or the $169,000? What do houses go for where you are?
April 25, 2013 at 2:00pm   
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onthefence
Josh, I'm in the east bay in an area where prices run lower than yours. IMO the prices on the peninsula have always been steep.

That said, $230 for the scope of work you mention seems far too low. I'd get at least one more bid and possibly 2.
April 25, 2013 at 2:30pm     
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Deborah Butler, Brickwood Builders
Cost of houses are all over the board. I was referring to where people are lined up to purchase a house and then remodel it. That would be heaven!
April 25, 2013 at 2:37pm     
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charleee
Ok, I get it, that would be heaven for you! Happens all the time here. You need to move to California!
April 25, 2013 at 2:38pm   
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charleee
onthefence - we just left Scum Leandro. It's much quieter here, more peaceful, but HOT, HOT, HOT!
April 25, 2013 at 2:39pm     
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onthefence
bobbi - yep, I recall you were from SL. I think you mentioned where you're located and I can tell you, DH would have to shoot me. I don't DO heat. I had the AC on the other day when it hit 80 here ;-)

Deborah, not much turnover in my neighborhood. Last year though 3 nearby houses sold. Nice average older mid-burbs type houses. With two of the three, owners didn't even move in for months and did major remodeling. My fingers are crossed we have a similar market when it's time for us to sell!
April 25, 2013 at 2:47pm     
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charleee
onthefence, I hate the heat too! and with the hot flashes there are times I think I'm going to self-combust. Everyone told me I'd get used to it and I doubted it, but it's true. As long as I'm in the shade, I can take temps up to 90 where before anything over 60 was too hot!

And you're right, renovating older or neglected houses is a huge industry here, but it's difficult to find good contractors.
April 25, 2013 at 2:51pm     
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Ironwood Builders
Josh, I'm up in Sonoma County, we're just finishing a monster remodel (no additions but no stone left unturned) for just over $700K....for 4000 sf. So for square foot it works to $175 per sf. Margins on the job are low and the quality is very high (I'll post pics when I can get the photographer out). I think in San Carlos I'd be the middle bidder...but high middle. Bobbi...it was cold here today! Fog and late sun, barely made it to the 70's.
April 25, 2013 at 9:57pm     
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charleee
Thank you David :))
April 26, 2013 at 4:03am   
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S. Thomas Kutch
Josh, you're asking for advice from us, when we haven't seen your plans or the scope of work......so our recommendations as to which price or SF is the best one is based only on your descriptive summary of the work. How detailed were your documents? Did your Architect identify specific materials to be used for construction or finishes or were there a lot of generic notes (i.e. granite tops, solid surface, stained wood, painted wood, tile, ceramic tile, etc.,etc.)? The devil is in the details. The more specific and detailed your construction documents are (drawings and specifications) the more realistic your prices are for comparison.

I had a client who wanted to remodel and add onto his house for an in home office. He described it to his BIL contractor who determined that some of the bids we received were way over priced. His evaluation was that it shouldn't come in over $200/sf based on his BIL description..........until he saw the construction documents and the finishes and specific systems that were included. The final project cost came in at just over $415 / sf. This was way more than just a "home office". It was in essence a central hub that connected his other 3 resident "home offices".........one on the west coast, one in Bermuda and one in Colorado. It included 2 T-1 lines, a centralization of his home security and automation systems for all 4 residences as well as some cutting edge computer systems incorporated into his new "home base".

As I said.........the devil is in the details.

I would recommend that you get at least 2 more quotes to go with the 2 you have. Then you can validate the spread and in my professional experience would throw out the high and the low and work with 2 middle bids...........these will in most cases be more representative of your intended project.
April 26, 2013 at 8:46am   
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charleee
STK - what is BIL?
April 26, 2013 at 8:50am   
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S. Thomas Kutch
Brother in law..........
April 26, 2013 at 8:53am   
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charleee
Oh geez, here I am thinking it's some technical gobblygoop. Duh!
April 26, 2013 at 9:02am     
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