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Lessons Learned Replacing Our Roof

Posted By Jim On 06/28/2008 @ 6:50 am In Personal Finance,The Home | 9 Comments

Earlier last week we finally had our roof replaced to the tune of $4,450, which included replacing all the plywood, shingles, installing a ridge vent (all standard stuff), and replacing the facia board on the front of the house. The replacement was absolutely necessary right now, and probably overdue for quite some time, because there was a leak. A couple months ago we had to tear down some drywall in my office, I’m staring at the gaping hole right now, and toss out the waterlogged insulation too (we waited this long because of weather and the wedding).

One of the unfortunate parts about replacing your roof is that you can only passive enjoy it. It’s not like granite counter tops that you see every day, it’s not like carpeting that you can feel under your toes, and it’s not like windows you open with ease. It just sits atop your house, protecting you from the elements, and the only time you remember it if it leaks and hopefully it won’t do that for quite some time.

Spending $4,450 on something, anything, is always difficult and here are some lessons I learned in the process.

Importance of 3+ Quotes

When I started, I didn’t know how much the job should cost. If I accepted the first quote I received, $5,750, I would’ve easily overpaid by $1,300 for the same exact product (minus differences in labor installation). I’ve always made it a point to get at least three quotes for anything I get and I usually try to get five. On this project, I only received three quotes ($4500, $4750, $5750) but I felt comfortable enough with the contractors to move on from here. (I bolded the initial quote of the company I worked with, A-1 Roofing KangaRoof).

Three quotes will give you a good idea of how much the job should cost, which created a range of $1,250 from $4750 to $5750. In an ideal situation, I would’ve gotten five but I wanted to get a roof installed as soon as possible (Lesson here: Try not to put pressure on yourself, but don’t be too relaxed about it).

Negotiating Price

Of the three contractors, I felt that Maurice of A-1 Roofing KangaRoof had the best mixture of personality and professionalism of the three. He wasn’t a polished salesmen, which I thought was a plus, but he gave me all the information I needed to make an informed decision that his company was the best of the three (and he didn’t insult me with a “special offer today of $X, have to sign today!” type of offer). Since I decided I was going to work with him, my next step was to make it a financially smart move. I called him up and told him that the next competitor, a firm recommended to me by someone I knew, had given me a quote of $4500 for the job and asked him to beat it. I actually asked him for $4400 and we met halfway. Once the numbers were right, I signed.

I’m hardly a seasoned negotiator but I don’t think price is the only important factor in a contracting job. I decided I wanted to use Maurice and A-1 Roofing KangaRoof if the numbers made sense, which they did, but I also know that in home improvement contracting there is a bit (or a lot) of wiggle room available.

Here are some other lessons regarding price:

  • If it’s a larger company, they have more freedom in the price because they perform more jobs. There’s also less downside risk that the firm will do a poor job to cut corners because referrals are very important to contractors.
  • Don’t go with a small company unless it has very strong referrals and growing. On a roof with long warranties, we have a 10 year labor warranty, it doesn’t help if the business stop operating in three years.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price and use every tactic you can think of. Clearly the best one is to use other quotes against the one you want, but you can also use delaying tactics (“Oh, I’m not sure I’m ready yet…”). They want your business, they are willing to take a little off the price to do the job now (hence those “special” offers).

Referrals Are King

I don’t know how the commission structure of those companies work but when I looked up whether I should tip the contractor, I was surprised at what I found. On one contractor forum, everyone (after joking you should tip 15-20%) said that tips aren’t necessary and aren’t expected, but to refer more business to them if the job was well done.

Here’s my referral for Maurice of A-1 Roofing KangaRoof: This guy went above and beyond for me. I mentioned to him that I had squirrels running up the side of the house and into the attic before the roof was replaced. I asked if his guys could screw in some wood in there to close off the hole (I realized the squirrels would eat through it but I wanted a temporary solution) and he recommended I get some quick setting mortar instead. It turned out that his crew was one shingle square short and had to return the next day, so he showed up the next morning with quick setting mortar to plug up the hole for me. I can’t speak highly enough of him and if you’re in the Baltimore-Washington DC area, make sure you give them a call as one of your three-plus. Maurice’s number is 410-746-4227, tell him Jim from Columbia sent you and he’ll give you a good deal (I don’t get anything for referring people and I have no idea if you’ll get a good deal but it’ll be fair).

Summary

We’re very pleased with how the roof turned out and it came in at a reasonable price. It was one of the things we knew we had to replace in the near term (5 years) when we bought the house three years ago and one of the last things on our list of needs. I think we’ve moved onto our wants now, which might include a kitchen remodel in a few years or something else. As my friend Fred at One Project Closer [3] has always told me, you’re never done, you’re just one project closer.


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