WE HIT THE renovation snooze button for years. We were put off by the hassle and the expense, plus we were concerned that as little as 50% of a remodeling project’s cost ends up reflected in a home’s value—and that assumes you sell within a year. On top of that, we rented out our house for three years, making renovations difficult.
The watershed moment: My wife indicated—very firmly—that she was through putting out pots and bowls to catch all the drips inside our house every time a heavy rain occurred. Yes, it was time to replace the leaky and rotten windows.
Window replacement companies would have you think that replacing old windows is a snap. It isn’t. To replace our windows and sliding doors, we discovered that we had to carefully consider two completely different aspects of the project: the window manufacturer and the contractor. Many companies bundle these two activities. But since our house had leaks, rot and other deterioration, a simple window installer would not suffice. We needed a full-fledged contractor to fix all the related problems.
We started researching potential contractors last December. We sought estimates by February to replace 27 windows, with the hope of getting the work done in April or May. When the bids came in, they ranged from $13,000 to $85,000, with the potential for significant cost overruns, should the work prove more extensive than anticipated.
It was clear we needed to do more research.
We started digging into the window manufacturing business, analyzing quality, features, longevity, warranties, customer reviews, best match to existing windows, finishing requirements and cost tradeoffs. In essence, we needed a PhD in windows. Our research quickly eliminated two-thirds of manufacturers, as well as a couple of contractors who weren’t up to the task.
We then developed our own detailed specifications, laying out requirements for each window, as well as required finishing details for the whole job. We got rid of all the nice-to-have options to save costs. Our spec sheet was a critical step in obtaining apples-to-apples bid proposals. We gave our sheet to the remaining contractors. Then things got even more interesting.
As we worked through the process, our preferred window manufacturer’s representative strongly recommended one contractor and pooh-poohed the others. The recommended contractor just happened to be the most expensive by far.
Meanwhile, one of our contractors dropped out because he said he couldn’t obtain reasonable and firm window price quotes. In fact, three different contractors were quoted hugely different window costs—despite utilizing both our specification sheet and the same manufacturer.
By late March, we settled on a quality window manufacturer, plus a contractor who offered the best plan to manage the related repair work. The manufacturer and contractor were neither the cheapest nor the most expensive. We were set to sign the contracts when the window manufacturer’s representative indicated the final window cost would now be more than 50% higher than his most recent quote.
Granted, we had added features to a few windows. We had been assured that these options would cost only slightly more. It was a classic bait-and-switch. The representative never adequately explained how an extra layer of reflective coating—which we’d been told would run $30 per window—had doubled the cost.
We retained the contractor. But we pulled our own bait-and-switch on the manufacturer’s local rep—and utilized a more distant representative of the same manufacturer. This enabled us to get all the features we wanted and avoid roughly half of the latest cost increase, which meant a savings of some $6,000. We signed contracts in June, received the windows in late July and had them installed in August.
Did everything go exactly as planned? Absolutely not. But 10 months later, the windows are in—and we’re no longer bailing out the family room after every hard rainstorm.
John Yeigh is an engineer with an MBA in finance. He retired in 2017 after 40 years in the oil industry, where he helped negotiate financial details for multi-billion-dollar international projects. His previous articles include Creeping Costs, Cashing In and Take It or Leave It.
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