You wouldn’t think a driveway is much in the way of a romantic or grand birthday present, but when my husband suggested we turn our gravel drive (which is really more dirt than stone) into an asphalt thing of beauty and call it our birthday gifts for this year, I quickly jumped at the idea.
Then I came crashing down to Earth when I realized how much it would cost.
The first contractor’s estimate of more than $20,000 nearly blew me over. Thankfully, I gathered several quotes, and the second contractor said his company could do the job for slightly less than half that amount. That’s when I realized just how important it is to fish around for the best price and gather more than one estimate, price or quote. In the end, we received estimates from four contractors.
Here are a few reasons I learned shopping around can save you big bucks.
You won’t pay for what you don’t need
In the case of my driveway, the higher-priced contractor’s estimate included plenty of bells and whistles, such as digging out my existing drive, moving any excavated dirt off-site and resealing the new driveway in two years.
It turns out these extras (and a few others) aren’t necessary.
Two other contractors verified that our driveway’s foundation was solid and explained that digging it out was an unnecessary step that accounted for about 25 to 30 percent of the high estimate’s price. Also, because we have spots in our yard that could use some fill, having the driveway contractor leave dirt on our property instead of hauling any dirt away (to then resell for his profit) lowers the price a modest 5 percent.
The bottom line: Without multiple estimates, I wouldn’t have known we were being charged for line items we don’t need or want.
You’ll get more for less (or the same price)
Speaking to multiple contractors, I learned that some offer a longer (or more inclusive) warranty than others. Incidentally, that high-priced contractor’s warranty was not the best one offered.
And comparing two of the quotes tipped me off to the fact that both were offering to do the exact same amount of work, using the same materials, yet one contractor wanted $750 more to perform that work.
Cheap isn’t always good, either
It’s no surprise that we quickly ruled out the highest estimate when that contractor wasn’t willing to trim the unnecessary costs or match his competitor’s prices. But we also didn’t opt to hire the contractor whose estimate was the cheapest.
That’s because the lowest-priced contractor proposed having our driveway torn up for a few weeks. Paying a little more, roughly $550, would have us parking our cars on our new driveway in less than a week, start to finish. Had we received an estimate from only the lowest-priced contractor, we might have been inconvenienced for a longer period of time than we anticipated (in my case, that means parking in the middle of the front lawn because street parking isn’t an option).
You may be able to negotiate
The two middle estimates we received were nearly identical, which meant other factors like timing and reputation came into play.
Naturally, we checked references and looked for any negative feedback about either contractor posted online. Then we started the negotiations about scheduling the work.
The two contractors whose prices were almost identical didn’t have matching availability. One couldn’t get us on his schedule for more than two months. The other has a larger staff and initially anticipated a similar install date, but after showing him the competitive quote and explaining our business was up for grabs between the two similar estimates, he moved up our install date. As long as Mother Nature complies, our new driveway will be in much sooner and within a time that fits our schedule.
Gathering multiple estimates and prices doesn’t just apply to major home renovations. Often a quick Internet search can help you save on Father’s Day presents, electronics, dorm room supplies and so much more!
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