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Thread: Trimming out a house - how to bid?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Chappell Hill, Texas

    Trimming out a house - how to bid?

    I've been presented with a full set of plans for a 6300+ square foot house and asked to bid ALL the trimwork. Single piece 4" Crown, 3" casings & window frames, 4" base, built-ins, cabinet boxes (and install pre-ordered doors and drawer fronts), make drawer boxes, adjustable & fixed shelves, media cabinet boxes, storage cabinet boxes, yada, yada, yada. I've never priced out "bulk" trim like this.

    The kicker to this - I would have 4 weeks to do the whole house. I'm thinking I might need ALL my tools insite, and would have to duplicate myself about 6 times.

    The General Contrator wants me to bid labor only - he would supply all materials. Everything is paint grade. (In his words - he doesn't want "furniture"!)

    Not sure I want this one.


  2. #2
    If I were you (I'm not), I would shy away from this one - unless of course you need the work to pay for all that hardware!! From looking at your work, it seems like the work you do is more sensitive to quality then deadlines. Working with a GC will get you involved in the pro-bono call back mess, too.

    Or, you could figure the going rate for the job - then double it. See if the GC is still interested. If so, jump in and enjoy.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Livermore, CA
    Ahh.....but at double the going rate, the expectations are going to be awfully high. If you don't have access/contacts to the SKILLED help you're going to require....seems like you should pass on the job, regardless of the money.

    btw Todd....received the moving blankets. It is a pleasure to trade with you.

    on the neverending quest for wood.....

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    San Jose, Middle California

    You can not do a 6,300 sf house by yourself in 4 weeks. Do not kid yourself.

    This is from a contractor, me, who used to build those houses.
    Michael in San Jose
    Non confundar in aeternam

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    South Windsor, CT

    I haven't trimmed out a house - yet. That's project #2 for the big green stuff.

    I hired a cabinet-dude to do the woodwork in our addition. It was all furniture grade work, but the trim out alone for a 32x24' took a couple of days.

    4 weeks on a 6300' house? Sure - if you work 24 hours a day and don't make any mistakes. "GC-supplied materials" and "paint grade" (which means you have no control over quality/quantity) tells me he's trying to find a guy he can squeeze a low bid out of and get the best of.

    Tell him you'd be happy to bid on similar project, but your terms are:
    • You supply and control materials
    • "Paint-grade" doesn't mean cheap work, it simply means poplar vs. oak/cherry/mahogany/etc. If he wants it pre-primed that's extra (and that's a lot of work that I'd be careful about bidding).
    • If you haven't done them, I'd sub out hanging the doors.
    • No mention of hardware anywhere. Who supplies? Who installs? Lots of knobs and door handles in 6300'


  6. #6
    The General Contrator wants me to bid labor only - he would supply all materials. Everything is paint grade. (In his words - he doesn't want "furniture"!)

    Don't kid yourself, for a house this big, the CUSTOMER expects more. Todd, I trimmed my basement and it took me four weeks. It did not have all the crown molding etc. It sounds like the guy is in a bind and expects you to get him out. Boy I am sure the money is tempting. Let us know what you decided.
    If sawdust were gold, I'd be rich!

    Byron Trantham
    Fredericksburg, VA
    WUD WKR1

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Fredericksburg, VA
    What these guys said!! Not knowing much about the contractor biz, I'd have to say this job ain't up to the standards you've set for yourself. If I were building a 6300 sq. foot house, I would surely bring you in to finish it, but it would be with quarter-sawn white oak (that YOU supply), and give you a damn site more than four weeks to do it.



  8. #8
    Dan Bussiere Guest
    Nah! You do better work than that. You set the standards and terms of your work and you'll be much happier. IMHO!

  9. #9
    Todd, I would stay far away from this one. I don't do work for other contractors at all. They can be a nightmare to work for. Remember that they typically hire unskilled cheap labor.

    I have a sure way to get him off the track of hiring you for the job. Take a wild guess then double it. For reference, the last time I worked for a trimmer ('96) we charged him $13k for a 4250 sq.ft. house (inclduing materials). My guess is that he had about $8k in labor for just he and I. Took us 6 weeks...many built-ins and all the trim including double crown in the LTR, DR and Den.

    Wayne said he really didn't do very well on that one. He wasn't paying me a fortune so my guess is that his materials budget got a little out of whack.

    Be very afraid, especially when they say they will buy the materials. Custom woodworkers like you don't need the hassles of working for a home builder.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Todd Burch
    The General Contrator wants me to bid labor only - he would supply all materials. Everything is paint grade. (In his words - he doesn't want "furniture"!)

    Not sure I want this one.
    Todd...I think you already answered your own question? You don't do low level...quick and dirty work. Don't let the paycheck (possible) be your guide.
    Glenn Clabo

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Sapulpa, OK
    I think I would either tell the guy I wasn't interested (If I wasn't) or charge him an hourly rate. Since he is providing the material, if you run into unusable material, it takes longer to do the job. Tell him, up front that you do quality work and would not compromise on that point, it will take as long as it takes, don't let him tie you down to 4 weeks. If you provide your own tools, I would charge anywhere from $35 to $50 per hour, I've seen pics of your work and you are worth every penny. If you have to hire a helper, he would have to pay his wages too. (Hire a guy, somebody needs to help hold the other end of that 12' piece of crown, and help hold up cabinetry)

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Lafayette, IN
    Todd, I'd have to say you're entirely up to the job, with the exception of the 4-week timeframe. Obviously, a 6300s.f. house is upscale, but if all the trimwork is to be painted, the carpenter's mantra must be "the painters can fix that." While the ideal would be tight joints and minimal nail holes all around, caulk and spackle do cover a multitude of sins in adept hands (I would assume those duties would fall to the painter).

    My estimation would be that this GC is looking for a crew of 2-3 who are used to slamming up trimwork for a pittance. If you aren't used to large-scale trimwork jobs, you're a week or two behind already. And, if you really do want to do the job, I'd bid it based on about 3 months of what you want to make labor-wise. Callbacks will be a headache. "Forgotten" details will be a headache--"oh, yeah, we need you to put in towel/tp bars, doorknobs, doorstops, ...How come you didn't clean up?...You wanted the site clean before you started?..." Not to mention, if the framers weren't very good, it will take you longer--either in fixing framing, or workarounds. Hanging a door in an opening that is not plumb, level and square is a pain, but not impossible. It can just take 1/2 hour to an hour, instead of 15 minutes.

    Keep in mind, Todd, that I'm not a trim carpenter, but I've done a fair amount of it over the years. I AM a painter, however, and there are definitely some carpenters out there that I would rather work behind, and of that group, I don't recall any of them ever getting a job done very quickly.

    Guess this ran a little long, but I hope it helps.

    "Don't get stuck on stupid." --Lt. Gen. Russel Honore

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    SE PA - Central Bucks County
    My "warning bells" are also going off on this one, Todd... Sometimes it's best to stick with the type and quality of work you do best. Think about whether or not this is one of those times.

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Gainesville, Florida
    Hmmm, I sense a consensus is beginning to develop here.
    Kent Cori

    Half a bubble off plumb

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Olathe, Kansas (Kansas City)
    It's been a few years since I have done finish carpentry. My past bids ranged but my starting rate was $1.35/per foot for labor on basic jobs --doors, floor trim, window casing, closets, fireplaces, steps, etc.. Now I treated everything else as extras and bid them like building furniture. For example, my builders 10 years ago wanted $650 for a basic wall shelving unit (I figured about $100 or less in materials). Basic built-ins on each side of fireplace were $1500 each, get my point... they charged an arm and leg for the extras.

    Now, the biggest house I did by myself was 3200 sqft with crown and built-ins. I did need to bring in some labor for the crown, but everything else was done on my own. It took me about two weeks with long days to complete.

    I believe you can do this and the price is set by you, not the contractor. If you figure what it would take for labor hours including help, throw in pricing for extras (clearly defined), I don't see this as a lose. I don't see an issue with paint grade, that just means you'll be using different materials. I still treat paint grade the same as stained. All joints are coped and tight. I would say on that size house they are not looking for something that is done cheaply, but quality work. Price it the same way you would material wise for stain grade. next, what is the opportunity costs... what will you lose or give up or have to push out that would replaced by doing this work. Set your price and if the contractor thinks its too high, then so be it.

    Now for the flip side, I have turned down really large jobs in the past. A trim job for basement remodel that came in around $100k with 12foot ceilings and layers of trim. It was to be two of us and I just didn't want to get into that level and stress load. I weighed the opportunity costs.

    Good luck.
    Scott C. in KC
    Befco Designs

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