Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I have dry rot under an addition to my house. No one can see past the
edge so until they start to fix it they won’t know what it’ll take. I have
a roofing problem that started the dry rot. I need a new deck because
they have to tear out lots of the twenty-year old one to fix the dry rot.
I’ve gotten recommendations for contractors, ranging from work-alone
guys to big companies. No one can give me an actual bid because no
one can see how far the dry rot goes. But I am trying to identify
criteria to choose from among a handful of reputable guys, none of
who will give me a firm bid. I’m a single woman who feels ripped off
every time I but a new car, and this decision is making me feel equally
insecure. I tried getting my brother in law involved, but he doesn’t
want to be blamed if anything goes wrong later. How can I compare
apples to cantaloupes?
Instead of looking at this problem as one big number, try breaking it
down into component parts. Then compare both diagnosis and
prescription for each of them. The dry rot will be the most mysterious
because, as you say, no contractor has x-ray vision. Even sliding a
camera underneath and taking some pictures won’t give the same info
as hands on wood, so no one will know how extensive it will be to fix.
So since you’re going to make a decision based on other factors, that’s
where there is some trust involved. As well as knowing their hourly
rate for that kind of work.
The roof and deck problems are easier to quantify. Get clear on what
type and grade of wood would be used, or if a composite is better for
your locale. Specify if framing is included. If there are any mystery
variables like retaining or privacy walls, get clarity on whether those
are included. Ask if they use nails or screws, and if the boards will be
dry, green, and sealed/stained. Ask if they add on a percentage for
materials or just submit expenses. Ask what their hourly rate varies by
type of work. Those questions will get you started. I generally end
with, Is there any other intelligent question I should ask you? The
more willing a contractor is to engage and address problems before
they start work, the better communication you are likely to have once
work begins. Ask for references from people for whom they completed
similar work. Then trust your brain and your gut, and hope they say
the same thing.