I will start with a story about a consultation that surprised me. This is a story that ended with a comparison between two bids. The comparison was of apples and non-apples. It ended with the buyer going with the cheapest builder. But there is a question about the long-term effects of his decision.
- The house was $540,000, and the backyard estimate was $148,000. The bids ranged from $124,000—$179,000. The buyer selected the cheapest bidder.
“It ended with the buyer going with the cheapest builder.”
So, this experience resonates with me, dearly. I have lived through similar situations. I made the same mistakes.
Going back to my story, I consulted a middle-aged couple, about constructing a backyard resort. I visited Joe and Mary, in The Woodlands, Texas. Their wish list was a swimming pool, spa, kitchen, covered patio, travertine, and fire features.
Their project was around 27%, of the home’s value, a percentage that is much higher than usual. It is normally 10%—15%. We met several times, to review the design and price, for the swimming pool and spa, along with other structures.
But I discovered that a builder had given them a much lower bid. They showed me the competitor’s price, surprisingly $24,000 lower. I offered a price match program. I guarantee to match apples for apples for the same quality. But I do not match apples for non-apples.
“They showed me the competitor’s price, surprisingly $24,000 lower.”
As a quality pool builder, I would avoid building pools, to the other builder’s lower standards. There are too many omissions (thinner rebar and less concrete, to name two details). Gunite and rebar are important to me, because they represent the integrity of the structure.
I never sold the project. The buyers went with the cheaper swimming pool builder, located near The Woodlands. Later on, I started thinking about it again, when I heard comments from a plumber.
So, forgetting about the project, I was building one of my own, when the plumbing would not hold pressure. It was to be a beautiful $140k swimming pool in the Woodlands, with an in-floor cleaning system (similar to the pool I quoted above).
If you do not know what it is, I suggest that you look up in-floor cleaning system for swimming pools. But in brief, the system is similar to a sprinkler system. The in-floor system is in the floor, from where heads pop up and circulate the debris to the drains.
“Gunite and rebar are important to me, because they represent the integrity of the structure.”
Because of the drop in pressure, I consulted an experienced plumber. He told me of a pool leak that he was blamed for but was not at fault. It was a new pool, only recently completed. The pool had to be re-plastered. The glass tile in the spa had to be chipped out. And the foundation had to be jackhammered, to access the cracked pipes. Then, new gunite had to be added to fill in the cavities in a new pool.
It was not the same pool that I had estimated for Joe and Mary, but I thought of them. I wondered about their in-floor system. I thought that the cheap builders are reckless about thorough inspections.
The cracked pipe was caused from a lack of superintending. The superintendent did not check the pressure gauge for the in-floor system. The gunite company caused the problem, but it was not their fault. The superintendent was responsible for checking the pressure on the gauge. If he had only done his job properly. All plumbing lines must be pressurized.
“It was not the same pool that I had estimated for Joe and Mary, but I thought of them. I wondered about their in-floor system.”
One of the biggest problems in the industry is not inspecting the projects and not supervising them properly. Superintendents must maintain daily records and photographs of pressure gauges. If the pressure does not hold, the superintendent must take action to get a leak detection test.
As an aside, when I did my swimming pool certification, one of the superintendents for a large pool builder shocked me. He was supervising seventeen projects at the same time, while he was in class for three days! And it was the slow season (in winter)! That’s the type of guy who will not check the gauge.
So, what did I do about the dropped pressure? I called my plumber to check and re-pressure the system (using a different method): I called Tom, the leak detection guy, to bring out his ultrasound system (can hear leaks): and I insisted on a report on each of the plumbing lines and the pressure that each held.
“When I did my swimming pool certification, one of the superintendents for a large pool builder shocked me. He supervised seventeen projects at the same time, while he was in class for three days!”
So, when you compare proposals, ask yourself if you the cheapest bidder is the cheapest in the long-range. A mid-priced builder is probably a much better choice, with high standards, with lots of inspections, and with the consistency to check gauges.
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