Shop Around

Getting estimates can save you a bundle

When Lamont Williams decided to renovate his Randallstown, Maryland, ranch house, he thought finding the right contractor would be as easy as 1, 2, 3. Two years and several estimates later, Williams, 42, is much wiser. He has learned that whether you’re making home repairs, buying a car, or in the market for a new refrigerator, it pays to shop around.

“I wanted to redo my bathroom and refurbish my hardwood floors,” says Williams, chief videographer at a Baltimore television station. “And I wanted to do business in my community.” So he thumbed through the yellow pages and found several black-owned remodeling companies. Although their prices seemed high, Williams gave them a try. But after several consultations, he came up empty-handed. “Some were evasive about how long the work would take. And a couple of folks didn’t even show up,” he explains.

After receiving five or six estimates for his hardwood floors, with the highest at $2,500, he considered shelving the project. But one day, while working on a news story, he struck up a conversation with David Perry, owner of Baltimore-based Fresh & Clean Floor Services. “I can beat anyone’s prices,” Perry told him. “He said he could do my floor for $800, so I [saved] $1,700,” Williams says. “Perry did an excellent job.”

With one project complete, Williams decided to tackle the bathroom. He approached contractors who wanted as much as $3,800 for renovations. As a result, Williams took the advice of a friend who suggested he try Home Depot. The company quoted him a price between $2,700 and $3,200 for the project, which included labor and material costs. “I saved money, and I got everything in writing,” he says. Williams picked out the materials he needed, such as tile and grout, and Home Depot supplied the subcontractors to do the work. “When you go through a place like Home Depot, it takes longer because of the volume they deal with. I had to wait three or four weeks.” But it was worth it. Williams saved almost $1,000.

Teresa A. Santiago, chairperson and executive director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board (www.consumer .state.ny.us; 518-474-8583), says Williams’ strategy was smart. “Take your time; don’t be pressured into a decision.” She suggests asking for and comparing at least three written price estimates that include the materials and services provided. So before you hand over your hard-earned cash, ask the salesperson or small business owner to write his or her name, phone number, identification number, and working hours on the company’s letterhead. Also, contact your local department of consumer affairs to confirm that the company is reputable.

“It pays to be patient and it pays to shop around,” Williams says. By taking the time to get estimates, he saved thousands of dollars — and avoided quite a few headaches.

Shoppers’ Checklist
How to save as much as 20% — 50% on your next purchase:

  • Do your research. Research the product/service, identifying your preferences. That way, when you shop for estimates, the items will be comparable. Also, contact Consumers
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