I started our company in the early 90's. Advertising choices were completely different. There was the Yellow Pages, telemarketing and direct mail. If you were clever, you would combine telemarketing with direct mail in a Data Base Marketing campaign. Yellow pages was free for all homeowners. Advertisers were listed by trade. Roofing, plumbing, electrical and so on. Within each trade advertisers were listed in alphabetical order. That's why companies had names like AAA Plumbing Contractors. Later they changed that to the amount of time a company advertised with them. Advertisers with longer contract history appeared first. And finally, ads were listed by the gross dollar volume spent. Full page adds first. Followed by half page and so on. There were up charges for full color ads or three color ads. Bell South owned the yellow pages and your phone number. If you did not pay your monthly advertising fee, they would turn off you phone. It was brutal!
There were about 30 pages of roofers advertising in the book at that time. Literally a sea of choices. It was so easy the marketing slogan was "let your fingers do the walking". And yet, besides the large volume of choices and ease to find them, homeowners felt it hard to find a contractor. It was difficult to find out if a contractor was legitimate. The only thing one could do is ask for references. A contractor couldn't hand out his customers phone number too often. After the second call for a reference the homeowner felt violated. So, we were reduced to providing written copies of references. With that the homeowner wondered if the references where real or made up. It was an imperfect system that left a lot of room for unscrupulous contractors to cheat. The system was definitely skewed in the contractors favor and some took great advantage of it.
Then came the internet and online referral services and their reviews. Homeowners could see (for real) what their contractors clients felt and experienced. This was really a change in the dynamic. It is now easier than ever to get quotes and review the feed back from contractors customers. A real game changer! For contractors marketing is a little easier as well. On Angie's list for example, contractors pay for a monthly spend and their names rotate at the top of the homeowners search result. Those who don't advertise will never be seen. Only contractors with a B or A rating qualify for this advertising program. 15 or 20 contractors in a given area qualify for the program.
The impact for these services is a net, net improvement for both homeowners and contractors. There is a downside however. Everything is at your convenience with just a click. The referring service will even set appointments for you. And there in lies the problem. You don't have to think anymore. You invite three bidders over, all with an "A" (why bother with the "B's"). All you have to do now is choose the low bidder, everything else being the same. They are all professionals looking at the same thing. They all have great reviews. They must have all come to the same conclusion. The result will be the same for all three, so just choose the low bidder, NOT. In order to ensure you get exactly what you want you still need to verify a few things.
Bid specifications are the steps and methods being used to complete the work. Hopefully all contractors gave you a very detailed estimate. Homeowners are "laymen" and find it hard to interpret some of the details in a construction contract. What's a flashing, concrete footer, truss vs rafter? But, if you have detailed estimates you should be able to go line by line and mark off similar items. Lookout for the pre-printed forms with check boxes. You can't compare them to other bids and there's no way to review any details.
Be wary of the low bidder. Maybe he has some tools that allow him to work quicker without sacrificing quality. Or maybe he has materials left over from another job. His price might be legitimate. Who knows, but the old adage still applies. "If it sounds to good to be true it probably is". Inquire as to whether something could have been missed.
The high bid might be high for several reasons. The contractor is unfamiliar with the work and added money to protect themselves. They could be very busy and threw a high number at it because they don't care if they win. Or maybe they just plan on doing more. More often than not homeowners throw out the high bidder. Nobody wants to pay more than they have too so it gets little attention. But I think it can be a lost opportunity. If the contractor really expected to do more, what is it? It could be a good reason for a higher price. Don't miss out, find our why the bid was high.
So don't think you can call Angie's List and Home Adviser, take some bids and higher the cheapest contractor and everything will be okay. And don't just call Angie's List and Home Adviser contractors. Remember, referral services promote contractors that spend more money on advertising with them. It's not all about quality. Find some other guys from different places on the search page. It's good to get diverse bids. It's even better to find out why the bids are diverse. Don't rely solely on referral services.