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Question DetailsAsked on 3/30/2017

My contractors estimate was quadruple the original estimate for his sub, I live in Louisiana, what can I do?

In August 2016, Baton Rouge, LA flooded. We moved back into the house on January 31st, with just a few small things that needed to be finished.

I was quoted about $3200 for moving some plumbing (the walls were open already, and concrete work was done by the contractor, not the sub) and installation of new fixtures. It was broken down to be about 1300 for the sub and 1900 for the materials. I bought all the materials. I paid the plumber for an invoice in October for 1500. I received an email in November stating that it may be 500-750 more for the plumber, which I was okay with because I saved in other places.

We're nearing the end, and I wanted to get everything finalized, so I requested an estimate on work to be done and outstanding bills. About 10 minutes after receiving an initial estimate that I expected, I received a 2nd email stating that my plumbing sub was $6300 more, blowing my budget. Fixture install was the only thing that has been done by the sub since my original invoice.

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4 Answers

Voted Best Answer

Sounds like the old cow (or maybe manatee in your area) ran dry so he is looking at milking your wallet - or the guy is a ripoff artist or really messed up on the amount - since the eMail in November said $500-750 more for the plumber, maybe this new amount was the actual amount for the additional plumbing and should have been $630.
I would approach him on that basis - or else go back to scratch and demand he document and justify in detail ALL costs and any overruns over his estimates, from the start of the job.
Unfortunately, I feel he may be thinking he has a fish on the line here, because he has successfully come back a few times for increases. My reason - considering you bought the materials - and the $1900 must have included more than faucets - toilet/tub or water heater or such too maybe, or at least faucets plus maybe a fancy temperature-regulated single-handle shower valve to get that high on plumbing materials ?
The initial $1300 labor would normally move / replace about 1/2 of the plumbing in a normal house, barring real access issues or a very large house - the additional $500-750 November estimate puts you up to around $1800-2050 for the plumber, which is approaching the total labor charge for totally replacing water pipes in a house (not including drywall repair/painting. but you had wide open walls) so unless this included replacing basins/sinks and/or tub/shower, is sounding high to me in the first place - especially in your low cost labor market.
I am presuming everything here is being done on estimates, not firm contract price (with change orders as needed), so that does not put you on real steady ground because he can always say - "wa'll, that was just an estimate, and it has cost a lot more". However, while a 10% to even 15% overrun over an estimate (as opposed to a firm price) is commonly considered "normal" (funny how you almost never see underruns), certainly the $6300 is WAYYY out of line - you could usually totally replumb an entire good sized (2000 SF range) house, including interior drain/sewer lines, for that. Maybe even the outdoor sewer line to street/septic system as well in your area.
I would make sure to keep excellent documentation, and do everything in writing from now on including doing change orders for any changes to date from the original scope - and I would eMail him that the $6300 must be a typo and should be $630, as the final amount from the November $500-750 range additional for the plumber,and see where he goes from there. If he tries to stick with it, time for detailed in-depth documentation of EVERY charge on the job, and probably getting an attorney on board both to advise you and take the lead in negotiations, and so the contractor knows you are serious about not getting ripped off.
One other thing odd here - you say you paid the plumber $1500 though he was supposed (at that time) to be $1300 total so evidently you overpaid by $200 without questioning the invoice - this may have started the impression you were a sucker for more money. Also, why did you pay the plumber - and does the general contractor even know about that payment - because if you have a GC all payments should be to him, then HE pays the subs. Other than their responsibility to provide a workmanlike and functional work product, there is no contractual relationship between you and the plumber - he is contracted to the GC, who is in turn contracted to you and the GC is responsible for staying on top of costs and for subcontractor billings and payments and such (including questioning overruns by subs on your behalf).
Don't forget by the time all is said and done, and concurrent with final payment, you need to get lien releases from the GC and all his subs, and from major suppliers if you did not buy all materials yourself - BEFORE he walks off with final payment. And the final payment should e large enough it encourages him to get the liens, and to finish the punchlist of final deficiencies or missing items so he can get that payment.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


BTW - here is a link to a similar contractor overcharge /over estimate issue which might be of interest to you too, though liens work a bit different on houses than on mobile items at a vendor's shop.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


Sorry the space was limited in the question area. I didn't pay the plumber, I paid the GC, but he provided the invoice for the plumber, so there wasn't a miscommunication there. The GC told me we were 300 over the estimate already and were to expect another 500-750 for trim and connections, I assumed this was the January issue, with another 150-200 for the toilet, I figured $1000 wasn't out of the realm for a new invoice.

The house isn't large, it's 1350 sq ft with an enclosed garage that's about 400 sq ft, so it totals at about 1750 sq ft, but nothing spectacularly big.

The guest bathroom was handled by a program the state was doing called Shelter At Home. The work Shelter at Home did was to install temporary fixtures in the guest and kitchen area, along with a toilet in the guest bathroom. The work wasn't great, but it was functional for the bath. The sink was temporary and the frame was made of 2x4s, and like I said, the toilet was cracked.

So here was the scope of the work that didn't change from day 1.

Move washer connection. It was on the same wall approximately 10 feet. The dryer connection was moved as well, so there was no electrical or anything that needed to be taken into account, just basically moved it to the right into the next room (garage entryway).

Add (1) icemaker box. The fridge we moved from the outside wall to an inside wall that was shared with the new shower (and old bathtub) in the master.

Relocate master bathroom toilet. We rejiggered the whole master bath as the original design wasn't really functional, the toilet moved about 10 feet left.

Adjust drain and valve for job-built shower. So previously there was a stall shower and a bathtub that looked like it should've had a shower run, but didn't. So we removed both of those and did a custom shower. The drain existed already, but needed to be moved a foot or so, so that it made more sense as it wasn't for a tub anymore. The water line already existed for the tub in that wall, so I assume they just needed to install the valves, but I'm not a plumber.

The expense for the fixtures was a bit on the extreme for us. He originally said 200 for each bathroom vanity faucet and 400 for the kitchen and 900 for the shower fixture. I ended up buying them all instead, and reached that price after buying undermount basins for all the sinks, which included an awesome Kraus sink for the kitchen.

My only concern is that I signed an initial document just for drywall and behind the wall stuff, which this number was a part of, as I wanted to get the project going, but going forward he said the existing contract would be fine. I do have the original estimate, but I never signed anything that stated what would be owed going forward.

Unfortunately the $6300 isn't a typo, I thought that too, but they actually had it spelled out, it was actually $11000 as it included the materials (which I provided, and a tub which I never asked for) and $8000 in labor, but of course I had already paid them $1500. I NEVER saw that document though, and it was dated around the same date of the work to be done. It actually says verbatim, "(Eleven Thousand Nine Hundred Eighteen Dollars)", so unfortunately not a typo. That was dated 10/11, my invoice from them (via the contractor invoice) was dated 11/1. Now the extra $200 I imagine probably came from "Delete Copper Manifold At Shower". As on the shared wall between the old tub and the old stall shower, there was a plumbing run that needed to be taken out, which is why I didn't really question the original issue, it was something new.

Thanks for the tip on lien releases, that's the first I've heard of it. Unless I owe on just what I think I owe, then he'll be fired moving forward, and I'll ask for the lien releases.

I really don't think my GC or his guys are bad people, I just think they're unorganized and unequipped to handle what the flood threw at them. That being said, I'm not going to pay for their mistakes and their mishandling of funds. I look over every invoice they give me and follow up with receipts.

Also, no manatees here, that's Florida sir, I think we're more associated with gators and crawfish. :)

Thanks for your help LCD!

Answered 3 years ago by jtheriot


OK - for the scope you talk about, the $1300 plumber cost might have been in the reasonable range - certainly not sky high and totally out of line like the $6300 added cost, which total would normally more than pay (maybe up to twice over) for total replumbing of water supply AND drain/sewer lines within a bare walled house that size.

Unfortunately, while staying with the same contract would normally have been fine, as things changed and scope got added along the way, there should have been Change Orders with defined scope of work and defined cost written up and signed/dated by you and the GC before each one commenced - effectively incrementally adding to scope of work and cost as additions and changes were made - either at your request as additional or change of scope, or agreed to by you because of change of conditions as further damage was uncovered.

BTW - you don't say how the rest of the contract is going with regard to overruns - is the GC about to try to slam you with tens of thousands additional for his work and for any other subs/materials ? This may be just the tip of the iceberg. If I were you, as part of objecting to/rejecting the $6300 on the plumber, a revised scope of work should be agreed to and contract change order(s) - which could be a comprehensive to-date wrapup one including both additions to date and known changes still to be completed - should be agreed on and signed. Or could be done as a contract addendum - either way, but if only scope and cost are being changed (not general provisions or markups or such) a contract amendment would normally not be needed. And the more fixed-priced items that can be in there the better - at this point sounds like nothing should be based on an estimate any more, everything should be able to be given a fixed price at this point in time.

One reason for doing this - though if he tries to slam you with major unagreed-to overruns then it won't get signed so you will be in limo as now - is having a fixed scope of work and price then makes potential recovery from his bonding company easier if he tries additional cost bumpups or fails to finish the job. As it stands right now sounds like there was not a definitive scope of work or cost, so the bonding company has no fixed target to bond against - so their coverage or protection of you (if any) might be limited to coerage for repair/rework of any defective work, not cost overruns, or would require arbitration or a lawsuit to determine the reasonable value of the work that you should be paying for.

That is one reason why fixed pricing on construction contracts is so important wherever possible - either up-front fixed pricing where scope and costs are determinable up front, or an initial fixed price contract for initial determinable scope plus fixed price change order or amendments to the contract along the way to keep scope and contract price determinable and up-to-date. At any point along the way it should be possible to determine the exact scope of the work and the costs associated with each part. Obviously, getting to that point from where you are depends on how far apart you are with him on overall scope and pricing - the difference between what you expect and what he intends to bill for, and how easy it is to come to a happy meeting ground on that.

Clearly, because this is going to take some negotiation, he is going to have to provide documentation on what work was done and on all costs - not just invoices, but for items you object to or do not agree on the pricing to off-hand, documentation of labor hours and materials invoices and such. Given the plumbing overrun (more than 4-fold over estimate it looks like) and possibility of overruns in other areas of the job, I would recommend you get an attorney on board to advise you and help with WRITTEN communications with the contractor (and possible sit-down meetings to hash out the details of scope and cost and documentation of them) - both to protect your interest and make sure all the details are properly documented to prevent any future throwbacks or liens from the GC or subs or suppliers, but also having an attorney involved lets the contractor know you are taking these overruns seriously and are not going to roll-over on them or be a victim of any funny business.

On the fixtures - sounds like you went with higher-end Kohler or higher end brands, because those $200/400/900 costs are about double what one would pay for normal Peerless/Delta fixtures/faucets - depending on what product line you approved, might or might not have been gouged a bit on items you did not buy. Sounds like you found out you could do a lot better than those prices on some items, getting upgraded basins/sinks into the deal at the same approximate total price for plumbing fixtures. And of course, for the materials the contractor bought, proof of purchase price by original store/wholesaler invoice (plus any contract-approved GC or sub materials markup) should be required/demanded to be sure he did not charge a much higher markup.

The invoice showing the $11,000 (and any similar ones) - if you provided any fixtures those should be removed from the invoice $ and noted as FBO - Furnished by Owner - materials, and their price should not show up anywhere in the contract or invoices because the GC did not pay for them - really confuses things and makes it more likely they will sneak back in before all is said and done and you will end up paying for them twice - plus if on the invoice the GC might add his markup on them to boot.

Should have objected tp the tub as soon as you saw it on site (sitting loose or being installed) if it was not in the approved scope of work. Unfortunately, once you saw it and did not object, especially once you saw it installed or being installed, you could be deemed to have implicitly approved it - and all reasonable costs associated with it. Ditto to any other fixtures brought in new if you expected the temporary ones (except the cracked toilet) to be reused in the new work.

The delete shower manifold, unless this was a change you agreed to an after it was already installed thing, should have been a credit, not a charge - crediting you for reduced materials/labor that would otherwise have been expended. If this was for removal of a manifold in the wall already (say from previous shower) would normally be about 5-10 minutes work max in open walls - certainly not $200 worth of work when done as part of a larger job. In fact, the copper recovered would probably just about cover his labor cost - plus if in same place as new shower piping, its removal would be simultaneous with that new piping installation and be absolutely negligable added work and would normally be estimated as part of the shower piping installation. Plus - if you are paying the plumber by the hour rather than by fixed pricing for various work items, then the removal would have been paid by the hour so no additional unit cost estimate would associate with removing it.

You will have to keep an eye on this - being billed for estimated cost of changes PLUS paying for the actual change in labor invoices - another reason to pay by agreed-upon fixed price for a fixed scope or work (by contract or by change order) rather than by the hour. Not to mention paying by the hour, unless the person is working as your employee directly under your supervision, is an invitation to slow work and overbilling.

Manatees - most people do not realize it, but West Indies Manatees (which were just removed from the endangered list yesterday BTW) range all the way from the Carolinas (and have been seen as far north as Vermont) to Texas and in much of the Caribbean. I have seen them or they were noted during environmental surveys at jobs I worked on at Seabrook NH (on the Massachusetts state line), Chesapeake Bay, lower Mississippi River and Tennessee-Tombigbee Rivers/Waterway, at Ponchartrain and at Bayou Choctaw only about 30 miles from you, at several oil development ports in the Delta area near you, and in the Houston/Baytown and Galveston bayou and slough areas. They are commonly seen from South Carolina southward on the Atlantic coast (in the summertime only that far north) across to the eastern third or so of the Texas Gulf coastline, so are a lot more prevalent and widespread than most people realize - on the order of 10,000-13,000 in the US, with only something over half those in Florida in the summer (though they tend to congregate in/near Florida in the winter because they do not tolerate cold water well).

Here is a link to a newspaper article dated today on them being seen in Hammond, La in fact - probably published as a result of them coming off the Endangered Species List.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


As I read the last paragraph, I heard the "The More You Know" jingle in my head. Manatees, who knew!?

So after nearly 2 weeks of delays getting me an explanation of the additional funds, here's a rundown of the $11,918 invoice.

Trim out kitchen sink and faucet $262 (little on the high side, but okay that's feasible)

Relocate icemaker box $315 (no idea, it was moved to a completely different wall)

Delete existing shower drain $262 (no more shower stall, valid, but not sure on cost)

Delete copper manifold in existing shower wall $525 (shower stall removal)

Relocate tub drain for new shower $525 (probably moved a foot, maybe 2)

Relocate copper manifold into wall $525 (the linen closet/pantry were removed so the existing manifold needed to be pushed back, at most 3 feet)

Re-route overhead water piping $786 ( deleting that previous manifold, and adding another 3 feet...again MAX!)

Relocate toilet to new location $735 (this was probably a 10 ft move, it moved on the opposite side of the walk-in closet so the closet could be accessed from the bedroom)

Install (3) lavatories $630 (again a little high, $210 each is about $60 over what I would've thought)

Install (2) W/C $420 (same story as lavatories)

Install and trim shower valve and accessories $840 (2 valves 1 for rain head, 1 for wand and a wand bar thing)

Install fiberglass tub/shower unit and valve $750 (wasn't done removed in totals)

Relocate washing machine box $840 (walls were open, it literally went to the next room down, about 84 inches, $10/inch)

Water Test $498 (litmus paper is xxxx expensive)

Hand Dig $420 (don't think they had to do too much digging as there was a jackhammer there and the GC's guys worked that)

Cut escutcheons $135 (I didn't know what these were, but now that I googled it, wow...)

FIxture allowance $3450


Total job cost $11,918

Deduct fixture allowance $3450

Deduct for tub/shower install $750


Total less deducts $7718

Previous Bill $1489

Remainder balance due $6229

Again, this was estimated at $1900 in materials, and $1200 in labor. The SCOPE never changed. I should also mention that the CEILING was ALSO open during their work, so the in ceiling thing shouldn't have posed an issue. I think the walls were only open to 6 ft (9 ft ceilings) in the bathroom.

Most of my stuff was on or under budget with this exception. However, none of them were close to being able to offset the cost of this. The GC still thinks we'd be under with this cost, but he's forgetting that I bought what a LOT of his contract was saying they'd buy in materials.

As far as fixed pricing goes, we're basically done with 95% of the project. There's some additional painting and siding that wasn't in the original scope. The last couple things in scope is backsplash and some finish carpentry/paint on the front door.

They contacted me Friday afternoon, and I kept my cool and didn't tell them I was going to destroy their lives, it took just about everything I had to do that. I ended it with send me the invoices and we'll go from there.

I emailed them late Friday and asked for lien releases to be included with the last invoice as I don't want anything else popping up. Their defense was that the invoice was irregular from what the plumbers normally send them, so their confusion isn't their fault.

I'm currently awaiting to hear back from the Louisiana Contractors Licensing Board as to whether this is a valid complaint, providing no names/businesses, just details. I've got at least one lawyer I'm going to meet with, currently I'm working on gathering all the documentation, receipts, etc to put together to give whomever I meet with all the data, conversations, etc. Should I contract their bond holder as well? I'm looking at any rope to grab to hang them at this point.


Answered 3 years ago by jtheriot

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