How do I keep from being underbid by contractors who don't follow the specs?

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Coppersmith

Senior Member
Location
Tampa, FL, USA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
A GC sent me a set of plans for a store today. He asked me to bid. I'm reading through the specifications and I find lots of details about the specific type of expensive switches and receptacles they want. They also want oversized conductors and conduit. There were many other "more than minimum" items. All things that would raise the bid price significantly.

This got me thinking that I was wasting my time bidding because I know some other contractor won't read all the detailed specs, will assume he can use the minimum, and will underbid me and win. Sure, he will probably regret not reading these details later when he loses his shirt redoing all the work. But that doesn't help me win the bid. So how am I supposed to handle this situation?
 

hillbilly1

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,Ga
Occupation
Field coordinator/ technical support
I would say eventually that contractor will go out of business, and you would not have to bid against them anymore! LOL!
 

jaggedben

Senior Member
Location
Northern California
Occupation
Solar and Energy Storage Installer
The suggestions you've gotten so far a good ones. One of two things may happen. First is that they may come back to you and say certain specs have been dropped. Second might be that after he has chosen the other guy, then had his project delayed by weeks because the other guy didn't follow the specs at first and then got called out and had to spend weeks redoing everything, he won't want to work with that guy again and will call you for the next job.
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
It is likely the guy bidding bare minimum knows exactly what he is doing and is going to make that clear to the GC. There are companies that are very good at doing the bare minimum and making a profit at it. If you don't want to be one of those companies don't bid it that way, just make sure that the GC understands what you are actually bidding. It doesn't hurt to have a chat with the GC up front to see what he really wants. Doesn't do you any good to bid to the spec if he's not going to accept a bid that costs that much.

It is also entirely possible The GC will let you bid the spec and some other contractor the bare minimum to see what the difference is so he can go to the owner and say you can save this much money if you abandon the spec.

Lately we have been losing some bids because we're honest about the parts situation and other bidders are not. We bid the same exact bill of material as other companies and we will tell them it will take 12 weeks just to get the parts and the other company will promise to deliver the project in 8 weeks. There's no way that's going to happen. Everybody knows they are being lied to. But for some reason they are willing to accept a promise they know can't be kept.
 
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Fred B

Senior Member
Location
Upstate, NY
Occupation
Electrician
Deal with this in this area all the time, GC and handiman feel no obligation to doing it to code. The question comes up if the specs are above min code can quote to code minimum, if GC is quoting under code min can point out code requirements in your quote.
 
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Dennis Alwon

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Chapel Hill, NC
Occupation
Retired Electrical Contractor
Many jobs have extras along the way so some contractors will bid low and make it up on extras,

My boss in upstate NY would bid a job at the IBM plant for basically cost because he knew once you are in there that everyday they will grab someone to do a small side job. This is where he made his money
 

Coppersmith

Senior Member
Location
Tampa, FL, USA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
It is likely the guy bidding bare minimum knows exactly what he is doing and is going to make that clear to the GC. There are companies that are very good at doing the bare minimum and making a profit at it. If you don't want to be one of those companies don't bid it that way, just make sure that the GC understands what you are actually bidding. It doesn't hurt to have a chat with the GC up front to see what he really wants. Doesn't do you any good to bid to the spec if he's not going to accept a bid that costs that much.
I agree that some contractors purposely bid less than what the specs require. And I know some companies bid at a loss hoping for lot of expensive change orders. Neither one of these appeals to me. They both sound too risky.

The plans were drawn up by an architect. Whether he drew them to the owners specifications or just put a lot of boilerplate in there, I don't know. I don't think the GC has any control over what the specs say. I think he has to abide by the specs unless he gets a release from the architect.

I could submit my bid with a statement that I'm not doing what the specs say to do, instead I'm bidding using the standard quality devices and minimal sized conduit and wire, but I just don't think that will fly. That would go beyond "value engineering" the bid.

I could submit my bid with a statement that I noticed a lot of "more than the minimum" requirements in the specs and I bid based on those, but I suspect the low bidder did not and maybe the GC should verify before accepting that bid. Maybe that will work, or maybe I'll insult the GC. IDK.

Doing these bids are very labor intensive. I hate wasting my time if I think the playing field is not level for all bidders. It's not like these big jobs pay more per hour. They don't. usually less. It just a big bunch of hours which is nice, but I could do a bunch of small jobs, get a higher $/hr, and do no bidding.
 

hillbilly1

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,Ga
Occupation
Field coordinator/ technical support
Many jobs have extras along the way so some contractors will bid low and make it up on extras,

My boss in upstate NY would bid a job at the IBM plant for basically cost because he knew once you are in there that everyday they will grab someone to do a small side job. This is where he made his money
Big Orange is that way, they will change everything around once the job is started, that’s where the money is. But don’t try that with Big Blue, they rarely change from the original prints. That’s why after a couple, we quit doing them. No money in it.
 

Besoeker3

Senior Member
Location
UK
Occupation
Electrical Engineer
Many jobs have extras along the way so some contractors will bid low and make it up on extras,
Yes, I agree and I'm sure many of us have encountered the usual revisions - with the usual written instructions.
But I was thinking more of the original bidding process by Coppersmith. and how his GC accurately specifies this for less sloppy contractors.
 

roger

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Fl
Occupation
Electrician
What I find odd is that who ever wrote the specs is not involved in quality control to make sure the customer is getting what they are being paid for. In most of the projects I was involved with there were not only bid bonds but also performance bonds and the A.E. were involved through out the projects and usually inspected for contract compliance before the CO inspections.

Roger
 

James L

Senior Member
Location
Kansas Cty, Mo, USA
Occupation
Electrician
Re: OP - how to keep from being underbid.

Answer: you can't, unless you wanna get into a lowball war.

I spent time bidding for an old boss in 2008-2010
First project I bid, we were underbid by half.
Second, by about the same.

Boss said he wanted to bid the third one as well as having me bid it. He used a program, I used pen and paper. I'll never forget it.

I came up with $131k
He came up with $128k
His assessment was that either number was good.

The winning bid was $56k
Less than half our price

It almost had to be some guy working for $35-40 per hour, with a son, nephew and a friend all at $15-20 each. But maybe not. Some company owners are content making $10 per hour off their guys. And you can't compete with them unless you want to eat Ramen noodles every day
 

Dennis Alwon

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Chapel Hill, NC
Occupation
Retired Electrical Contractor
Are you referring to the IBM plant in Poughkeepsie? While I know that NYC dwellers think Upstate NY starts north of the five boroughs, People like me who lived north of Syracuse laugh at that idea. :LOL: (I also lived in Poughkeepsie for a while.)


As I wrote upstate I thought the same think but it is upstate from NYC.... BTW, I went to school at Marist College in P'keepsie but I worked at the IBM plant across the river in Kingston, NY.
 
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