Why we shouln’t love the lowest bid.

Whether you are the General Contractor or the homeowner, we have all fallen prey to the lowest bidder. Who can blame us? We all want to save a buck or 2 and we all imagine coming out on the other side smelling like roses. After all, how bad can it  be?

With almost 15 years as a general contractor in the Boston area I have experienced the downside of the low bid as the bidder and the one doing the hiring.

For the sake of this post I will be focusing on the side of the one who has hired the contractor with the lowest bid.


1.) Quality

There is always an exception, but the chances are that your low bid is the lowest for a reason. Either the quality was never be there to begin with or once the contractor realizes he is not going to make the money he had hoped for, he pulls up on the reigns and this can come in several forms:

  • Speed kills - He races through the job to try and finish faster to recoup his $ while the quality goes down.
  • The “B” Team - He leaves to go work at one of his other jobs and leaves the 2nd stringers behind. Meanwhile, you find yourself needing to hang around the jobsite with greater frequency to make sure his scrubs are doing what they are supposed to do or pointing them in the right direction. In other words, you start doing the sub contractor’s job for him, but you don’t complain because you know you are getting the work done for cheap.
  • “We’ll be there tomorrow” - This is the opposite of death by speeding. The slow agonizing death of little or no progress due to a skeleton crew working once or twice a week, all the while losing momentum which leads to an even greater reduction in quality and bigger mistakes. Next thing you know, your 4 week project is into the 4th month and the punch list is 2 pages long and your confidence is gone with the wind.

2.) Money 

Your low bidder is long gone but the ripple affects are reverberating through your job site and now you have to pay to fix it.  You will have to hire someone to clean up the mess but, this is not always as simple as it sounds. Most contractors don’t want to come in after another guy has screwed everything up and take over. So your search for a new guy can often take 2x or 3x the effort. This is also compounded by a new sense of urgency on top of your ever decreasing budget and schedule.

3.) Time

If you’re lucky, you were able to discover the problem and remedy it before too much time had passed, but most likely the adventure is just beginning. The delays that this one contractor have cost you has the potential to derail the entire schedule in a big way. Contractors are already spread thin during busy times and they are not going to be able to hang around and wait indefinitely for you to get back on track. Once the momentum of the job is lost it can be extremely difficult to get  back.

4.) Credibility

This one can be the most costly because it affects your reputation  and your ability to do future work with:

  • Your client - Right or wrong, the client blames you. They hired you to do the job with high quality materials, subs and vendors and you have failed to do that. Their confidence in you is shaken and you will have to work harder to regain their trust and confidence in you.
  • Your Subs – Every project is a team effort and when there is a major breakdown with one member the team suffers. When the electrician see’s that the plumber is taking his time, leaving a mess and doing shoddy work, he too will be tempted to pull back the reigns and start giving his attention to other jobs as well. This attitude can soon start to snowball through all the trades and create quite a deep hole to try and dig out of.
  • Your self – You take pride in your work and your jobs and to have to re do the jobs whether it be the process  of creating specifications and hiring the sub or actually redoing the work its self can take a tremendous toll on your psych. You are most likely already stretched to the limit so to have to do things over again can be debilitating

So the next time that nice juicy low ball bid comes across your desk, think twice before snatching it up because it could leave you a bad case of I chose the wrong f’n contractoritis.


Nathan Dishington has been a General Contractor in the greater Boston area since 2002.  He shares his experience and anecdotes from the wild world of residential remodeling to help bring some sanity for both contractors and homeowners alike.

Nathan Dishington

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