News & Opinions
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Craig Webb / REMODELING / September 17, 2013
Internet-based cost estimates for remodeling projects likely will make price negotiations with your customers even tougher—but easier, too
If you think negotiating with your customers is tough now, wait a year.
The Internet’s hothouse environment is bringing to bloom a number of Web services that all intend to give your potential customers a sense of what their project will cost before you reveal your price. Some sites go even further by seeking to replace the traditional way of finding you—referrals—with a sealed system in which customers seek and contractors discover each other within that particular Web service’s world.
In February, Zillow introduced Zillow Digs. Houzz followed in July with Houzz Real Cost Finder. This month sees the arrival of an entirely new service called Porch plus an expansion of the estimate services at Planease (formerly RemodelorMove.com). All these come in addition to estimators from such services as Redbeacon, Home Advisor, and the granddaddy of the group, Remodeling’s own Cost vs. Value Report.
Each service collects and presents its data a bit differently (see “Shopper’s Fare” for more), but all promise to bring consumers out of the dark regarding project cost. Virtually all the remodelers we spoke with for this article said they haven’t felt any pushback that can be tied specifically to these online services, but they did say they’ve noticed more customers citing the Internet in general when they talk money. Combined with the recent recession, this has made customers more wary about bids and tougher negotiators in general, they say.
“Generally, I have to spend considerably more time explaining and educating clients about construction costs than ever before,” says Don Mirabito, owner of The Humble Cottage, in Grafton, Mass. “These online sites don’t really help.”
On the other hand, some remodelers welcome what amounts to increased transparency about prices. That’s because many customers they encounter—particularly those who take their cues from cable TV networks such as HGTV—routinely go into shock when they see how much a project really costs. Web-based cost estimates toss cold water on prospects’ low-price dreams, they say, removing the surprise when a real pro submits a bid.