NYC Renovation Chronicles

Will my contractor overcharge me because I live in Manhattan?

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The Situation

Back when I was running a paint crew, I went to see a client's classic-seven on Central Park West, to give her an estimate. The view was exquisite; the pre-war rooms generous in scale and beautifully detailed. The client pointed to the grand piano, the museum-quality art, the photos of family, posed with celebrities at a benefit. Her manners, and everything in the home, spoke of quality and an elegant life, well-lived.

Then she paused, turned to me and said, "Now don't get the idea there's any kind of money here." I had to laugh, and graciously, so did she.

Whether they live on Central Park West, Sutton Place, or Sullivan Street, New Yorkers often worry that their swank addresses will serve only to get them ripped off by contractors with dollar signs in their eyes.

Here's the Deal

• To a contractor, your beloved home, the physical manifestation of all you have worked so hard to attain, is just another pile of plaster, lath and pipes. When he does a walk-through, he's not looking at the view, he's looking at that crack running the length of the beam over your window––is it water damage, or just a surface fissure? When you show him that turn-of-the-century soaking tub you love so much, he's thinking, how am I gonna get under that thing to replace the trap?

• Contractors are eminently practical people. Their idea of a great place to live probably differs greatly from yours. Sutton Place? Hmmmf! There's nowhere to park, you get all the noise and fumes from the Drive, and nobody cleans up after their dogs!

• You may get a price you think is inflated, until you see bids two and three. Educate yourself as to the going rate for the level of work you need, so you know what to expect. And if your address really is that swank, don't wreck the value with cut-rate work.

• There's one, and only one, reason a contractor inflates his price: if he thinks you'll be a royal pain to work for. So when he comes to bid, take his coat, offer him something to drink, and exhibit the manners one would expect from a lord (or lady) of the manor. 

Related posts:

Is your contractor looking through your underwear drawer?

Roadmap to graft (by Anonymous Manhattan Contractor)

A board's eye view of your renovation wish-list 

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