Someone recently asked me, "Why are there such big price differences in the [cabinet] bids I've received?". I've given that question a lot of thought and I wish I'd responded more precisely.
I've talked about the competitive building market before, but I'd like to re-address the topic today. Mainly because there are still so many companies out there who are willing to work for virtually nothing just to get a job. There are dozens of shortcuts you can take to minimize the cost on your bid. Like many other areas of construction, the cabinet maker makes money on upgrades. Most will bid the job low and try to catch more money as they sell you finish, design, hinges and drawer upgrades.
The temptation is to buy the cheapest cabinets you can once the bids come in. But it's important to remember, when you buy the cheapest, you're usually also buying the cheapest quality. As far as resale value, Kitchens are the easiest way to insure the best price down the road. However, if you're want to live in your house and don't consider selling it, you should still consider a better quality cabinet as they last longer and you don't want your cabinets splitting apart or feeling rough after you pay for them. Ultimately, going cheap in the short term can cost you big time in the long term.
There are cabinet makers who offer a quality cabinet for a lower price; but again, I want to point out those lower prices usually come attached to lower quality materials. So how do you know if the guy is overcharging you for low end stuff, or keeping his costs down by skimping on the materials?
These are some of the ways you can tell if a cabinet maker is giving you a low quality cabinet.
First, you'll want to see an example of work before you hire them. The eyes are the first line of defense. If it looks run down and bad, chances are; it is. Reach out and touch a finished side of the cabinet, if it feels flat and smooth than the cabinet maker is using a better quality finish. A custom Cabinet maker will almost always use a higher quality material. Pre-manufactured cabinets are produced using thinner materials.
Second, pay attention to the layout. If you're not using a bid service to create a layout for cabinet makers to bid, you'll get a variation in layouts from the different companies you get bids from. Some will design a layout that is functional and makes use of the space provided. A bid from a cabinet maker who is only interested in providing the lowest cost may produce a layout that is cheap, but not practical.
Drawer banks are more expensive than shelf banks. A great way to save money when you're bidding a Kitchen is to cut out the drawers. If your layout is missing drawers, you know their only interest is the price.
Another shortcut cabinet makers will take is minimizing doors. Sometimes a cabinet is too big for one door. The hinge isn't made to support the weight, but one door (even if it's bigger), is cheaper than two. This is an area where you run the risk of having doors falling off their hinges over time.
One of the best ways to get a fair idea of what a cabinet maker really offers is to level the playing field. You can hire a cabinet bidder to design a layout. You go through the process of picking out where you want your drawer banks, and what cabinets you want in different areas. You can also pick out the wood species you want and even decide what kind of finish you want, i.e. stain, glaze, paint...
Now, take the design with all the specifications and collect your bids. With the option of only bidding for what's already been decided, you can gather together a comprehensive idea of which cabinet maker will offer you the best deal. Without taking shortcuts.