High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

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rocket354
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High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by rocket354 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:02 pm

I am HOA president for a condo complex, which has four buildings. The buildings are old and have cast-iron sewer piping that needs to be replaced. I have been getting bids from plumbers, all licensed and insured. The bids went like this (round numbers):

1) $50,000, 10 year parts and labor warranty
2) $35,000, 10 year parts and labor warranty
3) $32,000, 10 year parts and labor warranty
4) $32,000, 10 year parts, lifetime labor warranty
then...
5) $6000, 1 year parts and labor (and will not increase or match the 10 yr offered by others)

What? Is this too good to be true? Anyone with experience dealing with plumbing companies? I was leaning towards using #4 as they are a reputable company that I know would back up their work and not find reason to try to upsell more work once the buildings are half taken apart. #5 is smaller and has good reviews (and an A+ BBB rating) but I don't have much experience with them.

Should I be concerned? Are there items I can ask them or get in writing to ensure we're ok? I keep thinking of the old saying: if something seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Thanks for all input.

Kennedy
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Kennedy » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:17 pm

I'm assuming you've triple checked that quote five includes the same specs as the others?

suemarkp
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by suemarkp » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:19 pm

Did each say how they were replacing it (e.g. plastic DWV or NDS pipe)? Is this interior pipe, exterior pipe, or both? How much is under concrete, pavement, or lawn, and is it being restored nicely? Are both pulling permits (and do they need to)? Did they have a labor broken out on the estimate so you can compare labor hours between the estimates? What are the contract terms if it turns out the estimate was way off?

I would think much of the cost would be labor, especially if concrete or pavement is being cut. Detecting leaks after the fact could be tough for buried segments, so you probably won't find a problem until well after a year (sinkhole). Interior piping failures will most likely leak quickly as long as all units are occupied. So a year of warranty may be OK. But if there are crawl spaces that the homeowners don't tend to enter, there could be leaks there that also go a while before being detected. I think the labor part of the warranty is the more valuable part, as plastic pipe is cheap.

Plumbers seem to charge 4X what I think a job should cost. So $6K seems too cheap unless he's found a way to do it differently than the others so it costs less to do. Or he could be low balling you or desperate for business.
Mark | Kent, WA

ronno2018
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by ronno2018 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:32 pm

I think the quote for $6000 must be per building, but if so $24,0000 total would be a good deal. Call and talk to the low bidder to confirm they understand the scope.

Or maybe they are intending to line the pipes in lieu of replacement? https://www.trenchless-pipelining.com/s ... wer-pipes/

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Sandtrap
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Sandtrap » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:35 pm

Based on the data given delete #5.
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Thegame14
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Thegame14 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:46 pm

id go with 4 and not have to worry about it

pkjr
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by pkjr » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:49 pm

Job #5 $1k down and $5k upon completion

or get the break down labor/materials and pay for materials

DesertDiva
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by DesertDiva » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:56 pm

Have everyone submit written, itemized quotes so you can compare.

Mr. Rumples
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Mr. Rumples » Fri Sep 13, 2019 5:58 pm

During our time in Colorado, either I or my husband was on the board. My congratulations on your election and condolences on this decision, since of course, no matter what you do you have to justify to the owners and some will object to paying more than the minimum. The first is to ensure you are comparing apples and apples. The second is to see if you might want to ask an outside consultant, i.e. engineer. That could cost though with an hourly rate of $350+.

$6,000 is awfully inexpensive. Here, my neighbor just paid over $5,000 for one line to his house from the street. That's in line with what a single line cost in Denver.

We always required a point sheet for our inspection. See if sub contractors are to be used. Have an attorney check the contract. You don't want a line failing and a backup into the building. If you don't do regular maintaince on things like blowing out the main drain lines, see if this should also be done.

Also, depending on the wording, you might need to advise your HOA's insurance company. Improvements/repairs/replacements are most likely addressed in the policy.

You might want to check with your state's licensing authority to see if they have complaints. You might also ask the county / city building inspector for any insight into problems you should look out for and then ask the plumber about them. (In Denver for example, its illegal to cut the water off in a building overnight and leave the owners stranded without water - its a health issue; how is the plumber going to handle something like this if they run into a problem and can't do it in time?) The inspector might tell you of other communities which have done this in which case you might want to reach out to them. You might want to ask your management company and other communities. There are also HOA forums out there, plumbing forums out there and so forth.

Another thing to consider is if any of these are a company you have a long time relationship with. I put a lot of stock in that, others don't, but what you don't want is something to go wrong with say a main drain line in a building and then fingers being pointed back and forth.

If your buildings were built in the 1970's, you are just starting to see plumbing issues. We had an infrastructure committee established just to start looking at the issues. We had several owners who were retired from the building trades who were more than happy to get involved in limited projects; but of course, every HOA is different and that might not be your practice.

You can almost count on something not going right with old plumbing so have a contingency fund. What would be difficult to have is for there to be a problem and folks not to be able to flush toilets overnight.

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rocket354
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by rocket354 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 7:53 pm

Hi, everyone. Thanks for all the responses. To address a few items that have come up:

1) I've had a lot of back and forth (one call and multiple emails) with #5 and I have a contract in writing that spells out the work to be done, and materials to be used (PVC pipe). I also have written, comprehensive estimates from three of the four others (not the $50k guy).

2) There is no underground work. All of this work is being done in crawlspaces to all visible cast iron. The horizontal lines are the most concerning, so the vertical lines going upstairs will not be done (yet) as to not break walls and not increase cost. Lines going underground are not being done yet, either, but we are aware they will likely need replacing eventually, even "soon".

One thing of concern with the back-and-forth with #5 is that it's so far off from the others that I can't take anything they say at face value. I'm thinking they must really mean "per building" but the estimate does not say that. I keep thinking they must be trying to lure us in to jack up the cost later. In my email correspondence I've asked a bunch of questions, a few of which have gone unanswered, so I keep imagining they're not being forthcoming.

Is it possible they're actually honest and it's just that most other companies are trying to substantially overcharge? We are talking about several hundreds of feet of piping plus dozens of connections, but it's mostly out in the open. So while it's labor-intensive, it isn't breaking into walls or into ground/concrete.

Yellowhouse
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Yellowhouse » Fri Sep 13, 2019 8:03 pm

You must not hire #5. I've been in construction for over 20 years and seeing that low ball bid among 4 professional bids should be eye opening.

Use your common sense, if you're replacing cast iron sewer piping in four different buildings, it's going to be more than $1,250/building!!!

Mr. Rumples
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Mr. Rumples » Fri Sep 13, 2019 8:53 pm

When it comes to the lowball bid, perhaps you have answered it already when you wrote (emphasis added):

"One thing of concern with the back-and-forth with #5 is that it's so far off from the others that I can't take anything they say at face value. I'm thinking they must really mean "per building" but the estimate does not say that. I keep thinking they must be trying to lure us in to jack up the cost later. In my email correspondence I've asked a bunch of questions, a few of which have gone unanswered, so I keep imagining they're not being forthcoming."

Gotta agree there is something wrong with the lowball figure and the contract isn't good if it is vague in any way. Businesses working with HOA's know they can be exhausting sometimes with lots of questions that a single homeowner might not have. Comes with the territory since they know boards are responsible for other's money. We ran into a few businesses that would not work with HOA's because they did not like all the questions; we ran into others which liked working with HOA's since they felt they could tap not only into the HOA, but the owners for their work and the management company's other properties.

carolinaman
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by carolinaman » Sat Sep 14, 2019 9:51 am

With 5 bids and one bid so much lower, it immediately raises red flags. Personally, I would delete it. Either the plumber does not know what he is doing or he does know what he is doing and you do not know!

My IT dept did lots of competitive bids for products and services. Whenever we saw a bid scenario like yours we would generally throw out the low bid.

criticalmass
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by criticalmass » Sat Sep 14, 2019 10:24 am

rocket354 wrote:
Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:02 pm
I am HOA president for a condo complex, which has four buildings. The buildings are old and have cast-iron sewer piping that needs to be replaced. I have been getting bids from plumbers, all licensed and insured. The bids went like this (round numbers):

1) $50,000, 10 year parts and labor warranty
2) $35,000, 10 year parts and labor warranty
3) $32,000, 10 year parts and labor warranty
4) $32,000, 10 year parts, lifetime labor warranty
then...
5) $6000, 1 year parts and labor (and will not increase or match the 10 yr offered by others)

What? Is this too good to be true? Anyone with experience dealing with plumbing companies? I was leaning towards using #4 as they are a reputable company that I know would back up their work and not find reason to try to upsell more work once the buildings are half taken apart. #5 is smaller and has good reviews (and an A+ BBB rating) but I don't have much experience with them.

Should I be concerned? Are there items I can ask them or get in writing to ensure we're ok? I keep thinking of the old saying: if something seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Thanks for all input.
What schedule pipe are the bids for? Are the specs the same? Don’t save money on a lower quality pipe specification.

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ClevrChico
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by ClevrChico » Sat Sep 14, 2019 10:23 pm

rocket354 wrote:
Fri Sep 13, 2019 7:53 pm
In my email correspondence I've asked a bunch of questions, a few of which have gone unanswered, so I keep imagining they're not being forthcoming. .
Yes, a big red flag! I'd remove them from consideration based on that.

Mr. Rumples
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Mr. Rumples » Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:04 am

I would suggest one other thing rather than just looking at the money. As president of the HOA, you would be tying their hands for years depending on the warranty. And without a warranty, again, you would be tying their hands with a product in the last bid which you don't feel comfortable with. With that comes dealing with a company you trust and that you feel future boards and presidents can deal with.

We ended up with one plumbing company for all of our needs in a high-rise. Sometimes they were cheaper, sometimes not, but the relationship was worth it and they were there no matter what as a high priority customer, even in snow storms. The size of the company came into play also. We found a very small company could simply not respond fast enough, so we went with a larger company. Of course, it was good for them since usually the owners used them for their plumbing needs (but they were not required to). In the end, they knew the building and that was of great help.

Perhaps another way to look at the extra cost, is that its the cost of the warranty. And again, with a $30,000 contract, its worth paying $400 to have an attorney review it even if there is no engineer hired. We always had on our board an individual who was in construction as an estimator. He insisted on every conceivable item being listed with schedules; dealing with him sometimes was difficult and I can only imagine how the vendors felt, but it was worth it when issues came up. My guess is he would also have them specify what type of connections were made and even the glue used (if any). When we had the central AC system replaced, he even specified what the new hinges on the doors would be. A good vendor won't care about answering these picky questions, since they know when making the bid these items.

I don't know about PVC - as pointed out above - but when it comes to copper, until I was on the board, I had no idea that copper pipes used in high rise construction a few decades ago was of different quality and thickness. When they say PVC, is there a difference in the white PVC and the green sewer PVC? In earthquake prone areas, they have stopped using PVC in some applications and now use new material which flexes just a bit even for applications in crawl spaces.
Last edited by Mr. Rumples on Sun Sep 15, 2019 7:02 am, edited 1 time in total.

Pilgprog
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Pilgprog » Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:49 am

You and your Board (and the members) need to take a hard look at the process your HOA uses in major maintenance/repair/improvement procurement. For your mutual protection. And from the content of your postings it is evident you need some professional/technical support as well. You are on dangerous ground.

Reminds me of a general contractor who complained to me he in recent days was winning too many $20mm bids, and losing money on every job. He asked me to take a look at his bidding process and other dimensions of the situation. Turned out his estimators were using a homemade and faulty set of bid-collecting spreadsheets containing incomplete @sum ranges. He didn’t know enough to manage his process effectively.

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DanMahowny
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by DanMahowny » Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:52 am

Erase #5 from your mind. Do not be tempted.

Stupid people choose #5, every time.
Funding secured

Mr. Rumples
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Mr. Rumples » Sun Sep 15, 2019 7:07 am

Pilgprog wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:49 am
You and your Board (and the members) need to take a hard look at the process your HOA uses in major maintenance/repair/improvement procurement. For your mutual protection. And from the content of your postings it is evident you need some professional/technical support as well. You are on dangerous ground.

Reminds me of a general contractor who complained to me he in recent days was winning too many $20mm bids, and losing money on every job. He asked me to take a look at his bidding process and other dimensions of the situation. Turned out his estimators were using a homemade and faulty set of bid-collecting spreadsheets containing incomplete @sum ranges. He didn’t know enough to manage his process effectively.
A bit off the topic, but we had over 100 owners and many retirees who wanted to get involved, but didn't want the drama of being on the board. The infrastructure committee was a good fit for some of them. Even the committee meetings, always opened to all owners, were well attended. Always headed by a board member, without exception, the entire board always took their recommendations. They met with vendors, they ran around meeting with other HOA's; they rather enjoyed it.

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rocket354
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by rocket354 » Sun Sep 15, 2019 4:28 pm

Pilgprog wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:49 am
You and your Board (and the members) need to take a hard look at the process your HOA uses in major maintenance/repair/improvement procurement. For your mutual protection. And from the content of your postings it is evident you need some professional/technical support as well. You are on dangerous ground.
That's a very fair response. We are a smaller association (33 total units/owners). No one really wanted the unpaid responsibilities of being president--that is, being the only person to deal with every issue that comes up--so it fell on me. It's been a learning experience, that's for sure.

#5 is also the only one I haven't met in person as another board member referred them. I've requested they meet me in person on-site to discuss the particulars. Hopefully I'll have a better read after that.

In the meantime, anyone with plumbing experience can hazard a guess what a reasonable price would be to replace maybe 600ft of cast iron piping and all connections, but in wide-open, easily accessible spaces with few (but there are a few) tight spots?

Mr. Rumples
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by Mr. Rumples » Mon Sep 16, 2019 6:22 am

The size of the HOA helps explain your predicament. My guess is that there are some rental units which leaves the pool of folks who can help you even more limited.

There are a few websites out there for plumbing questions. Membership is free. I don't know if I can provide links, but you can find them.

As you indicated, there are upcoming plumbing issues on the horizon on the long term. Thus, it might be prudent to pay the cost to have a structural engineer either come out and then look at the bids or look at the bids to ensure they are complete. Owners may balk, but the cost up front may save you from problems down the road.

And again, I suggest contacting your local building inspector. As an adult, I have lived in three cities/counties. Two of them wouldn't even consider it, the one I live in now does just this type of thing.

The owners need to consider the consequence of something not going right: sewer backup into homes, sewage exposed from a broken pipe under the home, foundations ruined.

I don't know about a plumbing issue like this, on our building, for the roof we had a bond, again an engineer or lawyer can advise.

TLB
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Re: High-dollar Plumbing Issue Decision

Post by TLB » Mon Sep 16, 2019 6:01 pm

It's hard to give an estimate without walking your buildings. Cast Iron pipe can range from $3.00 to $6.00 a foot for the size you would be needing, not counting fittings and no-hub bands.

I would make sure you have qualified all bids through a good check list like.

1. Is the Plumber pulling permits.
2. What is the material, Cast Iron pipe and fittings or is is it PVC. (not saying pvc is bad, you might have a code issue)
3. Material import or domestic.
4. Are they piping to the tub, shower or water closet. There is a big difference if they are doing the final hook up.
5. Plumbing Company big enough to complete a building in one day. You don't want to pay for hotel rooms because your tenants can't flush their toilets.
6. What are the payment plan.
7. Are they taking all the old cast iron and disposing of it.
8. Could there be any extras if piping system needs to brought up to today's codes. (should be included)

You have three bids that are close, I would go with one these Plumbers that can handle the job and you have qualified their proposals. You've done a good job getting 5 plumbers to even give you a bid.

Good luck.

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