Getting Competitive Bids

by | May 2, 2023 | Planning

Experts give sage advice about comparing bids from different log & timber companies.

The experience of building a log or timber home, making the vision become a reality, is extraordinary and may take place only once in a lifetime. The advantage of previous experience is often absent. Therefore, consulting professionals becomes critical to the process—from the beginning.

The first step in the journey is often a comparison of pricing and deliverables from qualified log and timber home packaging companies, and the advice of professionals adds confidence and assurance as decisions are made. Consultation with trusted industry advisers brings the evaluation process sharply into focus, saving time and money.

“The most important thing going in is to determine what you want and need,” assesses Mathew Sterchi, vice president of sales and marketing at StoneMill Log & Timber Homes. “Then, finding a company that can satisfy those wants and needs is the logical next step. Sometimes people are just getting a materials package without the rest of the program. When the logs are delivered, somebody has to put the house together.”

Sterchi has seen situations that developed without the proper forethought and planning. These can cause needless delays, cost overruns, and frustration during a time that should be productive and exciting. “Put together a checklist before you go shopping for a package,” he advises. “That way you can determine pretty quickly whether a company is a good fit for you. Not every company and every buyer are a good fit for one another.”

Speaking of the comprehensive quote, it is tough to compare the proverbial apple to an orange. Watch for subtle differences and take the time to understand what should be included in a log or timber home construction quote. Subtle differences mean dollars and precious days on the building site.

“Every manufacturer supplies a different level of completeness,” relates Brad Mercer, sales manager at Timberhaven Log & Timber Homes in Middle-burg, Pennsylvania. “It’s important to remember that anything not supplied by the log home or timber frame home company will need to be supplied by another source. So don’t judge the manufacturer based on price alone. Compare apples to apples, and you will often see that the price coincides with the completeness of the package.”

Evaluate the content of the quote. Does it include anything beyond the delivery of the logs or timber? Other basic elements of a comprehensive quote include doors, windows, hardware, and fixtures. Necessary services encompass design and architecture; construction documentation such as blueprints, engineering, compliance with local codes and permitting; installation of appliances and fixtures; on-site construction management, and more. Further, within each of these elements are nuances that must be handled, such as the level of detail required in a set of plans or blueprints. Do they need an architect’s certification and stamp?

Riverbend Timber Framing / Photo by Roger Wade

Then there are the variations in the materials themselves. All logs and timbers are not created equal. “On log homes, are the logs handcrafted or milled?” asks Stephanie Johnson of PFB Custom Home Group. “There is a big price difference between the two. The diameter of the logs is something people often neglect to consider. A home built with 12-inch-diameter logs is going to cost more than one with 8-inch logs. The log system can affect the cost and, of course, you should understand the real materials you are comparing—authentic logs, laminated, or just siding with a conventional wall inside.”

Those seeking a timber home package would do well to look at several other components. “Again, the dimensions of the timber are important,” Johnson notes. “Complexity is hard for people to grasp, but one great room could have a wide variety of frames designed for it—one with ornate accents and lots of pieces with curved elements, while another might just have posts and a few simple king trusses. More timber frame companies tend to offer an enclosure system along with their timbers, so it is important to know if that is something you want.”

According to Mercer, it is critical for a buyer to understand the three most important elements of a materials quote. “Quality, quantity, and services,” he notes. “These elements should be easily understandable in a detailed quote. Don’t settle for vague terms to describe what you will receive for material. Take the time to sit down and review the quote with the log [or timber] home representative so they can clarify anything you might not understand before you make a final decision. They are happy to do it so you can make an educated decision and feel confident in the choice.”

When a buyer steps off down the road to ownership of a log or timber home, it helps to evaluate the project in total. Developing a budget is key, including the cost of the land, site preparation, landscaping, interior finishes such as cabinets, furnishings and fixtures, and construction of the structure itself.

“A lot of people will find one plan on a company’s website that is for 2,500 square feet, then go to another company and think that another plan of the same size should cost a similar amount,” Johnson adds. “There are so many factors that affect the cost of materials and the final turnkey cost that a simple size comparison is usually not valid. Keep in mind that the materials themselves are only a portion of the total cost to build. Every buyer should be thinking in terms of turnkey cost to build and then see how the materials fit into that equation.

“For one house,” she concludes, “the materials might be a quarter of the total cost to build, while for another they may be closer to half. There is no magic cost per square foot or percentage of a home price that fits every situation. Complexity, density, size, and many other factors have to be considered.”

Weighing options, thinking a project through with a perspective on which elements are “musts” and which would be “nice to have,” establishing a budget, and then interviewing several potential candidates for a log or timber home package provider will help a buyer move ahead with confidence. Preparation and realistic expectations help comparisons of various quotes to come into focus.

Choosing the right service providers, particularly the log or timber home package company and the attributes of its offerings, sets the course for an outcome that might even exceed expectations. The return on the investment of time and consideration is well worth the effort.