Ask Angie: Billing: Flat rate vs. itemized contractor bills

angieslist.comFebruary 21, 2014 

ATHOME-ASKANGIE MCT

Angie Hicks

MCT

Dear Angie: Should contractors itemize their bills?

Is that the norm, or is flat-rate billing more typical? — Roger E., Parker, Colo.

Dear Roger: In recent years, flat-rate bills have become more common.

Several highly rated contractors our team interviewed say flat-rate bills are better for customers because they make it easier to compare bids and shop around for better prices.

Flat-rate billing also can prevent contractors from adding extra charges during or after completion of a project.

When contractors run into problems during a repair or remodel, a pre-negotiated flat-rate price can save the consumer money because he or she is paying by the job, not the hour.

On the other end, contractors benefit from a flat-rate system if they complete a job ahead of schedule.

Flat-rate bills also offer a quicker way to invoice, and service providers say they're easier for consumers to understand.

Unless a consumer knows how much each step of a large home project should cost, an itemized bill may seem more like a puzzle than a potential money saver.

Highly rated home service contractors say other businesses, including car dealerships and auto body shops, have used flat-rate billing systems for years and that most responsible contractors today use some type of flat-rate system.

When searching for a contractor, after ensuring that the company has good references and is appropriately licensed, insured and bonded:

■ Get several estimates to confirm that the flat-rate price each quotes seems fair and reasonable.

■ Ask for an itemized bill if you'd rather know exactly what you're paying for and if you're savvy enough to decipher it.

If a contractor you're considering can't provide one, move on to one who will.

Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.

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