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.