Should a Cabinetmaker Agree to Let the Contractor Install Cabinets?

For various reasons, most cabinetmakers prefer to install their own work — unless they know and trust the installer. December 2, 2006

A customer I'm doing a remodel for got a bid for kitchen cabinets. The bid was broken down by cab construction, finish, install, and hardware. I told the customer I would install cabs, saving at least half of install price. At first, the cabinet company said it was okay, then changed their mind and said unless they install, they won't do it. What do you think?

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor W:
I think that's between the client and cabinet guy.

From contributor T:
As a shop owner, I would rather do installs of my own cabinets. I'm involved in one right now where the builder insisted on his own guys doing it. Upon delivery, I could see these guys with 24oz. framing hammers and a skilsaw - not up to par! Quickly bought coffee for them and ran a little training session. Left the site, said a little prayer, picked up the check at the trailer, expressed my concerns. Done.

Two weeks later, the builder calls - needs two more pieces of 175.00/each rope moulding crown (they cut pieces short), 1 more ref end panel at 200.00 (they scratched it on their horses – unprotected - while they cut it ), and other pieces they say are missing (on signed delivery ticket). My installer has now been there 3+ days fixing all their mistakes, etc. About to deliver house number two, where we are installing.

On the other side, there is another builder/remodeler I work with, who I wish worked for me - I keep making him offers because he is that talented. Introduce yourself to the cabinet company! They don't know who you are or the quality level you're at. And they don't want their work to look like crap. Now, when I get a kitchen that needs windows, walls moved, etc., I give it to him with the kitchen install. 50+ jobs later, no fuss. Which guy are you?

From contributor G:

I've had a couple jobs where I agreed to let someone else install our cabinets. Both bit me in the rear. One, the guys they had installing were hacks and messed up the job (essentially making our product look bad). The second was for a contemporary set of cabinets, and the contractor wanted to save the client money by installing (thinking our bid was out of line). They bid the install for half of our number. They get into the job, figure out then that there were difficult issues in the install, and the blame game begins. They pissed and moaned the whole install about the walls being out of level, the floor, etc. (it was a remodel). Go figure. An old house with out of level walls/floors. In the long run, the contractor asked the owner for more money (matching our bid), and tried to blame us for the extra time. It's just not worth the hassle of letting someone else install. It's not brain surgery, but let the professional do the work. The job should go much smoother, and the quality will be better.

From contributor F:
I just did cabinets for 5 spec homes. The builder used his finish carpenters to install the cabinets. Maybe they saved the builder some money, but the install looks bad, cabinets were hung wrong, banged up, dents, etc. Plus I had to build an extra base cabinet, because they said the stove would not line up with the upper with the hood in it. If they had hung the uppers correctly, instead of slamming them up to the wall, not paying attention, they would have fit perfectly. Also, if you're using ball bearing slides, teaching them how to install a drawer is like pulling teeth. Then come the phone calls from the builder, that you have got some broken drawer slides with ball bearings everywhere, and you forgot some shelves (they got thrown away), or the cabinets don't fit, you need to make replacements, you didn't supply enough crown moulding, can you run this stuff up there right away! (100 mile round trip.) Bad subcontractors can make a nice set of cabinets done right look like crap. Install them yourself or tell the builder not to tell anyone who built the cabinets, take pictures and get the delivery signed off. On custom homes, a good builder will hire better finish carpenters. With them, you stand a chance at a decent install, maybe! Is there an easier way to make a living?

From contributor H:
You should have stayed out of it. You tried to undercut the cabinet guy's bottom line. What if the next guy comes in and cuts another few hundred off your price?

From contributor J:
Why do you think that you can install these cabinets for half the money that the cabinet shop can? You must either think them incompetent or that they are ripping the customer off. I can completely understand why the cabinet shop would not want someone who is going to try to do it for half the price installing their work. I also bet that if you screw up and cut the crown wrong or lose a filler or cut a hole in the wrong spot, you will be willing to pay the cabinet shop to re-make these parts, especially in the timeframe that you will require. Who knows, you may be able to install the cabinets just fine, but at half the price, I doubt it.

From contributor X:
I have had jobs that I wanted to pull my hair out over because of someone else... from being installed wrong to having raw milk poured on the finish to having walnut cabinets painted over two months later because they are too dark in color.

When dealing with a customer who wishes to have someone else install my products, I will first get my cash, and have them sign off on all the material delivered to the job site. On the original sales bill, I will have a disclaimer that I am not responsible for lost items, incorrect installations, damages incurred after the sign-off, etc. When problems do arise, the consumer knows that someone is going to pay for the time spent correcting said problem. This calls for a new contract stating what I will do and for what it will cost. I will not go in and correct the job without a new contract.

The faults that occur will not be blamed on me. I fulfilled the original contract. Having that new installation contract ensures that I will get paid and the consumer can settle his problems with his original installer. It's cash and no carry. To me, it does not matter who installs, as long as they buy my products.

From contributor V:
Another problem for letting someone else install is the warranty factor. If I were to ever let someone else install my cabinets, I would omit certain warranties for things that could become an issue in the future, such as drawers and slides from racked installs. And this could be the reason that the cabinetmaker refused to let someone else install the cabs, because of the blame game and warranty issues. It could have also been part of the original contract, and a contract is a contract - once signed and started, the cabinetmaker is not required to concede.

From contributor A:
We separate the install price from the cabinet price. We list all that is involved:
pre-build site inspection and verification of all dimensions
appliance size verification
installation of cabinets and fillers
cabinets set dead level to prevent countertop problems
associated trim (toe kick, base shoe, scribe trim, etc.)
hardware drill and install (if we provide the hardware)
replacement of any damaged parts caused by installation
finish touchup if needed

Rarely will people turn down the install once you point out the likelihood of finger pointing. Most people, except the cheapskates, won't chance it. Like the previous posters, we have had jobs hacked up by the trim carpenters. Especially the frameless jobs… and don't you just love it when the painter sprays all the hardware because he is too cheap or lazy to remove the stuff? We charge forty dollars per foot for install, and it is not a moneymaker in the long run, but very necessary. By the way, how would you like it if the cabinetmaker started picking your prices apart?

From the original questioner:
I can certainly understand the reasons for wanting to install what you've produced. Control over the outcome is essential. The reason I've brought this up is that I thought the price was a bit excessive.

Some more details - 12 ft of wall cabs, 35 ft of base cabs, crown on the 12ft of wall cabs and double oven unit (1 cab) all by itself on a freestanding wall - for $4k. As manager for this project, I feel it's my responsibility to see that the customer gets value for what they're paying for.

From contributor G:
It is nearly impossible for anyone to price without seeing details, but based on some assumptions, our ballpark would be about $4k to install. Of course, the details would effect that price.

Why do you think you can do it for half his price? How many cabinets have you installed to know what to charge? Are you willing to pay for any extra parts that you may (and probably will) mis-cut? Will you complain about the cost of them, even if you are? How many times will you call the guys to have him explain how the job goes together, what part goes where, etc.? What happens if there's an issue about the quality of the install? Look at the bid as a lump sum to get the job done, and he's fully responsible for getting it completed (start to finish). By breaking the thing down, you're just rolling the dice that it will all go smoothly. I'm curious if you would have told the guy if you thought he was way too low (half of what you thought)? Would you have let him double his price, just because that's what you thought it would take?

From contributor S:
So you are the site manager for the job? Well, give the customer my number and tell them I can do the site management for half of what you are charging. Get where I am going with that? Doesn't seem fair when the shoe is on the other foot. I bet you have plenty of good reason to charge what you are for you management and deserve it. Take that into perspective when questioning someone else's costs. Everything else stated in this thread is right on the money.

From contributor A:
One designer that I have had as a customer for over fourteen years has a policy of firing anyone who butts into another sub's business. First job, she reads them the riot act - keep your mouth shut on price, quality, methods of work, and anything else that might cause controversy.

Four thousand seems a little steep if it is a cheapy set, but what is at risk here? On the other hand, if it is a high end job, the percentage might be quite reasonable.

I had a set of cabinets a while back that the customer's trim carpenter butted into. He convinced the customer that we had installed wrong (wall leaning about 3/8" out of plumb) and talked the guy into paying him to reinstall a portion. We had to reset back to plumb so that the custom hood would fit. Today we dropped by to do a scratch repair in the countertop and saw that the trim carpenter had added two pieces of trim around the microwave, being in too big of a hurry to wait for ours to work its way through the shop and finishing, and be installed (about a week). The guy stapled the cherry finished trim to the front of the cabinets... splitting the trim and leaving the ends of the trim unsanded, uncoped and unfinished. The customer thought it was okay!

From contributor F:
I have a kitchen to deliver next week. The new on-site carpenter is prepping the kitchen for the cabinets to be installed. He's going to do them, and for $35 per hour, he estimates it will take him 8 to 10 hours. So for $350, my customer feels she's going to save money by taking a chance on this new guy (she fired the last one for shoddy work and not showing up). I have already told her that I haven't seen a good install done by much of anyone around these parts in a long time, and that you might just get what you're paying for. I do have a general contractor friend that enjoys installing my kitchens for extra money. I recommend him often. She wants the cheap guy. This could very well be a very nice custom kitchen, but sorry to say, after talking with the new contractor she hired, it's not going to look much better than a mobile home cabinet install. I warned her, and I'm getting all of my money at the time of delivery.