Everyone knows the difference between inexpensiveness that is arrived at by careful selection of sound materials yet without extravagance, and cheapness by which low costs are materialized through the use of inferior materials and workmanship. What I propose to show is the kind of a house one gets by this latter process. Even when two houses, one built well and one built poorly, are viewed side by side when they are new, fresh with paint, there is little to distinguish them superficially, though research brings out many details of inferiority in the cheap house. Time brings them all out.
The best way to materialize a cheap house is to employ a poor contractor. Here is one of the processes. Let us suppose the prospective home builder gets four contractors to bid on plans and specifications he has secured from some source or other. Let us suppose furthermore that three of the contractors are high grade builders who know their business and have established reputations for high grade construction. We will say that the fourth contractor is from the group that is pretty much unknown, perhaps one who has built quite recently a number of houses in the neighborhood at surprisingly low cost. The bids come in and in the course of time are opened, when it is found that the bids of the three superior contractors run very closely together and the fourth is off by itself. I have seen such circumstances as this, where there would not be more than $200 or $300 separating the responsible builders, and the other fellow would be $1,000 below the lowest of these three.
1 Adapted from "What Makes a Cheap House?" Small Home, July, 1930.
What does it mean? Does it mean that the high bids indicate that the profits of the contractors who submitted them will be $1,000 greater than the contractor who submitted the very low bid? Or do these high bids indicate that these bidders are less efficient in business management, less capable of getting the most for the construction money spent? Or is this due to the devastating fact that the $1,000 difference is to be taken out of the qualities of workmanship and materials indicated in the plans and specifications? If this last proposition is true, and it is true in a great many cases, the home builder who chooses that low-priced contractor does not get what he expects to get, often does not even get full value for his money. These houses built at these cut-throat prices are rarely worth what they cost. It will be manifest that if the plans and specifications are drawn so as to eliminate guess work, so that the contractors are all bidding on the same thing, then the figure $1,000 below the others means just so much essential quality taken out of durability, out of low cost of upkeep, out of real, lasting value.