Removing Intrusive Columns/Wall (Unsure if load bearing)
We just bought this house and we are interested in removing two columns that are sitting along the divide between the living and dining areas. They appear to be somewhat decorative, possibly used to "break up" the space, as they look a lot like wall-portions with a ceiling threshold lined with the dining area floor space.
We are unsure if the columns are load bearing, but are willing to pay a up to 5k-7k, to get rid of these columns if we have to. I'm also open to just removing one (preferably the one closest to the kitchen).
I called a structural engineering firm in our city and was very discouraged by what I was told. Without having seen the space yet, just going off a description, I was told that if the columns are load-bearing, then the fact they are 'offset' (not in a straight line aligned with other walls), it might require 2 or 3 total beams to make this happen and would be "extremely hard". I don't know what that translates into cost, and he told me I would need to speak with a contractor, which I haven't done yet.
The guy on the phone also said that in order to do an inspection, they would be required to cut out a 2'x2' hole in the ceiling to inspect the frame, which I'd rather not have to do if removing these columns is going to be too expensive. After the call, I remembered the vents in the ceiling on both sides of the columns, I wonder if it would be possible to see the frame if we pulled those vent covers / ducting out.
The house is two story, slab foundation, no basement, attic is accessible.
So here's where I am so far:
1. What are the odds these are load-bearing?
2. If load-bearing, what is a realistic cost to for this project?
3. How do I find an experienced and qualified contractor who has experience with this kind of job?