Types of Contractor Estimates

there are different types of contractor estimatesThere are different types of contractor estimates. Understanding how the different estimates work can make the dialog between homeowners and contractors more comfortable. Everyone has heard contractor horror stories, and there isn’t a contractor out there who doesn’t have a homeowner horror story or two … although a professional will never bad mouth a previous client to a potential client.  

The key to a successful relationship with your contractor is communication. It is crucial to establish a relationship so you feel comfortable asking questions as the project progresses.

  • As a homeowner you must have a good understanding of the work you are asking to have done. 
  • You also want to understand exactly what work the contractor has committed to complete, e.g. who will purchase materials and who is responsible for trash disposal. 
  • Schedule expectations are also important, from when the job will start and projected (can’t be guaranteed unless contingency is added) completion date. Daily work hours are also important.

The Scope of Contractor Estimates

contractor estimates smooth the way for good communicationsThe question is when should you get an estimate, and when should you expect the contractor estimates be free? A more important question is what do you think should be included in a free estimate?

Wikipedia defines “Estimation as the process of finding an estimate, or approximation, which is a value that is usable for some purpose even if input data may be incomplete”.

No where in the definition is an estimate defined to be a fixed price, although many homeowners assume it’s the price they will pay.

So what types of estimates should homeowners look for.

  • Ballpark estimates for minor repairs can be provided over the phone, allowing homeowners to decide if they’re ready to go forward with a project at this time.
  • Preliminary square feet estimates can be calculated based on square feet of added space. Builders and remodelers can use costs from similar projects they’ve done like garage additions, adding a second floor to your home or custom homes they’ve built.

contractor estimates are pretty standard to items like hot water heater

For home maintenance and small repairs, you want to build a team that includes a plumber, electrician, handyman and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air condition) to handle these projects for as long as you own your home.

By investing time interviewing these home professionals and checking their references, you’ll build the confidence to call and schedule small projects easily. You’ll save time calling around and avoid the stress of inviting unknown contractors into your home. A benefit you might not recognize … contractors will work harder for you when you make them part of your team and treat them like a professional.

Small project estimates that require measurements and/or materials ordered, will need an onsite visit at the beginning of the job. Good contractors can give you a labor estimate over the phone and when you meet, they should be prepared to help you select a new front door or window style, taking measurements to place the order. Remember, the contractor is working for you.  You should expect to pay for this time, although it might be bundled into the final bill.

When Estimates are Required

Here’s the truth. For contractors, time is money. And there’s a well known saying, you get what you pay for … so ask yourself what are you really think you’re getting with free estimates?

Homeowners should expect contractors to qualify them during an initial phone call, and you should have your own questions.

  • Have you determined the scope of your project? You may not have completed plans or finishes picked out but there needs to be proof that you’re committed to following through on this project.
  • Do you have timeline and budget expectations … and you should be willing to share them? Your discussion might end here if you want your addition done this year and your remodeler can’t accept any new work until next year.
  • How did you find them? And how many other contractors are you talking to? Builders are getting smart and the good ones aren’t interested in you if you’re talking to more than 3 or 4 companies – this just says you’re looking for a bidding war and noone wins in this situation.

Once your plans are done, including specifications for products and finishes, builders and remodelers can develop a final or bid estimate. At this point in the discussion, contracts outlining each parties responsibilities are also needed as they affect the estimate. With this information, your general contractor is able to get estimates from their subcontractors for plumbing, electrical, HVAC, tile installation, carpentry, painting, etc.


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