Construction Estimates vs. Quotes

It isn’t uncommon for contractors to give an “estimate” of how much they anticipate your renovation, home addition, or new custom home will cost. An estimate should be the contractor’s best professional assessment – including the cost of hiring any subcontractors, internal labor, the price of materials, permit fees, general requirements (portable toilets, debris bins, fencing, etc.) and project overhead costs.

Getting an estimate from a contractor is COMPLETELY different from getting a quote. A quote is an offer to enter into a contract. It should be the exact amount that a particular project will cost, without much “wiggle room”. Ideally, both quotes and estimates should be put into writing, although some contractors will intentionally avoid doing so.

Accepting an estimate IS NOT accepting a definite contract for a certain sum.

Estimates, generally, should be professionally reasonable so long as the idea presented is clear and well thought out. At the very initial stages when there have been no plans of any sort drawn up for the project, and it is nothing but an idea, the accuracy of an estimate can vary widely. Based on my experience even the most professional contractors can be expected to be within -10% to 30% range. ESPECIALLY if the idea presented isn’t incredibly clear. At these initial stages, there is simply too much room for misalignment between expectations and reality.

Unfortunately, within the residential construction world, there tends to be a ton of risk for the client which very often ends in disputes and financial stress. One of the major factors is unclarity in pricing (estimates vs actuals). Poor planning along the way resulting in all the risk being shifted onto the client, rather than the professional contractor.  The risk multiplies as the project gets larger.

All of this can be avoided by realizing the differences between estimates vs actuals, thoroughly planning and specifying the project by taking a baby step approach, and choosing to work with a professional contractor that can fully plan and design your project and makes everything crystal clear within a written contract that offers a FIXED OR LUMP SUM PRICE ONCE THE PROJECT IS PLANNED.

From a high level, here is what that looks like:

1.       Interview a couple of different contractors

Interviewing a couple of different contractors will allow you to not only get a few opinions on what the job should cost (from which, you can average it out and determine whether spending the time and money planning the project is feasible), but most importantly will allow you to assess whether or not you trust a particular company and whether they are a fit for your particular job. Find out what process will they utilize to take the next steps with the project to reduce your risk.

2.       Communicate a budget

This is critically important. A budget doesn’t need to be communicated in your first meeting with a potential contractor. In fact, until there is some trust developed and you have narrowed down your list of potential firms to one or two, you shouldn’t communicate this. You should be interviewing and collecting ideas/opinions before you have enough information to even set a budget! Before you start planning or designing your project however, it is very important that you establish a budget, even as a starting point. The planning can then be steered in the right direction.

3.       Plan, and plan some more

A thorough design and planning exercise (especially when it comes to residential construction projects in the 6 figures and beyond) takes months. A series of plans should be developed and cross checked for budget along the way. Enough information should be gathered and documented so that the project can be estimated within a much tighter accuracy range, and then changed if it is not within budget. Only this way will you end up with a final result that is a resemblance of what you want to accomplish, and what you want to spend. Be very leary of entering into a construction contract too early. Ask yourself: without all the information and detailed structural drawings, how is the firm committing to a fixed-fee contract? Are they guessing high? Will they make up any losses in dozens of change orders? How are they protecting you from risk?

4.       Fixed price contract

After all of the work goes into thoroughly planning and specifying the project, you should arrive at a fixed cost contract that sees the professional contractor fully accountable to produce your project for a fixed cost. The contract should always be run by a lawyer if there is any part of it that you don’t understand.

Dealing with a serious project where there is serious money involved is NOT the type of thing you rush, make assumptions on, or choose contractors based on unrealistic low “estimates”. For the majority of people, the home is a significant investment that often factors into retirement planning. Ensure that you are setting yourself up for success. 

Are you considering remodeling and renovating your home, adding a home addition, or building a new custom home? Contact us today. And see how our proprietary process can work for you.