Understanding Home Improvement Quotes and Estimates

by Rachel Laurendeau on November 20, 2012

If you’re undertaking home improvements, it’s a good idea to shop around for prices. If these are DIY projects, you’ll be looking for good prices on materials and tools but if they are more involved home remodeling projects, you will likely be looking for estimates and quotes from contractors or trades people.

What’s the difference between a quote and an estimate?
Quotes and estimates can be very similar, that’s why understanding the differences can be confusing. There is one main difference. A quote is a written document telling you exactly how much something is going to cost you and you can take it at face value. An estimate, on the other hand, is a rough guess on how much something will cost, before starting the work and really seeing what might be involved in the process. Estimates are subject to change.

Real life examples:
1. If you want a plumber to simply change a faucet in the kitchen, they can give you a quote, as they know how much it will cost and how long it should take for them to provide this service. But, if you realize that somewhere in your wall or ceiling, there is a leaky water pipe that needs to be located, repaired or possibly replaced, there are too many variables at play for the plumber to provide a set quote. In this case, they would provide an estimate and the final price would be revised based on how much work was involved and the materials required.

2. If you hire a deck builder to design and build a small, simple deck in your back yard, they should be able to cost it out and give you an accurate quote. If you have an older porch that needs repairs and sprucing up, the contractor will likely give you an estimate for the work. Who knows what structural problems they may find under the porch or in the ceiling once they start taking things apart.

3. If you hire a log home restoration company to come restore your log home to its former beauty, you will likely get an estimate for corn blasting but they would not likely give you a set quote as there would be variables and unknowns that would affect the restoration process.

When to walk away?
If the contractor you talk to won’t give you a written estimate or quote, you should probably find someone else who will. Entering into a contract without a written estimate or quote can spell disaster for a homeowner; verbal agreements count for nothing if you should ever encounter problems. Additionally, if there is a written contract but there is something in it that you disagree with, don’t sign it and keep shopping around for a contractor that is a better fit for you.

If you are undertaking major renovations or remodeling, it is a good idea to get a few quotes or estimates from different companies, just to be sure that they are in a similar ballpark. The cheapest option is not always the best option, so make sure you check referrals and talk to the better business bureau.

Resources: wiki answers and Estimate Info

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