One of the most important steps in planning and designing your remodel or home addition is getting reliable remodeling estimates. There are several ways to get estimates and there are several kinds of estimates. If you are an average homeowner with limited remodeling experience, who do you trust? How do you know the estimates are reasonable and how do you know what kind of estimate you should request? Here’s a thumbnail sketch that should help.

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Preliminary estimates and cost calculators are intended to give you a rough idea of the total cost of a project based on average costs for the quality of materials and workmanship you indicate in your region of the country. These estimates are for the purpose of giving you a ballpark figure you can use as the basis of setting your budget.

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Construction estimates from contractors should be reliable estimates of the cost of your remodel. These estimates should specify all materials, timelines, quality of workmanship expected, etc. These should be realistic and accurate.

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However, before you sign a contract with any contractor based on a construction estimate you should interview and get estimates from at least five and preferably ten or more contractors. All estimates should be based on the same quality of workmanship, the same materials and quality, and the same timelines.

You might be given one of two types of estimates: a cost-plus estimate or a final price estimate.

  • A cost-plus estimate calculates the total cost of the project by taking the cost of materials and adding a percentage of that amount for labor costs. These estimates can vary with any changes you might make in materials or if the cost of the materials increases between the time of estimating and the time of the remodel.

  • A final price estimate gives you the total cost of the project and includes both materials and labor. This is a fixed final price for the job. Any changes that affect the price of the job will then be handled with a change order that states the nature of the change and any additional cost or any cost reduction.

When negotiating a contract with a general contractor or with sub-contractors, you should always ask for a final price estimate and that estimate should be the price stated in the contract you sign. This eliminates surprises when the final bill is presented. Any unexpected problems discovered during construction will be reported and priced. You will know what is happening that affects the price. If there is a significant added cost, you might need to make some other adjustments to your plan so you stay within your budget.

Most contractors are honest and trustworthy. To protect yourself from the unscrupulous, do your homework and planning. If you have shopped around for the main materials needed for your remodel, you will know what the materials should cost. If an estimate is remarkably different from your cost estimate, you should ask why there is such a price difference.

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There are several reasons for getting as many estimates as you can before you choose the contractor for the job or sign a contract. The most important in evaluating estimates might be the ability to compare estimates. For example, if you have ten estimates, you will probably have at least five or six that are very close in price. The others might be either significantly higher or lower. The first step is to ask the contractors why their price is so much higher or lower. Evaluate their answers. Then eliminate any contractors who can’t give you good answers to the question.

If each contractor is basing his or her estimate on the same materials and the same job, you should be able to compare the estimates in detail and discover the differences. Pricing that is way out of line with the other estimates should probably be ruled out. Then trust your instincts and the information you have gathered about the contractor’s record.

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