The Value of a Free Estimate

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Main Points:

  •          Not everyone is knowledgeable enough to give an accurate estimate.
  •          Not everyone is honest enough to give an accurate estimate.
  •          Precision estimates take time to prepare.
  •          Never sign a contract based on an estimate alone.

Free estimates are ubiquitous in the remodeling industry. And they can be very misleading.

What is an estimate anyway? As an example, I know nothing about space travel but I can give you a free estimate for a spaceship that will fly you to the moon.  Just as someone who knows very little about home construction can give you an estimate of what it will cost to remodel your kitchen.  This happens all the time.

Have you seen that commercial of the fellow advising people on financial matters and then asking about their trust in him? After they have confessed trust in his financial acumen he reveals that he is actually a D.J. and shows a video of his hair getting cut off.

That is a rather accurate depiction of the qualifications of many in the remodeling industry. When these people offer an estimate, it means very little. And when unsuspecting consumers hire them based on a free estimate they are in for a real ride.

Worse still are the contractors who know better and provide an inaccurate estimate knowing that they will make up the difference in change orders. Change orders are changes to the original contract, and usually the original price, based on new information.  There are legitimate change orders. If the client changes their mind about something or if rot is revealed during demolition, a change order is necessary. But some contractors, after the construction contract is signed, will create large change orders based on small issues because they intentionally gave a low price to get the contract. Back to our spaceship example, after you land on the moon the contractor says, “Oh, you want to come back too? Well, that will cost quite a bit more.”

We tell people upfront that we do not give free estimates, even though we often do.  An estimate given with too little knowledge about a project can be harmful. If we are not fairly certain that we can provide an estimate that is within 15% of accurate, we would rather not offer it. In our opinion most projects require some work up front to get to a point where an accurate estimate can be provided.  We charge for that work and we are confident that it is worth the expense to get a reasonably accurate estimate. 

We provide an estimate in the concept phase of preparing a design. We then provide an absolute cost to build with the final design. We also encourage people to make sure that they have room for at least 15% in change orders. While it is our jobs to not hit that mark, it is best to prepare for something closer to a worst-case scenario. 

We strongly discourage anyone from going to contract base on an estimate. This almost never ends well. You need a very accurate scope of work and an exact cost to construct. 

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