Quotes and Estimates

Things to think about when getting a quote or an estimate

Getting Quotes and Estimates:  The Basics

To find out how much a job will cost before you agree to it, ask for a quote or an estimate.  There is a difference between the two, however.

An estimate is how much the contractor thinks the job will cost. The actual price may be more or less, but it shouldn’t be too much more, and it will only rarely be less!

A quote is an offer to do a job for an exact price. If you accept the quote then the contractor can’t charge you more than the agreed price. It is best to get the quote in writing in case there are any problems later.

Decide exactly what you want done, when you need it done by, and get a written quote or estimate.

What Should a Quote Include?

The quote should show:

  • What work is to be done, in as much detail as possible
  • Start and finish dates
  • Hourly rate
  • Cost of material
  • Whether the total price includes sales tax

Since the cost of materials and hourly rates changes over time the quote will probably give a date you have to decide by.

It takes time to provide a quote, so the contractor may charge you a small fee for the quote. Ask them about this beforehand.

How to Get a Quote

  • Decide exactly what you want done and when you need it done by.

  • Contact at least three contractors - - give them the same information and ask for a written quote.

  • Decide which quote you will accept. Look at the price, quality of materials and how long the job will take.

  • Tell the successful contractor they have the job. You don’t have to tell the other contractors who you chose or why.

  • Try not to pay a deposit, especially a large deposit, and definitely don’t pay the total amount before the job is finished.

  • Keep all the paperwork - - quotes, invoices, receipts.

Use the same process for an estimate but remember that the actual price may be more or less. Get a written agreement that the contractor will contact you if the final price is going to be higher than the estimate. Then you can choose to stop the work before it gets too expensive.

If you don’t understand a quote or estimate, ask to have it explained to you by the contractor, or contact your local Better Business Bureau.

Your Rights with Quotes and Estimates

An estimate is the contractor’s best and most informed opinion as to what the cost will actually be. The contractor should use their skill and experience when estimating the cost. The actual cost should not be too much more than the amount estimated, but an estimate is not binding.

A quote is a contract between you and the contractor. You and the contractor must both do what you have agreed to do in the contract. The quote details an agreed upon job, and the agreed upon costs of completing the job, as described.  That's why it's best to have it in writing.

What if Extra Work is Necessary After I Accept the Quote?

The contractor must get your permission to carry out extra work. You can choose to accept or refuse the extra work that they suggest. If you do accept the extra work you will probably have to pay more. Find out how much the extra work will cost before you agree. Contact other sellers in the industry to find out if the price is fair.

Got a Problem with a Quote or Estimate?

What can you can do if the contractor asks for more money, or doesn’t finish the job, and you didn’t get a quote or estimate? What if the contractor sends a bill for more than the quoted amount?

The quote is a contract between you and the seller. You don’t have to pay more than the quoted amount. You can send the seller only the amount quoted with a note to explain why. You may want to add, “Deposit of this payment will be considered full and final settlement of the bill”.

If the contractor has possession of materials already purchased for your job, and you still can’t agree on a fair price to complete the work to be done, then it might be best to pay the full amount for the materials and his time to date, upon delivery of the materials, and end the relationship there.  You can always get someone else to finish the job with the materials already purchased. 

What If I Didn’t Get a Quote or Estimate?

Basic contract law and reasonable business practices dictate that the contractor must complete the work with reasonable skill and care, and within a reasonable time and at a reasonable price. You can find out what is reasonable by asking other contractors how much the work should cost, and how long it should take.

What If the Contractor Doesn’t Complete the Project, or Hasn’t Done a Good Job?

Try to sort out the problem with the contractor first. If it is fixable, then you need to give the contractor a chance to fix it at no cost to you.

If it’s a serious problem, or one that can’t be fixed, you can cancel the work and refuse to pay, or arrange with the contractor to pay a lower price.

Use the same process for an estimate, but remember that the actual price may be more or less. Get a written agreement that the contractor will contact you if the final price is going to be higher than the estimate. Then you can choose to stop the work before it gets too expensive.