How do I compare remodel estimates and bids?

remodel estimates

For many folks, getting three bids for a remodel project is time-honored advice shared by well-intentioned friends and relatives. It is swallowed whole by people who’ve been taught to “Avoid marrying the first girl you meet,” and “Never, ever, ever swing at a three-and-oh pitch.”

Yeah, right. Tell that to Mike Trout. He married his high school sweetheart and blasted a three-oh fastball into the seats for his first homer of the 2020 season. Oh, and he’s worth about 650 million cans of tuna!

Sure, Mike Trout can afford to hire anyone he wants to add a bidet to his master bathroom. You and me, not so much. But price shouldn’t be the only thing you are comparing. There are other stuff worth considering. Read on, friend.

Estimate vs Bid.

Honest Abe Lincoln said that commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. Similarly, commitment is what separates an estimate from a bid. In the custom construction biz, an estimate — rough or otherwise — has an Elizabeth Taylor-level of commitment attached to it. If you don’t know Liz, she famously walked down the aisle eight different times with seven different men (Yep, married one of them twice). Estimates are conversation starters that neither the homeowner nor the builder should use to enter into a construction contract.

On the flip-side, a bid is a commitment. A builder or contractor who gives you a bid is saying, “I will do the work I promised for the price I promised.” Of course, a smart builders — or at least those who have learned the hard way — will protect themselves against things they cannot control, like dry rot that can’t be seen until the shower is demolished, or a wannabe-Bobby Flay who decides, after the job starts, that he wants a La Cornue Grand Palais range for $48,000.

Custom construction: Your project is a prototype.

Compared to new cookie-cutter production homes that get built over and over and over and over again in the same neighborhood, every job that we take on at Fazzolari Construction is a prototype. Whether it is a new custom home or a simple bathroom remodel, your project is unique. From access to the job site to the slope of the lot to the custom plan that was created just for you, your job is unlike any other and it must be priced and planned accordingly.

So, while a large production builder can tell you in your first meeting exactly how long it will take — and exactly how much it will cost — to build the Plano de Casa in their new Lavendar Flatts neighborhood, that’s just not how custom builders operate.

Free is a very bad price.

In custom construction, a free estimate is worth exactly what you pay for it. Zippo.

Rough estimates are often slammed together quickly in order to slake the lust of homeowners who demand immediate feedback.

Hey, I know this is our first meeting but if Siri can tell me what the temperature is in Maui in under five seconds, why can’t you tell me how much my kitchen remodel is going to cost by noon today?

We can. It just won’t be accurate. For that reason, we tell clients that our initial estimates — which we provide for free — should not be used to make financial decisions with your lender. They are a conversation starter that either moves things forward or gets us kicked off your front porch. They show you the details involved in your project, give you an idea of the costs, and let you know if we’re really paying attention. That’s it.

Don’t pay for a remodel estimate unless you want a good one.

Mike Trout notwithstanding, none of our clients enter into a construction contract without concern for how much the job will cost. A good estimate is not a wild ass guess (WAG), but a painstakingly thorough document that considers every design choice, material selection, and the full scope of work for every trade involved in making your remodel a reality.

Like every other builder, we can WAG our way into your hearts, we just prefer not to. Instead, we offer valuable pre-construction services that help develop your project completely and determine a final cost that you can count on. No more guess work.

Our job as builders is to educate clients on just how long planning and pricing a remodel takes — typically two or three months, depending on the client and supplier/trade partner schedules. When builders are paid for their services, they are able to coordinate the experts involved who will help price the job accurately and ensure that it is a success.

Oh, and speaking of accuracy, Mike Trout isn’t really a client of ours. We’re sorry, but he plays for the Angels, for Pete’s sake.

Apples and oranges.

Imagine for a moment that you’ve dared to invite just two contractors into your home, instead of three like your friends advised. You share your ideas for a kitchen remodel, field a few questions, and send them along to whip up some numbers for you. You’ve agreed that each will supply you with a rough estimate. And because you read this blog post, you don’t expect it to be super accurate. Just something to carry the conversation forward. Each contractor gets back to you in a week, as promised, but with prices that differ by $18,000.

What gives?

Here’s the deal: Each contractor left your house with their own interpretation of what you want. There is no cabinet plan yet so each builder was free to envision what they thought you might like, and then they estimated the cost. The cabinet plan in turn impacts the slab counter, flooring, and electrical plans, so those numbers — also “estimates” — were understandably different. Oh, and neither builder could possibly know which faucet you would choose from a category that ranges from a hundred bucks to more than five thousand. They each took their best stab.

The point is, unless the same fully developed remodel plan is documented and shared with each builder, unless all of your material selections have been made, there’s no way for them to price out the job accurately. You are left comparing a Red Delicious to a Florida Navel. As a result, you may turn down the more expensive estimate (it’s not a bid) only to find that the contractor you choose is not up to the task and ends up charging you $20,000 more than their rough estimate — after the job starts. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s more than the contractor you turned down.

Look beyond the remodel estimates.

Of course, you have to build a project you can afford. A good builder, properly compensated, can help you develop a project so you know the costs before you enter a construction contract. If the numbers come back too high, there may be ways you can work together to complete your dream within budget.

We encourage you to look beyond cost and consider the experience and professionalism of the contractors you are evaluating. Do they have a good reputation in the community? How long have they been in business? Do they use your payments to cover bills for other projects? Do you trust them? If you don’t get the answers you like, it probably isn’t someone you should hire.

If you don’t believe us, just ask Liz.


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