How To Get an Accurate Construction Estimate on Your Renovation

In the world of home renovations, staying on budget and on schedule starts with getting an accurate construction estimate.

Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego with reliable general contractors, we receive lots of inquiries from homeowners asking how to ensure multiple renovation bids are consistent.

A poor construction estimate will inevitably result in a project that will not go as planned. The good news for homeowners is that accurate and reliable construction estimates are possible with proper planning and preparation.

You can follow these steps to achieve a more accurate bid on your renovation:

Host a bid walk

Often times, even construction plans can fall short on the details and homeowners’ desires. Whether it’s a herringbone floor pattern or low VOC paint (which doesn’t give off that toxic ‘new paint’ smell), you need to communicate every detail to contractors to ensure you receive accurate pricing.

This can be a challenging task, especially for first time renovators. The easiest way to ensure you have thorough plans is by hosting a bid walk. Walk the site with each bidder and see what questions arise as you discuss the elements of the project. If you discuss a detail with one bidding contractor, make sure to share that information with other bidders.

Additionally, be sure to email formal notes to the contractors after your bid walk. Make sure to record anything notable and make sure it’s reflected in the contract’s scope of work before proceeding with the project. For more help, read our blog on hiring the right contractor.

Separate your materials from the contractor’s labor and profit

There is an old adage which holds true for construction projects, “keep it simple.” One way to achieve this with construction estimates is to limit the items the contractor is responsible for purchasing.

Finish materials (i.e. appliances, light fixtures) are great examples of products that the homeowner can (and should) buy rather than the contractor. These items have a large range of quality, aesthetics, and price. By removing them from estimates, a homeowner has the freedom to make changes without having a direct impact on their contractor’s pricing. Plus, you’ll be able to avoid any hidden mark-ups from the contractor.

However, be sure to create and agree on a thorough list of finish materials that you’ll be purchasing and excluded from your contractor’s estimate. This list can get somewhat long and could include items that may or may not be included by the contractor. For example, tile, flooring material, paint, and other finish items need to be either excluded in the agreement. Alternatively, you’ll want to make sure that other materials are explicitly included in the contractors costs…for example, wall insulation, wall primer, recessed can lights, etc.

Avoid change

Change orders are often regarded as a contractor’s best friend. In many projects, contractors make most (if not all) of their profit from mark-ups contained in change orders. This happens because change orders place the homeowner at the mercy of the contractor.

If a contractor is already working on your project when a change occurs, they are the ones who set the market (i.e. the price of the change). Additionally, change often requires re-work or re-planning, which takes time and money. Changing your mind mid-project jeopardizes the reliability of your construction estimates because you are not completing the same scope. Contractors often bring outside help to finish a job. Inside Advisor Pro explains that subcontractors often complete a specific task on behalf of the contractor. Agree ahead of time who will be working on the job and providing the change orders.

Talk through the logistics

Contractors aren’t mind-readers. Never assume your bidding contractors know exactly what you are thinking unless you tell them in detail. This is particularly true for all the elements that aren’t actually construction activities.

From expected timelines to use of premises during construction, specific logistics like these can have a dramatic impact on price and the reliability of construction estimates. Some logistics you should consider defining include:

  • Desired time-frame for completing the project
  • Whether you will be living at home during the renovation
  • Who will be responsible for moving furniture in renovation areas
  • Who will be responsible for picking up materials, appliances, or furnishings
  • Your desired working days and hours for the construction team

Document, document, document

It may seem obvious, but one of the most common risks of getting an accurate construction estimate is simply not writing everything down. Thus, it’s important to document everything that you discuss for your project. Often, homeowners walk contractors through their potential project but don’t take the time to write anything down themselves.

If you don’t keep track of your discussed scope, it can lead to getting an inaccurate construction estimate. If you just walked a contractor through your home, talking a hundred miles an hour, it’s possible for the contractor to miss (or forget) something. Or worse, some contractors feel they can “get away” with pricing the project lower (to win the job), then ask for a change order later.

Accurate bidding is one of the first steps to achieving a successful renovation.
Getting accurate bids is crucial for any construction project and should be treated as such. If you feel uncomfortable with navigating the bidding process on your own, it might be a good idea to engage professional advice.

Fortunately, GreatBuildz is here to help. With our network of vetted contractors in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego, you’ll always know you’re getting a fair construction estimate. Plus, you’ll have a GreatBuildz Concierge by your side, always available to help on your project – from the bidding process to project completion.

What is GreatBuildz? We Make It Easy To Find a Great Contractor

Hi, we're Paul and Jon - Co-Founders of GreatBuildz. We believe everyone deserves to find a great contractor, have a stress-free renovation, and enjoy their beautiful new space. There are so many contractors out there and it's often hard to tell the good from the bad... until it's too late. We started our company to help simplify your contractor search and help you have a stress-free renovation experience. We're always available to help, no matter where you are in the process. Click here to learn more about our story.

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