Homeowner help: Initial consultations and the "ballpark estimate". / by chris zagyva

Every General Contractor and professional remodeler has been asked to provide a potential client with a quick "ballpark" estimate for their big project (i.e. custom bathroom remodel, master chef's kitchen renovation, or a nice little addition) and typically this question comes up during the initial consultation while the contractor is looking at the job for the very first time.  

"So...what's your ballpark estimate for the project? Just give me your best educated guess.  I won't hold you to it."

So what's the problem with throwing out a quick estimate?

In short...everything.  

If the contractor decides that after 15 or 20 minutes of chatting and checking things out that he or she can give you a pretty good ballpark cost, one of two things will inevitably follow.  

    1.  The estimate will be way too high.   This is to make sure that if they end up getting the job they're covered 100% for all of their operating costs (labor, materials, all direct and indirect job costs, overhead, profit, and any unknown variables they might run into along the way) ...plus another 350% (or whatever mathematical equation seems to move them at the time) just to play it safe. 


    2.  The estimate will be far too low. This is the outcome that sneaks up on the client and the contractor later on after the project is already underway. In this scenario the contractor discovers (unfortunately, much later) that they underbid the job and they're losing money each day before the project is even finished.  Now survival mode kicks in for the contractor.  At this point quality goes downhill at record speed, cheap materials are substituted for the good stuff wherever possible, cheap subcontractors take the place of reputible tradesman, and don't be surprised if you start seeing additional charges for everything (which will be one of the only things that'll save your contractor from financing the rest of your project out of his own pocket).   

The end result of either one of these easily avoidable outcomes are grim at best.  You're now left feeling:

A:  Taken advantage of for a service and finished product that was grossly (understatement) overpriced.


B:    Utterly let down.  Your dream kitchen or bathroom is now a very real nightmare.  You're left with poor quality, a rushed job and another possible renovation down the road.  In the mean time, you feel obligated to volunteer an explanation to every dinner guest about what went wrong and why your "new" renovation looks the way that it does. 

   At this point you probably lay awake at night with dreams of finding a pit bull for a lawyer and devoting way more time and treasure than it's worth just to ensure that your contractor is reduced to a menial job that hopefully involves scraping old gum off of park benches and public handrails with a putty knife.  

   Avoid all of this by hiring a reputable contractor that cares about you and your home from the very beginning  (This is a wonderful place to start.)

   Your home is probably one of your biggest assets and deserves far more care and consideration than can be achieved or understood in 20 minutes of looking around.  Your contractor should be dedicated to providing you an accurate estimate AFTER he or she has considered every aspect and variable that will play a part in your project.  This is the best start to a new business relationship and the only path that leads to a desirable outcome for both parties.  

  Remember that your contractor is your guide when it comes to reinvesting in your home and in every aspect of the construction process you should expect; high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution.  

Just make sure the contractor you hire is qualified to meet your expectations.