7 Things to Look For in a Builder’s Quote

People often associate quotes with estimates and use the words interchangeably — don’t be one of those people! In reality, although they are related, the two terms have distinct differences, and you need to understand those differences in order to make sure you always ask for what you need when you’re talking with a contractor.

Put simply, an estimate is an approximate guess at how much a project may cost, whereas a quote is a carefully calculated number based on detailed construction drawings. You cannot hold your contractor to an estimate; it’s a ballpark number that may fluctuate based on the realities of the job as it unfolds. Hopefully, it will end up coming close to the final cost, but it doesn’t have to. You can, however, hold a contractor to his or her quote, unless something dire transpires that falls completely outside of its scope.

Importance Of Builder’s Quote

Following is a broad-strokes overview of the differences between estimates and quotes:

An estimate:

  •  Is an educated guess
  • Is based on incomplete drawings or no drawings at all
  • Does not have a defined scope of work
  • Has no time frames
  • Comes with no guarantees
  • Does not include detailed exclusions or assumptions
  • Is an approximate dollar amount that may change

A quote:

  • Is a thorough document based on detailed construction drawings
  • Covers a well-defined scope of work
  • Has a defined time frame and completion date
  • Lists all assumptions upon which it is based
  • Lists all exclusions
  • Provides rock-solid guarantees
  • Provides a fixed price that is guaranteed for a limited, clearly defined time

Clearly, you’ll want a quote rather than only an estimate before you sign any contracts or agree to hire a particular contractor. Following is a deeper discussion the top 7 things a comprehensive quote for a custom timber frame home should include. If your builder provides all of these elements in his or her quote, you can sign on with confidence and anticipate a job well done that comes in on time and within budget.

Things To Look In Builder’s Quote

1. A Quote is a Document

A quote is a document; therefore, it must be in writing. Don’t be charmed by a handshake, a smile, a verbal promise, or any combination of the three. A person’s word is not necessarily his or her bond. A few (thankfully not many) shady builders out there will gladly say what you want to hear to win your business and then charge what they intended to charge all along. Listen carefully for the word “estimate,” be aware of what it means, and don’t be deceived by it. Ask for a written quote, signed by the builder. The good ones will be happy to provide that for you.

In addition, a number thrown out in the body of an email is not a quote. Yes, it’s in writing, but it’s not an official document. The official, written quote will have the same number on it as your contract; in fact, quotes are legally binding, and trustworthy builders only use them when they are certain of the costs involved. They will never label a written estimate as a quote.

2. A Quote Includes a Detailed Scope of Work

The key word here is “detailed.” You can be sure that you’ll see big items like timber, concrete, roofing materials, and flooring in your quote. Even if you don’t know a lot about building, you would know to expect those kinds of material and labor costs. However, you could get financially burned if your builder overlooks obscure costs and/or the little things that really add up.

Look over your quote and make sure it includes the following line items:

  • Building permit fees – Approval and certification fees for your home can vary considerably depending on where you live, as will the types of fees assessed.
  • Waste removal – Building a home creates a lot of waste that can be very damaging to the environment. Your contractor will need to hire a construction waste removal company, which includes receptacle rental, labor, hauling, and dumping costs.
  • Site preparation – You can’t just pop a house up any-old-where. Keep in mind that the site has to be prepared, which might include costs for factors such as demolition, excavation, and land clearing.
  • Engineering fees – Engineers evaluate supports, loads, and building materials. Their job is to ensure the ultimate safety of your structure.
  • Door hardware – Count the doors in your current house; are you surprised by the sheer number? Now, multiply that number by three hinges each, plus two doorknobs. Can you see how those costs would add up?
  • Bathroom mirrors – These must-have items are pricier than you might think. Make sure they make it onto your quote!
  • Towel racks – Towel racks are another “the-devil-is-in-the-details” item that you don’t want to pay for separately later.

Look over your quote carefully and make sure your builder hasn’t overlooked any of these costs.

3. A Quote is Time Sensitive

A solid quote is a time-sensitive document – it’s not valid forever. Your contractor’s time is valuable, as is yours, so it’s in both of your best interests to keep the process moving at a steady clip from start to finish. Therefore, a quote must include time frames, including a deadline by which you must accept (or decline) it, a time frame for the construction work itself, and the expected completion date.

In regard to the completion date — remember, stuff happens. Your builder will be as accurate as possible, based on their experience, the time of year in which the construction is occurring, your location, and the size and scope of the project, among other factors. They are professionals, and will come close, but don’t hold their feet to the fire for things they can’t control like unexpected weather, material shortages, and supplier delays. This is the one part of the quote that really is an estimate, but it should be very close.

4. A Quote Makes and Lists Certain Assumptions

Construction assumptions should always be listed in your quote. Assumptions incorporate elements your builder presumes will be true when they plan your project. These factors give them some groundwork for their plans and have a strong impact on how they determine the costs. Without assumptions, your contractor would have no way to make certain predictions regarding the cost and duration of your build.

What assumptions will underlie your quote? The answer to that question depends on many elements and varies from builder to builder, but you can expect them to span areas such as the builder’s roles and responsibilities, your needs and requirements, and legal regulations.

For example, does the builder expect the owners to supply electricity on site? Does the builder require access to the site on evenings and weekends? Is your builder going to pull all permits? Assumptions must be clearly listed to avoid confusion and confirm that you and your contractor are on the same page.

5. A Quote Also Lists Exclusions

Like assumptions, exclusions must also be spelled out in a comprehensive quote. Exclusions are big-ticket items that builders do not include in their bids because they don’t typically supply those goods or services. They may exclude these things because they are not considered standard, they require a different expertise, the owner hasn’t requested them, or even because the owner specifically asked for them to be left off for some reason (it’s not to their preference, they want to do it themselves, they’re trying to save money, etc.).

Common exclusions include things like:

  • Wells
  • Septic systems
  • Driveways
  • Hazardous Waste Removal
  • Costs Created by ‘Acts of God’
  • Unforeseen, Concealed Site Conditions
  • Landscaping
  • Fencing

This is by no means a comprehensive list of possible exclusions. As an owner, you must be careful not to make your own assumptions and be crystal clear about what is not included in your project.

6. A Quote Has Guarantees

A thorough quote includes certain guarantees. If your builder has made specific verbal guarantees during initial negotiations regarding communication, workmanship, worksite conditions, schedules, etc., then be sure to ask him or her to put those guarantees in the formal quote. Remember, the quote is a legally binding document, so builders can’t “forget” what they said or renege on any of their promises.

If your contractor doesn’t mention them him/herself, ask specifically about the guarantees provided with their work. For instance, is the craftsmanship guaranteed for the life of the building? Will the construction site be kept free of litter and unsightly debris inasmuch as possible during the entire project? Does the builder guarantee prompt and consistent communication throughout the project, and not just during the first few weeks of negotiations?

Good builders aren’t afraid to make guarantees, and they stand by their work, their values, and their practices.

7. Quotes Have a Fixed Price

If your builder gives you a document that offers a range of costs instead of guaranteeing a fixed price, you are looking at an estimate, not a quote. If they claim the project has variables which they are unwilling or unable to define or account for, then they haven’t finished their homework (excuse the pun). A builder’s quote is a detailed document based on comprehensive research, detailed construction drawings, and sub-contractor quotes. Any builders worth their salt will leave no stone unturned, as they know that they are accountable to stay within the parameters of their quote. If your builder is not willing to be pinned down on price then you, the owner, are taking on the risks, whether you are aware of them or not.

Building your custom timber frame home should be a dream-come-true for you, from the day you purchase the lot to the day you pick up the keys. The building process makes up the majority of that experience; it should be exciting and fun to see your dream home progress without the stress of unexpected costs and unreasonable delays. When you hire a builder, you enter a partnership in which each person does their share to ensure a smooth, professional, and amicable experience for both parties. A comprehensive, detailed, research-based quote protects both of you and goes a long way toward guaranteeing a smooth construction process and a delightful end result.

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