Why You Should Never Trust a “Free” Quote


Are you dreaming about building your custom home or planning an addition, but don’t know where to start?

You want to build your dream home with no surprises – on time and on budget. You want your builder to stand behind their quote, start on time, and, more importantly, complete the project on time. Anyone can start on a Monday, really, but it takes professionalism to deliver on time.

Difference Between a Free Quote and an Estimate

This post will explain the difference between an estimate and a quote and give you some tips on how not to blow your budget when building your dream home.

Unfortunately, too many people confuse the words “estimate” and “quote.” Some people even think they mean the same thing! They do not. An estimate is what you do when you do not know. You may estimate that it will take you two days to get from point A to point B, but if it takes three days, you say, “oh, well, it was just an estimate,” right?

On the other hand, a construction quote is a legally binding document that describes what will happen and how much it will cost. So, if a contractor took three days to complete the job when they only quoted for two – guess what? A quote is a quote. It cannot be changed unless the scope of work changes.

So that’s the difference in a nutshell: an estimate is an approximate guess, and a quote is a legally binding document. If it is not in writing, it is not a quote.

You often see the words FREE QUOTE plastered in big letters on the sides of work trucks and in newspaper ads. Do they mean a written quote, or do they mean an approximate estimate?

If you hire a builder based on a free “quote,” two main problems can happen:

Reasons To Be Skeptical of a Free Quote!

The most common one is that the builder does not honour their quote because they never calculated it in the first place. They thought that they are providing you nothing more than an approximate estimate. They guessed it. You may be presented with invoices during the build that you did not expect. For example: “Oh, yeah, by the way, I’m gonna need another $20,000 next week to put the roof on”. Have you heard horror stories like that?

Another common one is that the work takes way longer than they promised because they never planned it out. They never got quotes from their sub-trades, or if they did, they never recorded them, never lined up special-order materials ahead of time, you name it. And construction projects do not get less expensive as time goes on.

In the end, you end up with a home that took a lot longer to build, and it ended up costing you a lot more than you expected.

A legendary American architect of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright, said, “You can use an eraser on the drafting table or a sledgehammer on the construction site.”

How much stress would it take off your shoulders if you were confident that your builder would build your new home on budget? No ifs or buts. On budget.

Did you know that roughly two-thirds of construction companies go out of business within five years?

It is a tough business, and a builder needs to do everything right to survive, let alone succeed. There are many reasons for calling it quits, and a common one is making a big mistake while quoting a big job. When a builder has promised to do a lot more work than what they will get paid for – they are in trouble. Simple as that. And you do not want your builder to file for bankruptcy protection in the middle of your project. That’s just a nightmare to deal with.

A comprehensive quote for a new custom home may take over 20 hours of concentrated effort to produce. Why would a busy builder who has work lined up for the next 12 months put all their work on hold and offer a free price-checking service to anyone who inquires? Or, better yet, do it in the evening and on weekends, sacrificing their family time? Think about it.

Do you expect a draftsperson to draft your plans for free and only hope to get paid IF you go ahead and build using their plans? I guess that you don’t. You sign an agreement with them, and you pay for their expertise.

With construction planning, as with anything else, you get what you pay for. At Manitoulin Timber Frames, we have developed a system that takes the guesswork out of arriving at a construction project price. We break up the process into what we call a “preliminary design stage” and a “cost planning stage.” The preliminary design stage focuses on the initial design development. It results in preliminary drawings, 3D renderings, and a preliminary estimate – not a quote! We develop a very realistic 3D model of your project and use our knowledge of the industry to estimate your approximate build cost and timeframe.

If you are happy with the prelims, the cost planning service follows next. It includes getting your full set of construction plans drafted, site surveyed, soil load-bearing test done if necessary, and any engineering completed. Once the construction documents are ready, only then do we do material take-offs, get subcontractor quotes and consider all the details to arrive at an exact quote for your custom building project.

So, you’re ready to get going, own the land, and have the funds. The first thing to do is pick up the phone and call the builder of your choice. In the very first conversation, they should advise you whether your project is within your budget. If it is not, why waste your time and money to plan a dream that costs more than you are willing to spend?

Here’s another aspect: all too often, people start their design process way too close to their intended move-in date. The result is a rushed, poorly thought-out design, incomplete quotes, and unhealthy amounts of stress for everyone involved. For example, you want to move in by Christmas. Say your build is estimated to take six months, and say it will take another two months to get the design, engineering, and quoting process done. Eight months in total so far. Builders and sub-trades are generally booking 6 to 12 months out, depending on the season, so your final blueprints should be complete a year and a half before your 6-month build. In this example, you should get in touch with your builder almost two years before your desired move-in date. This imaginary 6-month project would require you to plan nearly two years ahead! Get in touch with your builder early. Don’t jeopardize your dreams by putting them off for too long. That is not wise.

To summarize, a quote is a legally binding document based on detailed plans and a specific scope of work. It takes a significant amount of work to produce an exact quote. On the other hand, an estimate is an educated guess that can not be relied on when the costs increase, or any issues come up. It was just an estimate!

If you want to discuss your building project, click on the link to book a no-obligation 30-minute consultation with me. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have about planning your new build or an addition to stay on time and on budget.

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