7 Ways To Get Better Quotes - Not Cheaper Ones

This is not your typical fluffy article about getting three quotes, checking referrals, and getting a contract signed. You already know all that and there's a ton of info already floating online.

Rather this article is written to give you clear methods to maximize the chances of success with your major renovation. And to do this, we employ methods to get the most accurate quotes from contractors. 

I'll explain this in a bit.

By far, the most common request I get from my clients are referrals for contractors and trades people. Although I'm happy to refer ones who I know have done good work, I always encourage my clients to look on their own as well.

This process helps them learn about the construction or renovation process, and additionally improves their skills at managing trades.

When getting estimates or quotes, the goal should always be to get the most accurate ones. It's not to get the cheapest quote, nor should it be to accept the most expensive one either. Sometimes the most accurate ones happen to be one of the two, but neither of those should be the initial objective.

The old adage, "you get what you pay for", as well as "you got gouged" both apply when trying to finding the right people for your renovation.

There are many reasons for avoiding the cheapest or most expensive quote. I'll briefly outline a few reasons why. Understand these are generalities, and don't apply in all cases of course.

Cheapest quotes may mean the Contractor:

- Is not fully qualified, insured or licensed and may be passing those savings over to you (and liability along with it)

- Is simply trying to secure a contract and will tack on additional "unforeseen" expenses later on

- Is using inferior materials or improper tools

- Is perhaps desperate for a contract, and may not possess the necessary experience to perform the job

On the contrary, the most expensive quotes may mean the Contractor:

- Is very busy anyways, and is simply "fishing" for a newbie who doesn't have a clue about pricing, and will accept theirs at face value (post any job on one of the popular contractor sites, and watch the casted net of ludicrous quotes, eg. $5000 to tile a tub surround).

- Is unclear about your scope of work, and just protecting himself from possible overruns.

- Is using higher quality materials that are not necessarily required or warranted for your renovation

Ludicrous pricing may come standard

Ludicrous pricing may come standard

Again, either case is not always true. Sometimes there are contractors that charge less because they're not allocating a marketing budget, and is more focused on their work.

By the same token, a contractor may happen to be much higher because they possess all the licensing and insurance and use the highest quality materials for good reason. So understand that these are general guidelines.

Having said that, how do we go about obtaining quotes that are as accurate as possible? This is incredibly important so that you can set a proper budget, and so can your contractor. Here are several ways to do that.

But before that, you need to education yourself. I wrote an article recently titled, "5 Best Websites For Reno Info", for great online resources. Check it out.

7 Ways To Get Better Quotes

1. Clearly defined scope - You can only clearly define the scope by breaking down everything that needs to be done. For example, it's not enough to say that you need to have Plumbing for the bathroom. Let your Plumber know what needs to be done. For the bathroom, you'll need drainage for the toilet, sink, and tub. You'll need venting (not a cheater vent), a trap primer, supply piping, isolating valves, etc. Tell them the distance needed for excavation to the drain. Yes, get that granular!

2. Use a spreadsheet with heading, subheadings and sub-subheadings - To define the scope we described above, break it down in a spreadsheet. For example, Electrical would be the system, Lighting would be the component, and 12 Recessed Light Fixtures in Living Room would be the item. Your contractor can use this same spreadsheet to apply pricing and add any additional items.

Here's a sample spreadsheet showing Electrical work  - The reason why your main heading should be system and not location is because it will make it easier for the individual trade to quote (an electrician or plumber can just focus on his scope)

Here's a sample spreadsheet showing Electrical work  - The reason why your main heading should be system and not location is because it will make it easier for the individual trade to quote (an electrician or plumber can just focus on his scope)

3. Provide a rough plan with dimensions - Draw out a rough plan either by hand or on the computer (not on a napkin). Add dimensions so the contractor knows how much work is needed. For example the distance from tub to the drain will let the contractor know how much needs to be excavated.

Basic draft plans can help contractors understand extent of work

Basic draft plans can help contractors understand extent of work

4. Use pictures - Make use of that smartphone other than for Instagram. Include photos in a document to line up with the items above.

5. Turn it into a PDF document - Put all of the info above either in Word or Google Docs and convert it into a PDF. You can easily send this out to many contractors via email, and save time without having them come out to provide an initial quote. This is a good filter for unsuitable contractors. They might not even respond given the amount of detail you've put together.

Or they may give you an initial ballpark figure, and an indication on time frame, etc. If you feel comfortable, then you can have them come out for an a visit.

6. Have contractor itemize cost with labor and materials separately - This gives you a clear understanding of costs for each part of the project. They will be accountable for each item. Again, it can be done with your existing spreadsheet.

7. SOW COW Acknowledgment - SOW (Scope of Work) and COW (Change of Work) are industry terms. All contractors and homeowners should sign off on initial SOW agreed upon. And for any changes that occur later on, COW also needs to be signed off by both parties.



On top of these things, of course make sure you do your due diligence on all the usual stuff, such as referrals, licensing, insurance, contracts etc. In Ontario, remember that contractors require WSIB insurance for investment properties.

Keep in mind that there are also different grades of workmanship. You might not be interested in custom home finishing for a rental property. Discuss these options with your contractor. Some provide different grades of workmanship, while some stick to one grade. 

Good contractors are very accurate with their quotes, anticipate a few minor items that the homeowner may have skipped, and define their scope very clearly. They will apply a fair markup, and generally schedule their jobs months in advance.

As a general rule of thumb, someone who tells you they can start a $50,000 renovation in 3 days should raise a red flag.

Remember, it's not about squeezing the last buck out of your contractor. Good ones deserve to be paid well for their hard work. It's about accuracy to protect all parties, and possibilities for misunderstandings later on. Surprises do inevitably arise, but the goal is to minimize them.

"Yes! Permit approved!"

"Yes! Permit approved!"

As part of my Design/Permit Drawings/City Communication/Coaching Service, I also assist my clients with clearly defining the scope of work for their secondary suite conversion.

Contact me if you have any questions. Thanks again for reading!