Patch repairs to rendering and application of primer coat before applying wall coating paint

10 tips for getting the best estimates for your home improvement project

This article will show you how to make getting a quote, (a fixed costing), or an estimate, (an educated guess), of what it would cost to have a tradesperson carry out improvement work to your home this year.

We write this “how to…” article for the British market, however this should be just as relevant in other English speaking countries too, apart from building codes and permits which are specific to each country.

Anyway, many of us enjoy a spot of DIY but sometimes you need to call in a builder or contractor so we put together this foolproof guide on making the task much easier.

We’re not “teaching granny to suck eggs here”, but based on the real life enquiries we get each day, we thought it would be helpful to everyone involved, including any contractors reading this, if we published a few do’s and don’ts.

This is what you need to do to get the very best quote for work to your house.

It is of vital importance you know, understand and realise WHAT work you need doing, because if you don’t know, neither will the contractor whom you call.

Make it clear and plain what you want, to avoid mistakes and ambiguity.

For example:

……Hi, I want my house painted……. Hello Mr Bloggs the builder, I need an extension built……. I want my garden landscaped……

… I need someone to come round and give me a price to fix the rendering…

….. I need damp proofing done, can you come and take a look? Etc.

You get the point here yes?

If you know WHAT you need doing, then now is the time to get a tradesman (or tradeswoman, let’s not forget the excellent female trades out there too), and start to arrange a quote by contacting up to 5 different people via the internet or by phone, but first to clarify something that many people don’t realise…..

There is a BIG difference between a quote and an estimate.

You really need to make sure that this aspect of getting prices for works at your home is absolutely crystal clear. The difference between a quote and an estimate is really rather simple.

A word of warning thought, don’t ever PAY for a quote or estimate.

If someone wants to charge you, let them whistle and find someone else who will do it for free, but please don’t mess them around, their time is money.

A home improvement QUOTE:

A quote is usually a FIXED PRICE for the work, which is best agreed in writing as this is legally binding, even verbally, but the latter is harder to dispute if things go wrong later.

In order for you to receive a home improvement quote, the tradesman or his agent will visit your home, speak with you to find out more about what needs doing, and then go and SURVEY the area of your home where you want the work.

They will then do calculations including labour, taxes, cost of material etc, and work out a price they are confident that they can do the work for, and a price you are happy to pay at the end, with no hidden charges.

This is the sign of an experienced professional who knows what they are talking about. Probably.

The only time this should ever change is during the work, and if the client wishes to have ADDITIONAL work added, which usually means the trader has to produce a VARIATION OF CONTRACT ORDER, which is pinned to the original invoice and signed off by the client AND the contractor, without exception.

A home improvement ESTIMATE:

An Estimate for works is a different kettle of fish altogether and some caution is often advised when agreeing for someone to carry out work on your property based on an estimate, as the price quoted may well be MUCH HIGHER than the estimate, which remember, is an EDUCATED GUESS.

Always go for a QUOTE and not an estimate because no matter how experienced the tradespeople are, it is far more reassuring to know exactly how much the work will cost and how much you have to pay at the end.

They are not legally binding unless it says so at the small print so beware if someone asks you to sign an estimate or sign a quote as you may be unwittingly agreeing to something under duress.

When should I NOT call a tradesperson for a quote?

There are many occasions when it may not be a good idea to call in someone, not yet anyway.

You may not quite be ready for example, or it may be the wrong time of year to carry out the work, such as non essential roof repairs or replacement during the rainy season.

You need to call a tradesman at the RIGHT time, when you are READY to have some work done.

We ourselves get hundreds of calls and emails every month, but by far the biggest reason we sometimes have to say “no thanks, we can’t help you” is when you call us for a price to render or paint a house that you do not actually own!

If you are thinking of buying somewhere and it needs work doing,  if you send us a photo of the house, sometimes we can give you a very rough guess on how much it may possibly cost, but that is where our service would end, for now, until you actually BUY the house in question.

It’s a scenario a bit like calling a repair garage and asking for a clutch replacement for a Ford focus you own, and then actually turning up in a Mercedes that your neighbour owns, which needs a new door lock.

You cannot and should not call to ask for a price over the phone for a certain address and it turns out to be your neighbours house and you were just being nosy.

Or you thought that giving someone else’s details to a company and laugh when you think they are going to be pestered by telesales. (we dont do that!)

Only contact a builder, a home improvement tradesman or whoever, when the time is right, maybe a few weeks before you need the work done ON YOUR OWN HOME, not one you are considering buying.

If you don’t own the house, the home improvement company will not offer service as by law they are not allowed to anyway.

Here are my 10 top tips on making the task of getting a quote, that much easier.

Whoever you need to call, and whatever work you need doing, be sure that you realise the following points:

1. You are going to need to divulge at least SOME personal info, for example your name and address, to a stranger, so make sure you know how they deal and process this information.

You don’t want to call a plumber for a quote, and then start to get junk mail and telesales calls as they sold your info on to a direct marketing company operating from India.

2. Be very clear about WHAT sort of work that you want doing, stay in control and don’t be pressured into having work done that you do not need. If in doubt, write a check list before you call them.

3. Get recommendations, if possible, before you call them.

Ask family or friends. Be confident in wanting the best quality work at the best price, but remember the CHEAPEST price is rarely the best, so be warned.

4. Check for reviews and/or complaints against the contractor. Bear in mind that some industries are very ruthless and occasionally bad reviews get posted online from shady rivals in a price war.

Be realistic with this. Don’t let one bad review out of 1,000 good ones put you off; No one is perfect however If ALL reviews of their work are bad, obviously you don’t want to be calling them at all.

5. Ask the tradesman or home improvement company if they carry insurance, most do, in fact it is a legal requirement, but it doesn’t harm to ask.

This is a good time also to ask if you can see some of their previous work.

6. Meet the contractor or their sales rep in person and don’t agree to have work done without finding out more about who will do the work. Sub contracting is normal in the building industry so don’t be put off by that, but make sure you meet them too.

7. Work out a budget for what you want to pay for the work, and you may find an average cost when you get at least 4 different estimates, but for heavens sake be realistic.

If your home needs a full re-render, don’t expect it to be £200! Which brings me on to my next point….

8. Be realistic. If your 4 bed detached house needs painting, don’t expect it to be the same price as your mum’s bungalow was, 10 years ago.

These last points are based on REAL LIFE examples of when we have quoted a price as the clients jaw nearly dropped through the floor.

Home Improvements, quality ones, don’t come cheap so don’t insult your tradesman by wanting the work for nothing.

If your home is worth half a million pounds, don’t begrudge paying 5 grand to have it properly painted!.

9. Make sure you look out for SCAMS and con-men. (it’s ALWAYS MEN, ladies, without doubt!).

If you are looking to get some work done and someone knocks on your door out of the blue, be VERY wary and do NOT agree to anything on the doorstep, EVER.

Never pay cash in hand, you may think you are saving both of you money but you are actually taking part in VAT fraud, and if he gets investigated by the revenue and customs, SO WILL YOU.

10. And finally, our last tip is READ THE SMALL PRINT. Any builder or home improvement company worth their salt will confirm any work agreed in writing, usually detailing WHAT they will do and the COST of it.

Bear in mind that if you sign an agreement, you are also legally bound so please don’t waste the persons time and then cancel it 3 days later.

You either want the work or you don’t and if you have taken the steps we suggested above, you should be happy to proceed with the work, carried out by the people you selected to do it.

OK, hopefully we have now shown you how easy it can be to get the right person to work on your home, for the right price.

If you follow these steps, you can’t go wrong.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Article by Guy Alexander Bell. Bsc.(hons).Pg.Dip.Cert.Ed

Surveyor and Author and ex painter and decorator!

PS if the outside of your house needs work, get in contact with us for the best price, using the best materials and the best skilled labour. Call us on 0800 970 4928

Scroll to top