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What is a Handyman’s Estimate?

From fixing up to complete remodels, a family looking for a contractor wants a great outcome without any surprise invoices. For that reason, demanding an itemized estimate is an important part of any home project. But what exactly is the estimate and how flexible are the amounts?

It’s important to know that the estimates from one contractor to another may vary, sometimes substantially. There are ways to understand why this happens. Knowing where the prices come from for both materials and labor may allow some negotiation or help decide which company you will eventually use.  Sometimes estimates are free, but sometimes not and there are questions you should always ask the contractor after receiving the estimate.  It isn’t always about the bottom line.

Estimates from Contractors May Differ.

For one thing, the estimate forms will probably be different depending on the software the handyman uses and some companies even make their own forms. Before selecting your contractor, ask questions on items that are confusing. A reliable company will not hesitate to explain the item, the cost, and maybe why one estimate differs from another. Don’t select a contractor based on the bottom line. The more difficult the project, the more the homeowner needs to study those estimates for differences and find out why.

What are Estimate Line Detail Subtotals?

In a section labeled Estimate Line Detail Subtotals, or something similar, the homeowner will see an Approved Work Order where the customer either accepts the estimate at the beginning of the project or not. The Change Order includes the cost of any changes after work has started. If no changes are needed, this part will be blank. Credits is the money that the contractor deducts from the cost because he got a deal on something or some related work wasn’t necessary, such as repairing floor joists for a new floor. This section also will include the money the insurance company may kick in if a claim is filed.

The Line Detail Subtotals will include materials and labor. Categories in this section include:

  • Structural
  • Mold
  • HVAC
  • Plumbing
  • Painting/Drywall Installation/Wallpaper Application
  • Electrical
  • Flooring
  • Appliances
  • Carpentry

In each section, there will be a breakdown of costs.  For instance, if the homeowner wants to replace a water-damaged floor and put down new tile, the estimate will include the materials of the floor, the tile, new sub-flooring, replacing joists, treating mold/pests like termites, and removing old materials. If new sub-flooring and/or joists are not needed or no mold or pests are present, these costs will be deducted after construction has started. This section includes anything that might possibly happen so there is no need for additional financing later.

Where Do Contractors Get the Prices for Their Products?

Depending on the size of the company, Handymen may have bulk prices for general materials such as lumber. Some companies that sell materials may offer seasonal pricing to lure contractors to try out their products. In addition, homeowners may want specialized materials such as custom cabinets or countertops that require a contractor to go outside the usual network. Customers should ask the contractor where they purchase their materials and if there are guarantees if it is important to them and be sure any special materials are available.

How Much Do Estimates Cost?

Handymen may be willing to give bids for free because they aren’t much work. However, if a visit to the property is needed and the estimate is complicated, there may be a charge. When calling for an estimate, ask of there is a charge.

Questions to Ask About Your Estimate:

  • Some contractors will delegate work to subcontractors such as plumbers to hurry things along or because they are more comfortable with someone else doing that part of the project. Ask your contractor if he is using any other workers on your project.
  • Get the start date and expected date of completion in writing and have some sort of penalty for the project running too long. The family is inconvenienced during remodeling and some contractors have been known to stack projects, going in just often enough to work so the customer doesn’t fire them. A few days is one thing, but a few months will make the family crazy!
  • Be clear on the terms of payment. Some cash up front is expected to show honorable intent and help with initial costs of the project, but don’t be talked into paying the entire estimate up front. If you didn’t do your homework, your money may literally go on down the road if the contractor is not reputable.
  • One cost that homeowner’s may not know is the cost of pulling permits. The contractor isn’t going to foot these because they can run into hundreds of dollars. Be sure that this item is included in the estimate and if it isn’t, ask if a permit (or two or three) will be needed.


An estimate is the handyman’s calculation on what the same work cost in the past with differences allowed for materials and possible labor. An estimate is NOT legally binding! However, if the homeowner accepts a quote, this is a legally binding contract.

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What is the Difference Between a Contractor Estimate and a Home Remodeling Bid?

According to The Spruce.com, a bid is given as one price for the materials and work. Bids are usually used for small projects such as installing a sink. The reason for this is that the contractor has done this type of work so often, they know from experience what it will cost them in materials and labor and what they will expect to earn when the job is completed. While the customer can see what the itemized costs are, there is a little fudge included for the contractor in case some calculation is off and they have to eat the difference. The drawback for the customer getting a bid is that the contractor may be motivated to use the cheapest materials and labor to allow for a wider profit margin. With a formal estimate, everything is listed in detail. Due to bigger projects being more complicated, bids are not used. While formal estimates make it easier to compare between contractors, contractor fees may also be higher.

Who Does the Estimate?

Michael Stone with Construction Programs and Results, Inc. states that it’s best to have the salesman write estimates because they have talked with the homeowner extensively and knows what they want. In addition, he or she also works with the construction crew and should understand everything that goes into the specific project or can talk it over with the contractor. A good company will have someone go over the estimate to be sure that things like portable toilets weren’t omitted; if they were, the contractor can’t ask the customer to cover the cost.

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