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How to Receive and Compare Multiple Estimates on Home Projects

Home improvement costs can add up quickly. Here’s a detailed guide on how to compare quotes from multiple providers to save more money.

May 2, 2022

Owning a home can be pricey, especially when renovations or repairs pop up. The average homeowner spends around $2,040 per year on general maintenance and repairs, but major renovations can easily run in the tens of thousands of dollars. 

As a savvy homeowner, you may be looking for ways to save on home improvement costs. In this guide, we’ll discuss how you can compare quotes from multiple contractors and service providers to get the best deal possible. 

How to estimate home improvement costs

If you’re planning a home improvement project, renovation, or repair, it’s helpful to know ahead of time how much you can expect to spend. This is helpful for budgeting and allows you to start saving early and/or shuffle other financial priorities, as needed. 

There are two ways to estimate a home improvement cost:

  • Using an online comparison tool or cost estimate guide

  • Contacting contractors to get actual quotes 

A good place to start is with some online research. 

Sites like HomeGuide and HomeAdvisor offer free resources and cost estimate databases to help you get a rough estimate of how much a repair might cost. Be sure to plug in your ZIP code so that the tools can more accurately estimate costs in your geographic area. 

But these will only be very rough estimates. For accurate quotes, you’ll need to contact service providers. 

How to get estimates from contractors

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to estimate home improvement costs by contacting contractors for quotes. 

1. Determine the type of contractor that’s required

What project are you hoping to tackle, and what kind of specialized skills might be required? For general repairs, a handyman could suffice, but many projects might require a certain skill set. For instance, you might need:

  • A plumber

  • An HVAC expert

  • A window & door expert

  • An electrician 

  • A landscaper

Before you contact anyone, get clear on what type of contractor you’ll actually need.

2. Record what you need

Take some notes about the project and your desires. The more descriptive you are, the easier it’ll be for contractors to provide quotes (and the quicker you’ll hear back). 

Include the following information: 

  • The project goals

  • The current condition of the home/area of the home

  • Your desired timeline

  • Any materials you’ve already purchased

Put everything in writing, so that you can submit this description to contractors. See an example below. 

Quote request example

“I am looking to renovate my master bathroom. It’s approximately 120 square feet, with a walk-in shower, a standard cabinet with a sink, and a standard toilet. I am looking to replace the shower with a large bathtub and to replace the current counter with a more elegant marble countertop, with two side-by-side sinks. The toilet can stay as-is. 

“I am hoping to have this project completed by the end of this year. I haven’t purchased any of the required materials, but I have specific pieces in mind for the bathtub and counter. I will pay for these separately and request your quote be based on labor costs alone. 

“Please submit your best offer, in writing, to [your email address].”

3. Contact contractors

Submit your written project description to contractors/service providers in your area. You can email them directly, but it’s often best to call first and ask how they prefer to process quote requests. 

It’s recommended to contact at least three contractors. That way, you can get a better estimate of the average cost. 

4. Review and compare quotes

Once the estimates start coming in, carefully review and compare them. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Are the contractors all proposing similar services, or are there noteworthy differences?

  • Are all the contracts licensed/bonded and insured?

  • How does the reputation of each contractor compare?

  • What’s the expected timeline for each contractor?

  • Are the costs similar or substantially different?

You can ask any follow-up questions as needed. 

Do contractors charge for estimates?

In general, no: Contractors don’t typically charge for estimates. 

There may be exceptions for very large projects, which may take a contractor a considerable amount of time to quote. For example, if you’re looking to build an addition to your home, a contractor might charge a fee to draw up a detailed plan and estimate. 

Keep in mind: Cost isn’t everything

You won’t necessarily want to go with the cheapest bidder. It’s important to consider the experience level and reputation of the contractors you’re considering. 

While the very cheapest bid might not be the best choice, the most expensive option isn’t necessarily the best contractor, either. Read customer reviews to get an idea of how reputable each vendor is.

You can also use Angi (formerly Angie’s List) to research providers in your area. For large projects, you may wish to ask the contractor for references. 

Keep costs down to avoid debt

Many Americans go into debt to renovate or improve their homes. Savvy homeowners should seek to avoid adding debt for optional renovations. It’s always best to pay cash, and some contractors might even offer a discount if you pay with cash or a check. 

Contacting contractors for quotes is a great way to keep the costs of home improvement down. Comparing multiple options will help you get the best deal possible. 

If you do need to use a loan to pay for a project, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) might be a good option; it’s very important to avoid high-interest debt, like credit cards, as interest expenses can add up very quickly.

If you have existing credit card debt, paying it off should be a top priority. Tally† might be able to help. Tally is an app that helps qualifying applicants consolidate credit card balances to a lower interest rate line of credit. 

†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.