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The Truth About Estimates

Right At Home Daily: Finding It: Contractors
The Truth About Estimates
By Barbara B. Buchholz for Right at Home Daily

Do you know how to get an accurate estimate for home renovation or construction?

Too many homeowners are surprised--and later dismayed--by how much a project costs when all of the numbers are tallied up. They complain that the final price of the project differs drastically from any estimates given.

The Truth About EstimatesIn some cases, costs escalate because materials cost more than expected, because labor takes longer due to complications, or because homeowners casually added to the original project without remembering changes cost more. Surprise! The bar sink or recessed lights added $1,000 to the price of your job.

But, in other cases, estimates prove inaccurate because both sides get sloppy. Maybe the contractor didn't put the estimate in writing. Maybe the homeowner never asked.

The best way to avoid these problems is to have prospective contractors create a line-item estimate, which breaks down the cost of the project into all its components. This way you find out what every appliance costs, how much each material adds to the total package, what the labor costs will be, and how long the project is expected to take.

You should get at least three bids and compare them. The lowest bid may be unrealistically low and involve an inexperienced contractor dying to get your job, or one who uses inferior materials. The highest bid may include excessively expensive components and work, neither of which is necessary.

If all bids come in at more than you want, you'll have to increase your project cost or cut back. Ask your contractor for help, then decide what you can best live without. One homeowner gave up her dream of a slate floor in her kitchen, restained the existing wood floor and put a small area of slate on an island, at a savings of $12,000. Or, consider working in stages if several rooms are involved.

And remember, a handshake, even if firm, is not a legal guarantee. Get everything in writing.

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