Renovation & Design

Effective quotes protect client and builder

Avoid surprises with a thorough cost breakdown

Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

Marc will prepare several quotes for multiple clients at one sitting, usually on a Sunday, because it can be time away from the jobsite, which is not plausible during the week.

Quoting is an inescapable process that, as a contractor, comes with the territory of renovations and construction. Depending on the requested tasks or project’s complexity, generating a quote for a potential customer can sometimes prove to be a laborious process that yields nothing.

From the onset, it was difficult to establish a protocol that would ensure my labour costs were adequate to properly self-compensate and stay within reason to be competitive within the industry and remain fair to the customer. Hourly rates were out of the question — the music industry taught me that. As a producer working in my recording studio, I offer my artists either song or project rates, to avoid watching the clock. In some respects, I suppose the assumption of risk falls straight onto my shoulders. When a recording task requires more time than expected, it’s on me. However, the last thing a musician wants to worry about during the creative process is whether there’s enough money in the budget to do another take. My job as producer is to spend the necessary time to extract the best performance from a musician and watching the clock precludes this process. I applied this etiquette to my renovation and construction business, which historically has been well received by my clients.

With hourly rates off the table, it becomes imperative that each of the required tasks be assessed the appropriate amount of time, so the task rate can be determined. In the beginning, this was somewhat of a gamble on my part. On a few occasions, the quoted compensation proved inadequate because, in actuality, it took much longer to complete the task. After a few projects under my belt with similar tasks, however, it became easier to quote my labour because I had a foundation of experience upon which I could rely. These days, I’ve become quite comfortable allocating labour rates to a plethora of task types, all the while balancing an acceptable personal compensation with market standards.

Material costs are often straight-forward, especially those used for building. The discrepancy between the cost of a two-by-four from one supplier to the next is negligible — these are hard costs and are designated by the current rates within the industry. They can fluctuate slightly but remain more or less consistent from one job to the next.

Therefore, the process for quoting a two-by-four for a customer can be achieved rather quickly. A deck project, for example, consists of various types of lumber, deck pads, fasteners and so on — the material costs will be what they are based on the suppliers’ rates. Because I have built numerous decks, I’ve become comfortable setting my labour rate based on the costs of materials. This simplifies and expedites the quoting process. Subjective costs are when costs can sky-rocket — these are the esthetic items that are preferred by the customer, to decorate a project or populate a space; for example, a marble-top vanity with under-mount sink is much pricier than a standard vanity. Although these types of choices will influence the customers budget, they rarely affect the labour rate attributed to the task. I always use the same analogy — it takes me the same amount of time to install a $50 toilet, or a $500 toilet. Clients can drastically lessen their project’s expenses by paying close attention to their subjective costs.

Some of my initial quoting protocols were unnecessarily time-consuming. During my first season of deck-building, I’d create elaborate deck plans with colourful graphics for an intended design. In retrospect, this proved a huge waste of time! Why go through the process of creating a beautiful graphic when a quick sketch will often suffice?

And the harsh lesson was the time I provided a potential client with a beautiful deck drawing I spent hours creating, who then elected to use (steal) the design to "build the deck himself with a buddy." I never repeated that mistake. It has proven prudent to safeguard uncompensated quoting efforts by providing to the potential customer only what is required to make a decision until a signed job agreement is in place, whereby all the details of the project are then provided and a deposit has been received.

A simplified quoting protocol can also be applied to individual tasks of a more complex project such as a kitchen, bathroom or full-on addition from the ground up, which entails a multitude of steps to quote. For these multi-faceted projects, much effort is spent establishing both materials and labour costs for each task within the project, and this takes a tremendous amount of time. I am always aware that a quote may not yield work — what’s that saying? "Don’t count your chickens until they hatch," or something like that?

I’ve been bitten a handful of times, early on in my reno adventure. Regardless, it is always necessary to invest a great deal of time in the quoting process. I do my best to minimize wasteful effort while maximizing quote approval consistency. Both the customer and contractor must be aware of all costs, before a project can proceed.

What the client is willing to spend and what the contractor requires as compensation can be a delicate balance. Regardless, I always encourage any client to obtain several quotes, to allow for a well-informed decision before making the choice to proceed, and with whom.

Not all quotes are fruitful, that’s the industry. It’s my hope potential clients appreciate the effort, regardless of whether the project proceeds or not. For the most part, I have been extremely fortunate to have a fantastic customer base, often repeat clients who have graciously provided wonderful referrals. And for that, I am always very grateful. So, thank you. You know who you are!


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