Wouldn’t it be great if there was a secret formula or a fixed price on labour costs? Well, there isn’t and it doesn’t look like that’s changing any time soon.

The construction industry has a bad reputation for overestimating jobs and… allow me to reassure you…


This is probably not what you wanted to hear…

So, I’m sorry. 

I can’t change the culture of the industry but I can allow you to learn from our lessons. Here are 5 tips to master when you inquire and receive an estimate.

1. Detail the scope of the work

The clearer and the more details provided in the scope of the work, the less the opportunity for the contractor to sneak additional costs into their estimate.

Don’t get me wrong, just because you have a detailed outline doesn’t mean the contractor will give you a breakdown of the costs for each item.  

I recommend inquiring about how they are pricing the project (per hour, per estimated days, etc), by asking the question, you will get a really quick idea of who you want to work with. I have dealt with contractors that have been incredibly defensive upon receiving this question and from that response I know I don’t want to work with them.

We’ve hired these defensive contractors before and experienced everything from inappropriate, unprofessional behaviour to terrible work that they refused to accept as being anything less than great.

Check out my other blog on hiring contractors if you haven’t already. There I go into further detail on red flags.

2. Educate yourself

Before you tell me you don’t want to learn about the process of replacing your floors or remodeling your kitchen… let me explain! I am not suggesting you go learn the ins and outs of your reno project… simply understand the process on a basic level.

Here’s why:

  • You will know what questions to ask about their process in the work they’re doing. Having that understanding on a basic level allows you to catch them if they don’t know how to answer the questions you’re asking AND if they’re talking around the questions and not actually answering.
  • “A little knowledge goes a long way”. Take that to heart. You’d be surprised what that basic understanding will help you see. For example, you may notice an error in their installation and capture it while they are still on the job and able to fix it.

3. Never settle on the first estimate

Yes, I know you are busy and not wanting to be interviewing 10 different groups. Our rule of thumb is a 3 estimate minimum. 

I promise you, doing some research can save you the few hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

It also gives you leverage in negotiations. 😉 

Having given all 3 groups the exact same scope of work you will be able to have 3 estimates to consider. I suggest you narrow it down to two and toss the third.

4. Don’t say YES to their first price


I get it. It’s kind of uncomfortable and you don’t normally have to negotiate so the confidence isn’t quite there yet…

Well, what if I told you contractors expect some negotiation so your estimate is already slightly inflated. Would that motivate you?

Negotiating these estimates is a large topic, so look out soon for a blog completely devoted to this. But for now, start with 10% off and see where that takes you.

5. Material

I bet if you’ve ever hired a contractor in the past, most include all material needed for the work in the price. Well, as most you know…


If the material isn’t broken down separately in the estimate, they are mostly charging you a 20-30% surcharge on the entire price. They justify this with the time, driving, gas, etc. needed to go and pick up these materials.

This is a massive profit centre for contractors. 

What a lot of contractors won’t tell you is that they buy the material at a discounted price through their contractor accounts at stores but still charge you the full price. Some even have the audacity to let you know about their discount as a way of convincing you it’d be in your best interest to have materials included in their price.

Yes, it is convenient for the contractor to manage everything and some of you may have the budget to allow for that as it’s most convenient for your busy lifestyle…BUT, if you are looking to save a few dollars… we highly suggest that where you can, purchase and supply your own materials. For example, flooring, kitchen cabinets, trim & mouldings.

I hope this was helpful! 

Don’t hesitate to reach out and comment below 🙂

Alex Brunette-D’Souza