Home Repair and Improvement Costs

One of the biggest unknowns for many homeowners is how to estimate home repair costs. Depending on who writes the estimate, it can be confusing and very difficult to understand exactly what is included and what is the actual amount of money you’ll be expected to pay. I can’t teach you, in one page, to be a professional estimator. It takes years of experience and is a constant learning process. My goal here is to provide you with a basic understanding of the methods used by estimators in for determining costs. It all starts with quantities. How much of each particular product or service do you need?

Breaking Down Repair Cost Measurements
Most things in construction are measured in linear feet, square feet, and square yards. Many of you may already know this.If so, feel free to skip ahead. But, I’m starting from the very beginning for those that may be completely unfamiliar with these terms. Linear feet is the most simple. If you pull your tape measure from one end of a straight wall to the other and it measures: 10 ft 6 in, then you have 10’6″ linear feet of wall. Finish carpenters use linear feet to measure trim, base boards, and cabinets. For example: If you were remodeling your kitchen and replacing the cabinets, you would measure the length of each individual cabinet to determine that you need 18 linear feet (lf) of lower cabinets and 22 (lf) of upper cabinets.

The next type of measurement I’m going to talk about is square feet. This probably the most often used measurement in construction and it’s pretty simple. basically, were multiplying 2 separate measurements. If you wanted to find the square footage of a bedroom floor for example, you would multiply the width of the room by the length. If the room is 12 ft wide and 15 ft long: 15×12=180 square feet. If you need the square footage of a wall in the same room, you would simply multiply length x height. Square feet measurements are used for the majority of household repairs including: painting, drywall flooring, counter tops, and many more. Square yards is another measurement used in cost estimating, primarily for carpet and other flooring. To find the square yardage of an area, you would divide the square feet by 9. So if a room was 10 ft x 9 ft (90 SQ FT) divide by 9 and you’ve got 10 square yards. Measuring for carpet is a little more complicated than finding the square yardage of a room. For more info on that check out our flooring page.

Defining the Scope of Work for Home Repairs
Now that we understand the measurement process a little better, let move on to preparing the Estimate. It all starts with the scope of work. Let’s say we’re going to remodel the kitchen. Make a line item listing each home repair.

  • Replace Cabinets- 18 lf lower, 22 lf upper
  • Paint Ceiling and Walls- 192 sf ceiling, 240 sf walls,
  • Remove Linoleum Flooring- 156 sf
  • Install Ceramic Tile Floor- 156 sf
  • Install Granite Counter Tops- 36 sf
  • Install Ceramic Tile Back Splash- 27 sf
  • Install (6) recessed light in ceiling
  • Install New Appliances- Built-in Double Oven, Glass Cook Top, Vent Hood, Dishwasher
  • Install New Sink and Faucet
  • Stain and Finish Cabinets

Building the Cost Estimate
The simplest method for determining the cost of your project is to have general contractors bid the entire project. Try and line up at least 3 GC’s to give you quotes on the project. Schedule different appointment times for each of them. You don’t want them all there together, but casually mention that you are expecting other bids. Hopefully this will make them more competitive. The following tips may be helpful in the interview process.

  • If you have any questions or would like their input on the project, prepare a list and use it with all bidders. We do this to make sure the process is equal.
  • Decide on a time frame for when you would like their Estimate.(A week to 10 days should be enough time). This will show you something about their ability to do things promptly and meet deadlines.
  • If you want the contractor to include all of the labor and materials in their bids, you need to specify certain items like appliances and flooring to insure you get the quality you want. An experienced, qualified contractor would ask you these questions own their own.
  • Ask them to include an estimated time (# of days or weeks) that it will take to complete the project.
  • Tell them you will need a list of the subcontractors they will be using.(so you can check them out and get lien releases to make sure they have been paid).

After you have completed the interview process, just sit back and wait for the bids. When you receive them, compare them closely to make sure they are equal. Look for exceptions or exclusions in the fine print. Some people may leave out items that were in your scope. This may be OK, you just need to know up front. If you are satisfied with the number of bids you’ve received, select the Cost Estimate you believe suits you best and move forward. If you are unable to get multiple bids, keep reading and you’ll find tips on how to determine if the prices are fair.

If you want to contract your own work, you will need to price each phase of the work and the put it all together to build an estimate of your home repair costs. Let’s begin with any areas of the work you may be planning to do yourself. Maybe your going to do the painting or stain the cabinets. In this case, your only expenses should be materials and any new tools you may need. When making your material list, don’t forget the small misc. items you’ll need. When painting, in addition to the paint itself, don’t forget, caulking, putty, paint thinner, and plastic to cover floors or furniture. These are low cost items, but it all adds up. After you have estimated the material cost, it’s a good idea to add about 10% contingency for mistakes or unexpected problems that arise (there are always a few). Make a line item for each phase of the job you plan on doing yourself.

Now we’re ready to get sub bids for the rest of the home repair costs. Finding the right subcontractors is they key to a smooth, organized project. All it takes is one bad one to mess it up for everyone. Make appointments with subs for each phase of the job. It’s a good idea to schedule appointments with different trades at the same time to get feedback on things one trade may need to do for another. For example: The plumber or electrician may need to relocate pipes or wiring before the carpenter installs the new cabinets. But, as a rule, don’t schedule subs of the same trade at the same time. You need to get a feel for each individual without a competition going on. Give each bidder a copy of your entire scope of work so he knows up front what circumstances he will be working with. He may raise questions you haven’t thought about. Make it clear if you plan on providing any materials or fixtures, such as appliances or lighting.

If you want the sub to include everything, either specify what you want or ask them for an allowance. An allowance is a designated amount of money allowed for a particular item. For instance: if you have a $200 allowance for a ceiling fan, that amount would be set aside in the contract. After looking, you decide that the fan you really want is $329. You would owe the additional $129 to the contractor. If it’s less, you would receive a credit. This is a good way to get estimates, but I would recommend always selecting what you want rather than leaving it up to the contractor, to insure you receive the value that you’re paying for. If you have an allowance, you may be able to save some money by finding bargains on clearance or used items. Once you’ve received all of your sub bids, make your selections and combine the sub bids with the line item prices for the things you’re doing yourself and the total will be the final cost of repairs for your home. It is a good idea to then add 5-10% contingency. There are usually unexpected things that come up. If they don’t, you’ll still have the money, but, if more costs do arise, you will have planned for it.

Checking the Home Repair Costs
The final thing I’d like to discuss about home repair costs is how to determine if you’re getting a fair price. The simplest way is to have multiple bids when compiling your Cost Estimate. If you have the following 4 prices:

$31,000, $22,000, $19,500, $17,900

It’s pretty clear that the market price should be in the $18,000 – $22,000 range and the $31,000 price is high. However you may not be able to get 4 bids. You may only get 1.If you haven’t received enough bids to write an estimate of your home repair costs that you feel comfortable with, you can do some research using the estimating techniques we discussed earlier. Use the footage measurements and make some phone calls or visit home improvement centers to check prices. For example: You need 156 sf of ceramic tile. Call several tile contractors and ask them what they charge per: sf to install floor tile (labor only). After making several calls you determine that the labor price should be about $3 per sf. You know from your previous shopping that your tile is $6 per: sf and misc materials are $.50 per: sf, the following formula can help you check the costs:

Labor $3.00 Materials $6.50

Total sf price $9.50 x 156 sf = $1482.00 %2B 20% O&P = $296.40= Total Price $1778.40

Adding 20-30% for overhead and profit is not unreasonable, but if your using small contractors, you may not need to. If you receive a bid for $3500, it is probably high.This process can be used with many of the items in your Cost Estimate that are priced based on footage measurements. It’s not an exact science, but it can help you know if your in the ball park. The exception would be very small projects. If all your doing is a small bathroom, contractors will probably not bid it by the foot because they can’t make any money that way. It is really impossible to estimate costs for some services, particularly: plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. The only option, even for professional estimators is to use multiple bids. Spend the extra time if necessary. It will be worth it.

I would like to conclude this topic by offering some advice that I have learned the hard way.

  • The cheapest Cost Estimate is not always the best. If you have 3 prices and one is half the amount of the next lowest, be careful. They may have missed something, or very possibly, just don’t know what they’re doing. This is tempting, even for veteran contractors. But, if the sub or GC has under bid the project and can’t finish, you’ve got a big problem. I’ve been on both sides of this and it never turns out good for either side.
  • Don,t lie to yourself. If you’ve gotten your bids and done your research and the Cost Estimate looks like a $20,000 project, but you only have $15,000, it’s still a $20,000 project. Don’t proceed, thinking you will find a way to save $5,000. You may end up with torn up house you can’t finish. Either take something out of wait awhile until you have the needed funds.
  • Finally, make sure your pricing is up to date. Some services and materials can fluctuate greatly for various reasons. If it’s been several months since you did your estimate, check with suppliers and contractors to be sure the prices are still good.

Hopefully, your armed with a little more knowledge and ammunition for preparing you Cost Estimate. Proceed with caution and Good Luck