Plans, Scope, Budget.
We are often called to give free estimates. We do it happily. There are some things that every client can do to ensure they get prices on the work they want done. We encourage every new prospective client to gather as much information as possible before we begin.
To properly price a job, we need plans that accurately depict existing conditions and proposed outcomes. Plans should be roughly to scale and show as much detail as possible. Without plans, you will get the roughest of rough estimates. I often draft plans myself for committed clients. I can not draw them for everybody I meet, as they cost the company in overhead, and many potential clients are just kicking tires. You greatly increase your chances of being taken seriously by either having them ready, or requesting the service be done for a nominal fee. There is absolutely nothing wrong with kicking tires, and I can usually do that over the phone with a couple photographs and a few measurements from the homeowner. When you are ready to hire, you move up in the queue automatically to the top when you provide or request plans.
With or without specification, a simple list of expected changes and outcomes is without a doubt considered a mark of high etiquette among contractors. When the client presents with a typed scope of work, personally I feel like the client sees the value in my time, and has begun returning the favor immediately. Having a scope to convert into line items can help the client choose what they can afford, and the contractor can guide them to the best order for those improvements. I imagine that most clients don't give themselves enough credit for being able to help with the process of home improvement. They don't know how things work and are afraid to make statements and expose themselves to ridicule. I'll admit, sometimes it goes the other way, and I just wish a client would do more listening, however, OFTEN it is imperative to encourage the client to speak as much as possible and to write thoughts down ahead of our meeting. It will improve my chances of remembering what their needs are. I promise, I have never laughed at anyone for doing this.
I don't need a budget for every job, just most of them. If a client can not provide a plan or scope, the least they can do is provide a budget for us to work with. I feel some potential clients like to keep their budget secret, unwilling to 'tip their hand' so to speak. This approach of shielding oneself from the unscrupulous is a tack which has some appeal, but when it is unpacked, does not lead to satisfactory relationships in most cases. Let's serve to elucidate the process between professionals. Information will set us all free from the bonds of secrecy. If a client wants to know what the cost process is and how we arrive at an invoice, we are happy to discuss expenses and mark up. Knowing a budget beforehand can determine whether we shall intend to open a wall or not. The difference between getting the price you want and having your hat blown off is often just a conversation.
Of course, we aren't all reasonable, honest, open people, but, I like to think that most of us are. I certainly wish to appeal to that demographic. I hope that if a client has a question about something, they feel comfortable asking me or one of my associates without hesitation. The client can expect an answer, or a guarantee to find one within a reasonable amount of time. IOW: It never hurts to ask.
I think many people are on guard around contractors. That's a regrettable situation. More than just in the aspect of cost, we find that our clients often enjoy talking about the process of home improvement. Many of them get a kick out of the being involved in the process. We hope to empower our clients with a clear explanation of the decision making process. We are your guides.
I hear a lot of first time clients say, "You probably can't give me an estimate because you never know what you're gonna find in there.." and they pause, expecting me to nod my head or say "shucks, you're right.." I don't agree though. It is true that we encounter the unexpected sometimes. A properly prepared proposal and client coaching can make everyone feel oriented and prepared to dance with those uncertainties. An experienced eye in the walk-through and estimating process can point ahead to possible flares in the road, and can suggest alternate routes. I think that the uncertainty of renovation is grossly overstated, often by contractors who are unwilling to spend a little time laying out the options before they sink the ears of a hammer in to your wall.
I've talked an awful lot about business today. I guess I just felt prompted to go over some basics with the reader. Whether you are in New England or New Guinea, these statements apply. If you have relationships with professionals, treating each other with this kind of mutual respect is universal etiquette. Hope everyone has had and continues to have a safe and enjoyable wind up of the Western calendar year.