Getting it in writing is just the beginning-but get it.Mike Holmes of Holmes on HomesThe Globe and Mail April 20, 2007
A written estimate is not a contract, but it should be close to the latter in the level of pricing detail it provides. There should be a set price for everything that can be fixed, and everything else - such as exclusions or allowances - need to be clearly separated from the rest of the bid.
Sometimes a solid price just can't be established until work begins. If there are a lot of exceptions, however, it can mean that the contractor just doesn't know enough about the work he's being asked to do.
A sign of someone with too little experience is an obsession with detail at the estimate stage. Good estimating is a matter of "feel", and someone with no experience usually lacks that. There should be a proposed start and completion date, or at least a timeline that indicates how long the work will take once begun, and a promise of more detail to follow. Is it too much to ask? If the contractor has done an accurate estimate, he already knows how long it will take. He can put it in the estimate. Pay attention to how the contractor presents his price. If the first 30 to 45 minutes is filled with details of his company's expertise, quality work and reputation, then followed by the appearance of a contract and pressure to sign then and there, the guy has had serious sales training. I won't sign anything in the same meeting that I receive a quote, and you shouldn't either.
Another thing to look for is how he breaks down the pricing. A breakdown should be included; if you get a single number, there's likely a large profit margin hidden in there - no matter how good the guy sounds. The first estimate is when I also want to see all the paperwork providing that worker's compensation, general liability insurance and appropirate licenses are in place and paid up. Finally, any estimate should include a payment schedule. Here's my hard-and-fast, no exception rules for payment schedules. It does not matter whether the price is $1,000 or $1,000,000.
Upon signing, no more than $1,000 to $1,500 down. You are only scheduleing a start date here.
10 percent on the start date, when workers arrive on site with their tools.
10 to 15 per cent in stages as certain spects - such as framing, rought-ins for plumbing and electrical, drywall and painting - are completed not started.
Any big items, such as kitchen cabinets, and custom doors and windows have to be paid for upon ordering. Make a request that you pay the mount direct to the manufacturer/supplier, rather than go through your contractor.
Make sure you have 10 to 15 per cent of the price held back for 45 days after the job is totally completed. At the end of that time period, if everything is good, pay your contractor.