A general contractor’s guide to estimates, quotes and pricing renovation services


As a general contractor providing renovation services, maintaining and increasing profitability involves a combination of careful planning, effective implementation, and ongoing refinement. To ensure success, it's important to consider these 5 key factors: 

  1. Creating an estimate or quote effectively without wasting time and money
  2. Using the right and competitive profit margins
  3. What type of contract types to use, lump sum vs cost plus
  4. Tracking project budget and timeline to be profitable
  5. Improving future estimates and quotes from lessons learned

Key takeaways

  1. Creating an estimate or quote effectively: Filter your clients by asking relevant questions, use data from past jobs to determine cost per square foot, provide a rough price on the phone, make the client pay for it and refund if they sign you, and use a project management tool such as Billdr Pro.
  2. Profit margins: The right and competitive margin per project will vary depending on factors such as the size and complexity of the project, the local market, and your overhead costs. It is important to set a margin that is both competitive and sustainable for your business.
  3. Contract types: Choose between a lump sum or cost-plus type of contract based on the specific needs and requirements of each project. A lump sum contract is best for a well-defined project with a clear scope, while a cost-plus contract is best for projects with uncertain or changing scope.
  4. Budget and timeline management: To ensure your projects are on budget and on time, develop a detailed project plan, set realistic expectations, monitor progress regularly, keep communication open, manage changes and scope creep, use cost-saving measures, and remain flexible.
  5. Improving future estimates and quotes from lessons learned: After project completion, review project documentation, evaluate project performance, learn from your mistakes, update your cost database, share lessons learned with your team, and seek feedback from stakeholders to continuously improve your estimating and quoting processes.

How do I create an estimate or a quote without wasting time and money?

Here are the steps to create an estimate efficiently as a general contractor:

  • Filter your clients: Before creating an estimate, it's important to ensure that the potential client is a good fit for your company. You can ask questions like their budget, timeline, and scope of work to see if it aligns with your capabilities.
  • Use past job data: Keep track of the cost per square foot for past jobs and use it as a benchmark for future projects. This will help you provide more accurate estimates and save time.
  • Provide a rough price on the phone: If the client has a basic idea of the project, you can provide a rough estimate over the phone. This can help you determine if the client's budget aligns with your capabilities.
  • Make the client pay for the estimate: To reduce the time and money spent on estimating, make the client pay for the estimate upfront. If they sign with you, you can refund their payment. This can be a good way to filter out clients who aren't serious about the project.
  • Use Billdr Pro: Billdr Pro is a construction project management software that helps contractors streamline their workflow and improve communication with clients. You can use it to create an estimate, manage project schedules, and track expenses. This can save you time and improve accuracy, leading to more efficient and profitable projects.

What should be the profit margin per project?

The right margin for a general contractor can vary based on several factors, including project size, location, and the cost of materials and labor. On average, a profit margin of 10-20% is considered standard in the construction industry. However, this can vary greatly depending on the specifics of the project.

Here is an example of a chart showing a possible relationship between project size and margin:

Project Size | Margin

Less than $25,000 | 35%

$25,000 - $50,000 | 30%

$50,000 - $100,000 | 25%

$100,000 - $200,000 | 20%

$200,000 - $500,000 | 15%

$500,000 and above | 12%

It's important to note that this is just an example and margins can vary greatly based on individual circumstances. Factors like competition, the cost of materials, and the complexity of the project can all impact the final profit margin.

It's important for contractors to do their own research and analyze their own costs and expenses to determine the right and competitive margin for their projects.

When should I go with a lump sum or a cost-plus type of contract?

You can choose between a lump sum or cost-plus type of contract depending on the specific needs of your project.

Lump sum contracts, also known as fixed price contracts, are contracts in which you agree to complete a project for a fixed price agreed upon in advance. This type of contract is best used when you have a clear understanding of the scope of work, materials, and labor required for the project. This type of contract is attractive to clients because it provides a clear and defined price for the project and reduces uncertainty.

Cost-plus contracts, also known as cost reimbursement contracts, are contracts in which you agree to complete a project and the client agrees to pay all direct costs plus a pre-agreed markup, known as a fee. This type of contract is best used when the scope of work is unclear, or when you expect changes or additions to be made during the course of the project. This type of contract provides more flexibility for the contractor, but also increases uncertainty for the client as the final cost of the project may be higher than expected.

Ultimately, the choice between a lump sum or cost-plus contract will depend on the specific needs and expectations of both the contractor and the client. Contractors should carefully evaluate the risks and benefits of each type of contract before making a decision.

How do I manage to make sure that the project is on budget and on time?

Managing a project on budget and on time requires careful planning and effective execution. Here are some tips to help ensure your projects are on budget and on time:

  1. Develop a detailed project plan: A well-developed project plan should outline the scope of work, timelines, budget, and resources required to complete the project. This will help you stay organized and focused on your goals.
  2. Set realistic expectations: It's important to set realistic expectations with the client and other stakeholders, including budget, timeline, and scope of work. This will help you avoid surprises and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  3. Monitor progress regularly: Regularly monitoring progress is key to staying on track and catching potential issues early. Use project management tools and software to track progress, costs, and timelines.
  4. Keep communication open: Maintaining open and transparent communication with the client, subcontractors, and other stakeholders is essential for a successful project. Encourage regular feedback and proactively address any concerns or issues.
  5. Manage changes and scope creep: Changes and scope creep can impact the budget and timeline of a project. Ensure that changes are documented, approved, and managed effectively to minimize their impact.
  6. Use cost-saving measures: Look for ways to reduce costs while still maintaining quality. This could include using alternative materials, streamlining processes, or negotiating better prices with suppliers.
  7. Remain flexible: Finally, it's important to remain flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. Be prepared to adjust your plans and processes if necessary to stay on budget and on time.

By following these steps and being proactive, you can increase the chances of completing your projects on budget and on time, and maintain a positive reputation with your clients.

What should I do after project completion to improve my next estimate or quote?

Taking time to reflect and analyze past projects after completion can help you improve your future estimates and quotes. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Review project documentation: Start by reviewing all project documentation, including contracts, invoices, and progress reports, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the project's costs and timeline.
  2. Evaluate project performance: Assess the project's performance and consider what went well and what could have been done better. This could include evaluating the accuracy of your initial estimate, how well you managed changes or scope creep, and the efficiency of your processes.
  3. Learn from experience: Take time to reflect on your experiences and think about what you've learned from the project. This could include insights into better estimating techniques, ways to manage risk, or how to negotiate better deals with suppliers.
  4. Update your cost database: Update your cost database with the latest information and data from the project. This information can help inform future estimates and quotes.
  5. Share lessons learned: Consider sharing your lessons learned with your team and colleagues. This could help everyone improve their estimating and quoting processes and ultimately lead to better project outcomes.
  6. Seek feedback: Finally, seek feedback from the client, subcontractors, and other stakeholders involved in the project. This feedback can help you understand what you did well and where you can improve.

By following these steps and continuously learning from experiences, you can improve the accuracy of your future estimates and quotes, reduce the risk of overruns, and ultimately provide better value to your clients.

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