How To Receive A Fair & Comparable Estimate

In the 50-plus years that my family has been in the plumbing business and my 30-plus years of experience, I have been frustrated by the process of giving & receiving quotes on larger scale remodeling projects. Listed below are some of the reasons many people are confused by differences in pricing. I hope these tips will help you evaluate and choose the best fair & comparable estimate. 

Scott Jackson – President of Jackson Plumbing, Inc.

  • The cheapest price.

The cheapest price is not always the best. Here are two examples that emphasize the necessity of obtaining fair & comparable estimates.

One of the first estimates that I personally ever gave to a client was on a bathroom remodeling project. I was awarded the project. During the process the client and I had a conversation on why he selected me to perform this work. He told me that my price was actually the highest bid. He went on to explain that he and his wife placed all of the quotes on the table and discussed what each company was proposing both in terms of work and product selection. I was the only person that had proposed to tear out the entire bathroom, change the old water lines, and re-wire & re-plaster the bathroom. He also had noticed that I hired an electrician and several other professionals to do work in their trade. The quality of the products was much greater. He and his wife decided that they were getting a lot for the difference in cost.

I recently quoted some work to replace a bath tub & wall surround. This was a past client and he called to inform me that he was planning on going with the company that was going to cover the existing tub & wall surround. The difference in price was about $400.00. I went on to explain that my price was to give him a new tub, drain assembly, tub & shower faucet, wall materials behind the tub surround, plus tub surround itself. That’s quite a difference for such a slim cost variance!

  • The quality of products being used.

Jackson Plumbing, Inc. does not purchase plumbing products from big box, discount stores, or home centers. I have been asked why many times over the years.

When any big retailer advertises their products, they will tell you that they can sell you the product for less. But the cost in dollars and cents does not show you the difference in quality. What you are purchasing from the home center is not the same  quality than the contractor-grade materials we supply & install.

Most of the time the opposite is true.

Many products are built to a certain spec for the big box that is buying them. Retailers ask the manufacturers to build products with certain features, but the retailer sets a low cost they are willing to pay for the product. The manufacturer obviously wants to sell their products, but cannot at the price being requested. The only way to manufacture the product at the reduced cost is to reduce the quality of the materials.

I often explain that if someone has a contractor-grade Moen faucet installed 25 years ago, I can repair it with parts that are stocked in my work trucks. However, if the faucet was a Moen from a department store that was 5 years old they would most likely have to throw it away.

One of my clients waited for a week to receive parts for his water heater that he had purchased from a big box. He had to call and purchase any parts and pay to have them shipped to his home. He then had to pay to ship back the parts that he did not need or use. The manufacturer would only refund the cost of any products that they felt were bad due to a manufacturing defect (which in the end were none).

After a week without hot water, numerous phone calls and charges to his credit card, he called me and asked that we remove this water heater and bring him one of ours. The difference? We warranty our work and are the local authorized service provider for the tanks we sell. We have parts in stock in the event that a customer’s water heater fails to work. Had the client purchased his original water heater from us, we could have resolved the problem in one business day, in most cases with no cost or time incurred to the home owner.

  • Who does your work? Do you stay with the project until it is complete?

A client once explained that he was impressed by a contractor who came to his house to bid a project, but that he was dissatisfied with the employees working for the contractor who did the work. Workmen would come for a day or two, then he would have to call days or weeks later and ask when they were coming back. His yard was torn up for an entire summer and when the work was completed he was very unhappy with the results.

Jackson Plumbing, Inc. has a team of professional people who have substantial training and many years of experience. The quality of the finished job reflects the people that are employed by the company. We start and stay with the project until it is complete and the customer is satisfied.

  • Can I get a written contract?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania passed the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act in 2008. This law requires a written contract for any work for any work being performed at your primary residence that exceeds $500.00. It was passed to protect consumers from uninsured, unlicensed contractors.

Beware of contractors who are asking for any amount worth more than one third of the total project cost as a down payment. The new law forbids this, except in the case of special order materials.

Any legitimate contractor is going to provide you with a written job description, a list of materials, and a payment schedule. Other requirements of the law include an arbitration clause, a three-day right of rescission (you have three days to change your mind and cancel), and a timeline for project start and conclusion.

If you are in doubt about the legality of a job agreement, I strongly suggest that you contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection to turn in any contractor who does not comply with these regulations.  Jackson Plumbing, Inc. has been in compliance with this law since day one.

  • My suggestions for a fair quote.

The best way to receive a fair & comparable estimate on any project is to hand each contractor a copy of a written scope of work. I realize that many people would not be sure on what to write down, but do the best that you can. If you receive a written estimate from a professional in the industry and you feel satisfied that the person would do the job you want done well, copy the wording or specs onto a different piece of paper and give it to other people bidding the work.

Do not share the specifics of prices or names with contractors competing for the job.

I know that I have been frustrated in the past to spend hours preparing a price for a client only to find out that my written price was given to another person. It is easy for anyone to look at that written explanation and state that they can do it for less. This is not fair to steal one person’s time and ideas, you are still not certain of if the job will be done the same way by both contractors, or the way you want.

If you are selecting materials on your own, make a list with model number and manufacturer information. Give the same list to contractors who you are bidding the job. Use your list to compare & contrast the costs of the labor and the costs & quality of the products.

  • What if I have questions about the price that I have been given on the project, or about the work being performed?

I always ask my customers to email or call with any questions. I welcome these questions as an opportunity to explain why I selected a particular product or suggest the work to be performed in a certain way. I realize that customers will come up with suggestions of their own. I would rather have the opportunity to change the contract before the work is begun so that the customer understands, and that the work is ultimately done in a way that makes the customer happy.

  • How soon before we can get started on this project?

Depending on the time of the year, it is common for a contractor of any kind to have commitments on his calendar. There are some uncommon occasions where a contractor might be able to get started right away.

I would caution you to beware of the person who tells you he can get started right away. Ask him why he does not have any work lined up for the time being.

If you are dealing with a respectable contractor he will most likely ask you to wait for him to receive products for your job and put you on the schedule.

Another good question to ask a contractor is his hopeful start and completion days. In the past I quoted a price to do a large excavation project. I was honest about my schedule and the person stated that he could not wait for me to be available. He gave the work to another contractor who dropped off some materials right away, but did not started the job until six months after I would have completed the work. It can be worth it to wait for a contractor who isn’t planning to start your job immediately if you know they will finish within a reasonable amount of time.


  • I talked to a guy who tells me he can do it all.

I have to laugh at these guys. I have followed these guys on projects. The work is very poor most of the time. How many people do you know that are that talented that they can do so many different things and do them all well? I cannot think of anyone to be honest. I know within my own company, several of my guys are more talented in one area than another. I make an effort to put them where their talent is the best. If you are hiring someone on a project and there is major electric, heating, plumbing or other trade type work, hire someone who is bringing in the appropriate person to do that work. This will most likely increase the cost of your project, but you can rest easy, knowing that the work was performed the right way by a qualified person.

  • The guys who advertise a lot.

The funny thing about the guys who advertise a lot is that their work is usually fast, but not good quality. Think about it this way: If you want a good meal, it will take some time to prepare and cook. If you are in a hurry and go to a fast food restaurant, the food isn’t nearly as good as if it had been freshly prepared. If you look at your receipt you may have spent a small amount for a relatively unappetizing meal. I have seen work performed by “fast food” contractors. The result is similar to a low-quality meal; the price wasn’t much less, and the quality wasn’t nearly as good. Someone recently told me that he saw a guy who does it all in a bargain store purchasing materials for a job. He could not believe it. I could; I have seen his work.