How to Compare Bids for Your Remodel

Sweeten’s free bid-leveling call helps translate contractor estimates

Demo site and how to compare contractor bids

Begin your renovation with the right contractor

One key part of choosing a contractor for your renovation is how to compare contractor bids. At this point, you have interviewed contractors and received their proposals. Estimates can vary drastically in terms of look and format. However, all estimates should include at least two things: a detailed scope of work and a price. 

How do you compare them when one is five pages long while the other is just one? Or when one is grouped by room, and the other is grouped by task? A note on terminology: “bid,” “estimate,” and “proposal” refer to the same thing. Sweeten’s in-house team can provide personal support in breaking down and comparing bids.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free. Post your project and you’ll have access to our Client Services to help make sense of the various construction bids in front of you, including both Sweeten and non-Sweeten.

How many contractor estimates should I get?

Sweeten recommends getting at least three contractor bids. This allows you to understand the price of the work. You’ll have a low, a medium, and a high bid and likely some differentiation in the services offered by the general contractors. Getting multiple estimates also gives you the chance to experience different personalities and communication styles. These are subjective factors important in your decision-making process. A great rapport with your general contractor goes a long way in achieving a successful renovation.  

Breaking down how to compare contractor bids

Similarities and differences in contractor estimates

Even though bids may come in a variety of formats, major work categories (like demolition, plumbing, electrical, etc.) are usually called out specifically. To begin, find the biggest categories of work in each bid and see how those costs compare. You’ll get a sense of how your candidates are thinking about the work and the time/skill needed to complete it.

There may be spots where bids diverge significantly. Some categories may be in some estimates but not others.

  • For example, the inclusion of skim coating can increase the budget dramatically but not in all cases. One contractor may have included it, while another has not. 
  • Your site visits with individual contractors may include ideas or suggestions that didn’t come up with other candidates, making a line-by-line comparison even more challenging. 
  • Each contractor may vary slightly in their approach to completing the work. Avoid major discrepancies in scope by confirming the work that you would like to bid out after the visit.

Including your HOA requirements

Check to confirm any requirements for renovating with your co-op/condo board or HOA. Factors like site/hallway protection, access to parking and service elevators, and work hours can impact the efficiency of labor and therefore the price of the job.

Post-site visit follow up

You should feel free to follow up with your candidates to:

  • clarify any particular costs
  • give them an opportunity to provide a price for an idea that may not have come up during your site visit
  • ask for their input on areas where taking another approach might help you achieve what you want at a lower cost

How material choices factor into the bid

Assumptions are built into bids in different ways. Site visits give you a chance to meet with candidates and explain a broad overview of what you want to do. But if you don’t know the exact materials you plan to use, general contractors will provide “allowances” or educated guesses about what you will choose to spend on the materials based on the finish level you discussed. 

For example, you might suggest you want very basic tiles, and out-of-the-box cabinets, nothing fancy. A general contractor might price with the assumption that you will buy budget-friendly materials. Or, you might suggest you want a luxurious countertop material and unique backsplash tiles. The contractor might price assuming you’ll purchase mid-grade, high-end, or luxury materials. 

It is important for you to understand the assumptions underlying the allowances. Anything in excess of the allowances in the bid, you’ll have to pay for out of pocket. That said, some contractors leave allowances out altogether. It would be left to you to budget, plan for, and purchase your finish materials.

Look for places where major material purchases (and permits, if applicable) are or are not itemized in the pricing. Does it vary across bids? The goal here is not to negotiate a particular price down but to clearly compare your options. Don’t walk away from a great contractor because a price that looks high specifies materials that aren’t included in another bid. Get clarity on assumptions about materials before you make your decision so you aren’t surprised when it comes time to buy items that weren’t in the bid.

How Sweeten’s bid-leveling call helps you

Sweeten walks you through how to compare contractor bids

At this point in the pre-renovation process, you’ve posted your project on Sweeten and met all of your contractors. You should have three or more estimates (from both Sweeten and non-Sweeten contractors).

To get a clearer understanding of the bids, set up a 30-minute call with Sweeten on how to compare contractor bids. This call can be extremely helpful in learning more about each contractor and deciding who suits your project best.

Answers the questions you’re afraid to ask

Perhaps most importantly, Sweeten renovators have reported that the call was a chance to ask all the questions they were afraid to ask, including construction terminology. They felt more comfortable making a decision.

The prep: Prior to your scheduled call, share the bids you’ve received and are considering—including from contractors who are not affiliated with our network. A Sweeten client services representative will review the bids prior to the call and come prepared to share their observations. 

Get the inside scoop on Sweeten’s recommended contractors

We work closely with our contractors and can share our experience working with the recommended contractors.  Once we understand your goals, preferences, and feedback, we can weigh in on who we think could be a good fit in terms of collaboration, style, and services offered. We can also discuss how they performed for other Sweeten homeowners during their renovations.

Discuss best practices for hiring and kicking off construction

It’s good to reflect on general best practices before choosing a firm, signing a contract, and starting construction. 

We can discuss some of the things you should be thinking about and asking about at this point in the process. For example, getting to a place where you are really comfortable with the scope of work document and draft contract, what is included and excluded, and what the process for a change order is if that arises during construction. 

We can coach you on next steps and follow-up questions you should ask your general contractor. Our goal on this call is to help you lay the groundwork for an excellent partnership with your general contractor. It will set you up for a satisfying renovation process in addition to a great finished product!   

A note on fixture and appliance deliveries: If you’re on a tight timeline, Appliances Connection has over 50,000 items in stock and ready to ship nationally. If you’re in the NY/NJ metro area, in-stock items typically deliver within 2-3 days.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.

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