Getting Estimates

If you’re new to renovating, you may not understand how things are built. Do you know that you usually do the framing, then the electrical and plumbing, then the drywall, painting, and other carpentry? If you’re changing out surfaces, figure out which needs to be switched out first. It could be based on reasons like getting things dirty. It could work better to do the painting and then putting in the floors so that you don’t have to worry about a drop cloth. Doing electrical before you put in the backsplash and then having the electrician come back to install the covers is the way to do things. Or, your process might depend on style. You may need to see what the floors look like before you choose a countertop, for example. If you know the order of how things need to be installed, you might be able to be your own general contractor. If you can, you’ll save a lot of money.

Be Your Own General Contractor

If you can be your own general contractor, you can ask for bids from specialists. For example, ask your plumber to switch out the faucet. Ask the countertop guy to estimate countertops. The flooring expert can give you an estimate for the tile. You will probably save a lot doing it this way than asking an expensive builder to estimate the whole project and do the whole thing themselves. The less you’re involved, the higher the price.

Get Multiple Estimates

Even if you’re the general contractor, you’ll want to get multiple estimates. Ask around for referrals. Ask the people you trust, like your plumber, for a referral for a handyman who can install the tile. If you’re given more than one name, ask for estimates from both people. Look online for other names. Call people you’ve never heard of that have good reviews on their websites. Most people provide free estimates so it doesn’t hurt to call. A lot of times websites will have pictures of the work they’ve done, which will help as well. You could also try sites like that can provide a list of names for you with reviews. Another idea is to ask a home improvement store for names. I went into a Sherwin Williams store and found the name of a painter I used on their bulletin board. My local lumberyard carries a spreadsheet with all kinds of home improvement businesses that I could try. They’ll even give recommendations. Stores like Lowe’s will give you estimates and will install the work themselves as well. However, I’d beware of Lowe’s…stay tuned for my experience with Lowe’s in a future post. All in all, get a variety of estimates from a variety of people and types of people. 

Itemize Your Estimates

Be specific when asking for an estimate. I asked a builder for an estimate for the whole project. I wanted him to itemize each step of the process. He didn’t. I didn’t like that because I couldn’t tell why it was so expensive and know how I could make the project cheaper. The estimate gave me no information. So, I explored further with other people. Always ask for itemized estimates so you know if you should hold off on certain aspects of the project. For example, I’m not going to get my cabinets painted right now. The cost was too high, and I can live with them how they are now. Also, I’m going to put my own hardware on and paint the walls myself. The estimate that came back was too high for those pieces of the project. 

Ask People Who Work on the Side

Always ask for estimates from people who are doing work on the side. These people tend to be less expensive. You’ll have to let them do the work when you’re home after hours, but it might be worth it. 

Stay Safe

Remember to be safe. If you need a neighbor or a friend to be there when you get an estimate, that might be a good idea. I’ve gotten estimates from people to install new windows who can get quite pushy and intrusive. Often times they just show up at your door uninvited. It might be worth it to have someone else there when you have to be assertive. 

Explore Different Materials

When getting estimates, you might want to think about different materials too. I just got an estimate for laminate countertops. I thought it would be the cheapest option, but it ended up being almost $2000. I thought that was high, and if I was paying that much, why not pay a little extra for a better material, so I asked for an estimate for quartz, granite, and solid surface. I actually liked solid surface the best and it was a better product than laminate.  It turned out to be just slightly more expensive than laminate. I was surprised. However, the sales lady never told me that could be a better option. I had to ask myself. A builder suggested I go with a luxury vinyl over a tile. He said it would look like tile as it could be grouted, my dishes wouldn’t break on it if dropped, and it is less expensive. So, I asked for an estimate of tile vs. luxury vinyl. Always look into other materials and you might be surprised at the cost difference.

Don’t Jump on What’s Cheapest

You shouldn’t necessarily always go with the cheapest option. I could have replaced my furnace and air conditioner for cheaper if I went with a new company I found, but I was impressed by the gentlemen who had worked with me before. He challenged what the new guy had said and showed me how I could save money through grants and other ways. He was more expensive, but in the long run, I got a better product, I had a higher quality job done, and I have excellent maintenance service from here on out. You often get what you pay for.

Take Your Time

Plan on taking a couple months to gather your estimates. Taking time to research the best people will be well worth it. Put the estimates side by side and list pros and cons. Ask for reviews if you’re thinking of going with someone you’ve never worked with before. Do your homework. The process takes time, but the look and functionality of your space depends on it.


  1. Michelle October 21, 2019 at 1:41 am

    Thanks Kara. I found someone to do my basement who is a teacher and does home renovations on the side. It has taken longer to complete the project, but we are very happy and saved $20k!

    • Kara October 21, 2019 at 1:54 am

      You also found a teacher to help you decorate. 🙂