Obtaining a quote from a tradesperson is an important first stage of any home improvement project.
But understanding the difference between a quote and an estimate, as well as knowing what a quote should contain and when it becomes legally binding can be confusing.
Let's take a look at what you should expect to see in a quote and any red flags you should watch for.
What is a quote?
A quote is an undertaking from a tradesperson to carry out the work you want doing at a fixed price.
Unlike an estimate, which is an informed guess as to how much the work will cost to carry out, a quote is a commitment by a tradesperson to do the work at the stated cost.
While quotes can be given either verbally or in writing, it is always better to have a written quote in case disputes arise later.
What should a quote include?
There are several key elements that a quote should include.
The most important is the fixed cost of the work, which should be expressed as a total price, not as a daily rate.
You should also be given a breakdown of exactly what work needs doing, any materials that are needed and who will be providing these, and the individual cost for each of these elements.
The quote should also be clear on whether or not VAT is included in the total cost.
Other things to look for include information on how long the quote is valid for, any circumstances under which the quote might be increased, and when the work should be completed by.
If a tradesperson will only give you a daily rate, rather than a total price, make sure they put in writing how many days the work will take to complete, and how many hours of work count as a day, as well as whether they need to consult you if they need to work for more days than previously agreed.
It’s important to get all of this in writing to make sure the contractor doesn’t work slowly or prolong the project in order to earn more.
Is a quote free?
While some tradespeople will give you a quote for free, others may charge for this service.
They are more likely to charge if the work you need doing is complex, meaning they have to visit the site to get a clear idea how much it is likely to cost.
While it may seem annoying to have to pay for a quote, it is often a good sign, as it indicates the tradesperson is taking the time to understand exactly what you want doing and how feasible it is, which can help to prevent problems later on.
How many quotes should I get?
As a general rule it is usually a good idea to get quotes from at least three tradespeople before deciding who to commission to carry out the work for you.
Comparing quotes helps you to be confident that you are getting a fair deal.
But remember, the cheapest quote won’t always be the best one, which is why it is important to have a breakdown of everything the quote includes.
How can I make sure I’m getting meaningful quotes?
To ensure you get a meaningful quote, it is important that you are very clear about exactly what you want doing.
It’s a good idea to put this in writing.
It is also important that you give the same information to everyone, to make sure the quotes are comparable.
You should also specify if there are particular materials you want tradespeople to use, or appliances for a kitchen, as this impacts the cost.
Do not assume that tradespeople will know what you mean, but instead be as specific as possible.
Also be clear on who will be responsible for different aspects of the project, such as applying for planning permission if this is necessary, or purchasing materials.
Is a quote legally binding?
Once you have accepted a quote it is binding between you and the tradesperson.
This is the case for both written and verbal quotes, although you should always make sure you have a written quote, as this is important if disputes arise later.
Can a tradesperson charge more than their quote?
A tradesperson can only charge you more than their quote under certain circumstances.
These include if you ask for extra work to be done that was not included in the quote, or if they inform you that additional work will need to be carried out, and you agree to pay more for this.
You can also be charged more if they made a genuine mistake when writing down or calculating the price for the work. If this is the case, they have a legal right to charge you what the quote should have been.
What red flags should I look out for when getting a quote?
It is generally a bad sign if a tradesperson refuses to give you a written quote, as this could mean they are unreliable or are being dishonest.
You should also be wary of any contracts that are vague or do not give a full breakdown of the work required and its associated costs.
If one quote is significantly cheaper than those given by other tradespeople, this could indicate the work will not be done to a high standard, or that the tradesperson lacks the skills and experience to do it.
It may also be an indication that they have misunderstood what you are asking to have done.
Equally, if you receive a quote that is significantly higher than other ones, it could be a sign that the tradesperson is deliberately inflating the costs.
If you are concerned about this, ask them to justify why their quote is so much higher than those of others, in case they have identified something other tradespeople have missed.
What should I do before I say yes to a quote?
Before you agree to a quote ask the tradesperson to give you a written contract.
You should also check that they have appropriate insurance in place.
The cover they need will vary according to the work you are having done, but as a general rule, they should have public liability insurance, which covers both you and them if someone is injured or your property is damaged.
If they are working through a company, they should also have employers’ liability insurance, which is required by law, and protects you and them if a worker is injured while completing your project.
You can ask to see their insurance policies, and should make sure they do not expire before the work they are doing for you is completed.
You may also want to ask if the work they are doing is covered by any warranties or guarantees, which include fixing the work if it is done badly or having it completed if their company goes out of business.