Labor Estimates

Obtain a written estimate from every professional you hire. Ideally, those estimates will be guaranteed and not subject to increase. However, in the real world of building — and in the sometimes shady world of estimating — oversights are made, and problems can occur that will change the price. It is highly unlikely that the price you are quoted will decrease, so leave room in the budget for each and every quote to go up.

Be suspicious of especially low quotes. There is a good chance that suspect numbers are being used to secure the job, and that the price will rise later to reflect real costs.We have found it better to go with professionals who have a good local reputation, and whose quotes seem realistic, than to just go with the lowest quote every time. Base your labor decisions on your own personal reactions to people you are negotiating with; it is better to work with someone you like and trust for a few more dollars than someone you don't for a few dollars less.

A well-negotiated labor arrangement will include provisions for dealing with cost overruns and this can help you plan for a contingency fund. Your labor arrangements should clearly state how cost overruns will be handled (i.e., when and how you'll be notified, steps for resolution), and put a cap on them. Even with people you really like and trust (including good friends), a written contract is valuable for the clarity it brings to a situation. Don't forge ahead without one.

You can always change your labor budget — you may be able to take on the tasks yourself that you had intended to hire out, or find friends with special skills who may be willing to help you out.

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