Why a Free Estimate from a Contractor will Cost You Double

You’ve been thinking about starting a home renovation or possibly building a new home for some time now.Great! We know that beginning with a contractor early in the process is a good idea (see our Blog, “Why is it important to start with your contractor early in the process”).  But a “free” estimate isn’t always your best bet. Read on to learn why finding a contractor that offers “preconstruction” services will save you money in the long run.

One of the first questions we are typically asked is, “How much will my project cost?”.  You’re feeling good because you found a contractor whowillgive you an estimate for “free”. You received a bid, usually with ballpark costs. There may even be broad specifications included, but without delving into the project, it is more than likely that this is not project specific nor is it thetrue cost of the project.  We hear stories all the time about homeowners getting slammed with costly change orders and additions mid-way through their project, leaving them over budget and frustrated and, rightfully, giving contractors a bad rap!

What choice do you have? Find a reliable contractor who offers preconstruction services.  These services go well beyond just estimating what a project will cost. They include everything from an initial client meeting to detailed specifications, follow ups, schedules, studies, value engineering, and more. Preconstruction services, although not usuallyfree,allow for more exact cost estimation and better decision-making. This provides more transparency into the project costs and ultimately cost savings to you. These services will help you decide if you can,realistically, follow through with the construction project.  Below are some examples of what preconstruction services may look like:

  • Initial Meeting and Regular Follow-ups

The contractor will first have an initial meeting with you to meet and find out more about why you are planning your project.  It’s typical for you to meet several more times during the preconstruction process to stay up-to-date on progress and allow for any changes to be made.

  • An Overall Evaluation of the Project

The preconstruction process starts in broad terms with an overall project evaluation. This will emerge from the initial meeting between you and the contractor and is the big picture elements of the project. This initial evaluation lays the foundation for the rest of the preconstruction services, as well as the actual construction.

  • Initial Budget Estimates

There are several components that go into estimating the budget for a construction project. These may include the cost of materials, subcontractors, suppliers, equipment, and more. It is likely that multiple estimates will be provided as the contractor works through various options with you.The contractor will also need to identify the cost of potential issues, as well as evaluate any opportunities for potential savings. Finding cost saving alternatives can be a major benefit of the preconstruction process.

  • Selecting Materials & Equipment

Choosing materials and equipment that will be used in the job can offer savings opportunities.  The contractor will also evaluate if there are sustainable design and construction options.

  • Value Engineering

The contractor will attempt to determine if the scope of the work will fit within your budget. The contractor will look for more areas where there are opportunities for cost savings based on experiences they have had with projects of a similar scope.

  • Site Analysis

Here the contractor will visit the construction site and will look into the site’s feasibility. This means they will be checking to see if the site is a good fit for the requirements of the project. They will attempt to predict any future issues and costs that may be encountered.

  • Thorough Review of Design Documents

Your contractor will pore over all sets of documents to make sure theyreflect what you’re asking for. Every detail and possible oversight must be considered so there aren’t high-priced contingencies during the bidding phase. As a team, you will considerabsolutely everything and gather the opinions of everyone involved.

  • Set a Preliminary Schedule

A vital part of preconstruction information is creating an initial schedule. This preliminary schedule will identify key milestones, like when the kitchen appliances, bathroom plumbing fixtures, or tile needs to be on site, and schedule everything in the entire project, from start to finish. This will help organize the project and set a clear outline for how it will make it to its conclusion.

  • Establishing a Final Budget

You will likely come to a preconstruction meeting with a budget already in mind, but it will take some thought to reach the actual project budget. Much of how the budget is created will depend upon cost control measures taken by the contractor.Prior to finalizing the design of the project, the contractor will take one more look at the scope and cost to see if there are any other ways to value engineer.

  • Lead Time and Ordering Management

Long lead items will also be considered at this phase. Long lead items are those that are necessary to meet the project schedule, but which take a long time to deliver. It can be easy to overlook lead times when getting certain materials which may cause senseless delays during a project.Managing this has become very necessary in the wake of Covid-19 where many items are now taking longer than usual to arrive or are no longer available.  By planning for the lead time, delays will be minimized during the construction.

  • Safety Considerations

Preconstruction services should always include a focus on safety. Beyond adhering to local, state, and federal regulations, every person on site must be kept safe. A safety plan should be created specifically for the job, as it will have unique situations that no blanket safety procedure can coverfor you, subcontractors, and site visitors as well.

  • Bid Packaging

While it is typical for you to want to get a few estimates, if you arepreparedwith apreconstruction plan you will have intimate knowledge of the project and the process.It’s good practice for the contractor to give you ownership of all the preconstruction documents created on this journey.  It will be easier for you to compare “apples to apples” and know when a banana is being thrown into the mix.


Preconstruction services give contractors and owners the opportunity to evaluate the entire project and create a plan that will take them from the initial meeting, all the way through its conclusion.Although not free, this is a major cost-saving opportunity that will allow a construction project to flow more smoothly. Much of the job will heavily rely on the decisions made during this initial planning stage.Although contractors charge a fee for these professional services, the cost savings and benefits are priceless.


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