How To Understand and Compare Contractor Estimates


Whether you’re finishing your basement or getting your driveway poured, it’s always important to get estimates from multiple contractors to make an educated hiring decision. Sometimes, however, reviewing the estimates can make your contractor selection decision more difficult! We hope to help you better understand and compare estimates by answering the following questions.

Is there a difference between an estimate and a quote?

Some contractors consider them the same thing while others use different definitions. One contractor may consider a quote to be a set price while an estimate to be more of a best guess as to what the total cost will be to finish the job. It’s best to clarify with the contractor if the price provided is set or could be adjusted depending on the project outcome.

Why do the estimates look different?

There is no industry standard for estimates which is why each contractor’s estimates can look very different. From style to line items, each estimate will be unique in the way it’s formatted. 

How do I compare estimates?

Some contractors put a lot of detail into their estimates, while others don’t. It is important to compare apples to apples. Some suggestions for comparing estimates are:

    1. Ask contractors to break the estimate down into labour, materials, profit margin and other expenses. Preferably, do this before they provide you with an estimate. If you have questions on your estimate, contractors are willing to help clarify items to you – don’t be afraid to ask!
    2. Separate major work categories. Lots of the time, contractors will lay out major work categories in their estimates, such as cabinetry or demolition. Find these larger categories in each estimate and compare. It can give you a better idea of the work and time needed to complete the project.
    3. Keep consistent. Ensure what you’re asking for stays consistent between contractors. It can be hard to compare estimates when one quote has a kitchen island and the other doesn’t, for example. If your project plan changes after meeting with one of the contractors, ensure the other ones you meet with are aware of the changes to the plan so they can adjust their estimates accordingly.

Why does the price between contractors vary so much?

It can be very confusing when item details are identical between estimates but the prices are different. Most of the time this comes down to contingencies, overhead and markup. Each contractor operates differently and requires some form of overhead and markup in order to make a profit. Contingencies are there to absorb, up to a specified amount, for unknown or unaccounted for issues.

Keep in mind that choosing a contractor shouldn’t always come down to price. There are a lot of other factors that help homeowners decide on who they are going with, such as:

  • Certifications (WCB insurance, business license, liability insurance)
  • Reviews from other homeowners
  • Communication style
  • Preferred timeline

Post your project on and we will connect you with multiple, certified contractors, so you can get your project done! To put the icing on the cake, in posting your project to Kijenga, you’re provided a project coordinator from our team to consult with you and answer any questions you may have when comparing your quotes. Post your project today for free! 


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