How to Prepare for a Bid Before a Renovation

A primer on the key components and details needed to secure accurate bids for your project from general contractors

general contractors

When embarking on a home renovation project, getting bids from several general contractors will be one of your first tasks. To ensure you get accurate bids from those professionals, Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with our network of contractors, offers points to help the project run on budget and on time.

Jump on the phone first

Doing a site visit of your property with a potential contractor is crucial. It’s also time-consuming for both parties. That’s why many contractors recommend a phone call first to affirm that those who get to the next round are compatible with your project. “I like to just go over the work and what they are thinking on the phone to get an idea of budget and to make sure we are on the same page,” said Sweeten contractor P.J.

Simple things, such as how far a potential contractor’s base is from your home are important to find out early on, according to Daniel Bawden, who oversees the remodeling division of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). A two-hour commute for the contractor and team could slow down the project…plus they won’t know the local suppliers when they need additional materials. “Instead of getting four or five general contractors to walk through your house, it is smarter to do a really good phone interview first,” Bawden said.

Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, takes care of the first step by setting you up with professionals with solid references who specialize in your local area and type of renovation, but also suggests you first have a phone conversation to narrow down your choices to a few.

Know your budget

Even though you’re after a bid, it helps to have a ballpark figure of what you are willing to spend. And that figure needs to be realistic. At times, online quote generators can give the wrong impression for the cost of the job as well as a timeline, often because there are so many aspects to take into account. “Real-world construction, especially getting permits where every local jurisdiction is different, can vary so much,” said Connie Leipard from the National Association of Women in Construction.

Bawden from NAHB suggests looking at the Cost vs. Value Report. The report offers a breakdown of renovations based on geography as well as the type of renovation, giving you subcategories like a small basic kitchen compared to a large upscale kitchen. For example, a mid-range bathroom remodel in New York City averages out to $24,688, according to the report. (Use our estimators to guide you for NYC kitchen and bath costs.) The same category for Birmingham, Alabama, is $17,395. These statistics, taken from real renovations, will at least point you in the right and realistic direction.

Cost of a bid

Some general contractors will charge a few hundred dollars for a bid; others might charge an initial fee, but if you ultimately hire them for the project deduct that amount off the total, according to Bawden. Some, including Sweeten general contractors, don’t charge at all. During your initial phone call, make sure you get on the same page about the cost of a bid.

Look at your building’s alteration agreement

For condos and co-ops, P.J., the Sweeten contractor, advised checking early on what you need to do to meet the requirements of your building’s alterations agreement. These agreements might stipulate what updating is required when your apartment undergoes a renovation; for example, it might insist that you replace the circuit panel or shut-off valves in your apartment regardless of your scope of work. Essentially, your renovation triggers the requirement that these items be updated. “These are rules meant to bring the apartment and the building up to current standards,” said P.J.

Gather your renovation ideas

Once you’ve nailed down a final list of general contractors, it’s time for a meeting and a site visit of your property. They don’t need to know everything about your renovation, but the more information you can give them the better. Visual aids are helpful and could take the form of a rough sketch of what you want to full-blown blueprints drawn up by a designer or architect.

Images of what you likecabinets, flooring, faucetscan go a long way, too. In the past, homeowners would often present Bawden with torn out pages from magazines. These days, inspirational images are gathered on websites like Pinterest or blogs.

A step beyond that is picking specific materials that you may want. When potential general contractors put together their bid, they often include approximate dollar figures for items like tile or cabinetry, commonly referred to as an “allowance,” because the material has not been chosen. These items can drastically vary in price depending on your final preference, according to Bawden. If you’ve already got a good idea of what you want to use, that means the contractor can put in a more exact price rather than a guesstimate. “If people have at least started their shopping it makes the work start sooner and it prevents it from stopping because we have all the pieces,” said Bawden.

Will you be living there?

If you are not gut renovating all at once, there’s a good chance you might opt to stay in your home during the renovation. The earlier you make a decision on this the better. The contractor can then factor into the bid if they need materials to separate you from the renovation, according to Leipard. This becomes very important for older buildings that could have asbestos or lead issues. “You have to make a lot of preparation so that dust doesn’t get to the other end of the house, especially if there are children,” she said.

Depending on the contractor and the scope of the project, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to prepare an accurate bid. Again, come to an agreement on the timeline you need and want so your renovation project gets off to a very happy start.

After you’ve received a few bids, be sure to check out our blog post on how to understand and compare estimates like a pro.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.