How do I create a bid for a residential home project based on just a few renderings or photos?

napkin drawing - house
Your customers may have an idea of what they would like in a new home build or renovation project, but they need a ballpark estimate to move forward with a design and plan.

Welcome to our advice column where our estimators offer thoughtful answers to your questions on estimating. Go here to this form to submit an anonymous question.

This is becoming increasingly common. Customers have an idea of what they would like, so they display some photos or renders without construction drawings.

If you’re being contacted in this stage, you’re likely in a short list of contractors trusted with this responsibility. So you’re helping this homeowner bring their vision to life.

  1. Sit down with homeowner and throughly get their description of the project. Document it, and make sure you and the homeowner agree on the direction before you leave the meeting. Think in terms of how many rooms, stories, basement, sitework (like driveway or how much land), etc. are needed.
  2. Set the expectation that you can only give a rough budget until final plans are drafted. The homeowner will understand that you can’t be exact if their request isn’t exact.
  3. Based on the homeowner’s description, roughly determine the square footage of the project.
  4. Using your previous—similar—projects, determine a $/SF cost of either the entire home or trade-by-trade. Make sure you create a pricing range to protect yourself before sharing this bare minimum estimate with the homeowner. Be sure to include your markups.
  5. If you prefer to be more detailed, use your past experience to roughly estimate how much of each major material is needed for this home build. For instance, a X,000 SF home will typically need Y,000 SF of drywall, Z,000 SF of plywood, XX,000 LF of lumber, etc.

Pro Tip: Use a cost estimating software powered by real-time, local cost data to help you easily pull current material and labor costs in your county.

See our data in action ››

In general, don’t get too specific too early. There’s no need to develop an exact estimate based on inexact information. Use this opportunity to develop a paid professional services agreement with the homeowner, where you work billable hours to help them design and plan their project. You can use a cost-plus contract model to make this a win-win for you.

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