How to Compare Competing Estimates

February 1, 2023
How to Compare Competing Estimates

Comparing Apples to Oranges...

When obtaining multiple estimates, homeowners often struggle to understand why prices vary greatly among remodeling companies. The reality is, it is often impossible to make an "apples to apples" comparison because the companies, and what they offer, are drastically different.

There are usually great differences between remodeling companies, even when operating in the same field of construction. These differences can be found in the scope of work, services offered, and level of craftsmanship.

Getting Started:

Look for Omissions in the Scope of Work

When comparing estimates, the first thing to understand is whether the estimate represents a complete project scope. For example, one company will build a patio but can't build the pavilion. Another company will install a pool but won't haul away the dirt and oversee the installation of utilities to the pool equipment. It is imperative to understand what scope items each estimate includes or does not include.

When examining estimates, here are a few important costs to remember:

Utilities & Appliances

Utilities and appliances are often the most overlooked aspects of an outdoor living space. Many companies will leave these out of the budget conversation since they don't sell the appliances and won't oversee the utility installations, leaving them for the homeowner to handle. Utilities and appliances are essential for using most outdoor living spaces and must be accounted for when setting your budget and comparing estimates.

Landscape & Lighting

Dollar for dollar, few things add more value to a space than landscaping and lighting. Landscaping, even when done minimally, helps to soften the space and create a relaxing atmosphere. Adding low-voltage lighting creates a wonderful ambiance and allows you to continue enjoying the space long after the sun goes down. When comparing estimates, be sure to look for these elements, as they are often not included by many.


Existing irrigation systems are always impacted by the construction of an outdoor living space. When comparing estimates, it is important to understand what amount of irrigation work is included. Will the disturbed irrigation be left up to you, the homeowner, to handle? If the irrigation is "handled" by the contractor, what exactly will be done? Will the disturbed irrigation simply be repaired or will the system be properly updated to accommodate the new space?

Site Work & Drainage

Whether you're planning a pool or patio room, outdoor renovation projects require extensive excavation, trenching, soil management, grading, and drainage.

When comparing estimates, it's important to understand what is being done with the excavated soil. Is it simply being put into a pile for the homeowner to deal with, is it being hauled away, or is it being used to create flowerbeds and regrade the yard?

A new outdoor living space will affect the water flow and drainage of the yard. Proper drainage is essential to any outdoor project and you must ensure that your contractor is addressing it. What is the plan to prevent standing water and is that included in the estimate?

It is also important to understand the final condition of the yard once construction is complete. Will the contractor repair all damaged lawn areas with sod, for a finished look? Or does the pricing only provide a seed and straw finish, leaving the homeowner with the task of growing grass?

Going a little deeper

A Good Process Indicates Good Service

"Service" for a remodeling company describes how the company moves from sale to completed project. Specifically, this most often deals with how (or if) the company designs projects and how construction projects are managed. The key with both is to look for a defined process. Companies that have well-articulated and detailed processes are much more likely to offer good service than a company that has a vague, generic process (or no defined process at all). While good service is usually more expensive, it usually creates much more value too.


Design is the most important service provided for an outdoor remodeling project. Your project's design will directly impact the amount of value and enjoyment your outdoor space brings to your home.

When comparing estimates, it's essential to understand if design services are included and, if so, what the process is and the deliverables you will receive.


Poor communication is typically the biggest frustration that homeowners have with contractors. It can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, costly mistakes, and overall disappointment with the resulting space.

With complex remodeling projects, good communication must be structured. Ask for details about each companies' pre-construction process, reporting process during construction, change order process, and warranty claim process.

Digging into the details


When consulting different companies, it's likely that you will receive varying timelines for construction. One company might promise a finished space in less than two weeks while another company says it could take over a month. Though there are a lot of factors that could affect the timeline (eg. crew size, use of subcontractors), the difference is often a reflection of craftsmanship.

Attention to Detail

Whether it's a cut that doesn't fit properly or a curve with an unsightly ripple, imperfections from sloppy work bother many homeowners to the point of regret.

Quality craftsmanship requires time. This is especially true when the craft involves materials, like concrete and stone, that are unforgiving and difficult to work with.

The time required to get the details right will be reflected in the price.

Build Practices

Most hardscape structures (patios, walls, fire features, kitchens, etc.) have no building code or inspection process. Instead of building to standards set for safety, longevity, and homeowner protection, the lack of regulation allows contractors to legally build structures however they want.

Therefore, many companies take shortcuts to keep costs low and competitive. Most often, shortcuts are made when constructing foundations. Because the foundation is buried below the surface and never seen, homeowners do not know something was done incorrectly until the structure begins to crumble.

How structures are built is often the biggest driver of cost. Higher estimates typically reflect better build practices and stronger, lasting structures.


Along with attention to detail and build practices, craftsmanship also involves the use of quality materials. As you compare estimates, be aware of the products being used. The choice of materials can tell you a lot about a company as well as fluctuate an estimate by thousands of dollars.


Educating yourself on proper build practices and material quality requires due diligence from homeowners. The best place to start is by researching warranties. A company's warranty will say a lot about the quality of their craftsmanship and the materials they use.

In Summary

You Get What You Pay For

When comparing estimates, it is important to keep these words of wisdom in mind. If one estimate is higher than another, it's likely that the higher estimate includes more work. It's that simple.

In order to make the best decision, you must:

1) Know exactly what is included in each estimate.

2) Decide what is most important to you.

3) Select the company that best fits your needs.

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