By REMODELING Magazine Staff. Do you have a policy to compensate for this difficulty?

Patti Aleto

Aleto Construction

St. Louis

There are so many types of ceramic tile and trim, it is impossible to know what the customer will select. If you use the cost of standard wall tile for the estimate, it will not include the costs of specialty tiles or designs.

The builder must be part of the tile selection process so they know the specifics of the layout and can determine glazing and installation requirements. If the tile requires additional skill or labor or special materials, the builder must tell the tile contractor so he can account for them in his quote.

This research, education, and coordination often add hours to the project. To remain competitive, we don't want to add time for things that may not be needed. But when a customer selects specialty tile and we ask for additional charges for unanticipated time spent on the tile, they can feel gouged if we request compensation for this time.

Dennis D. Toffler

Kitchen Details

Toledo, Ohio

Kitchen and bath cabinets are the most difficult items to estimate. Cabinets represent a third to a half of the overall cost of materials on a project. The most important factor is the price. I try to steer my clients in the direction that will fit into their budget. It becomes overwhelming to make a decision. Clients often request several different layouts to select from, and they need to be informed of all the options available, such as pull-outs, finished side panels, moldings, drawer types, hardware, et cetera. All of this makes it hard to estimate.

To handle this, I try to keep the project simple and logical without going into too much detail. I allocate a certain percentage of the overall budget to cabinets, and I encourage the clients to stay within this limit. I work with designers who create computer-generated layouts that give the clients a better idea of what their kitchen will look like. Once a layout is completed, it is easier to make the other selections.

Robert Goff

Southern Construction & Design

Madison, Ala.

Countertops are the hardest to estimate because of the wide range of materials and prices, plus we may not know the final configuration of the cabinets when we do the estimate. If we know up front exactly what the configuration is and the material desired, then it makes it easier to get quotes and provide a fairly accurate budget figure.

We do mostly cost-plus jobs for remodels, so we estimate different items based on averages from previous jobs. This gives the customer a budget figure that may vary based on their selection of materials.

Jeff Immer

Schafer Builders

Crystal Lake, Ill.

Typically, the hardest products to account for in an estimate are customer-supplied materials.

The proliferation of home improvement centers gives clients access to a large variety of products -- not all of them standard, not all of them quality. Also, some manufacturers are obscure or unreliable, and many of these products have complicated installations.

To overcome this, we have set two complementary courses of action. First, we try to sell our company and the products we recommend as a turn-key system. We sell installations with products we know and trust.

If we can't overcome the client's desire to purchase their own material, we then disclose, both verbally and in our contract, that we will not warranty the product(s) for reasons other than the actual craftsmanship of the installation. We tell them the install may consume extra time, and we reserve the right to bill them for the additional hours. Finally, we notify clients that if the materials they ordered themselves are wrong or faulty, it will change the project schedule.

Stephen Neeley

Colvin Bathroom Design & Remodeling

Fort Wayne, Ind.

One of the hardest products to estimate in our bathroom projects is glass block. When you're building the wall, you can only do two or three rows at a time. Then you have to wait for them to set before adding another few rows. If you don't do this, they are too shaky to build on. We found our carpenters were repeatedly setting up the jobsite. We found out about this because we asked our installers to track their time on several different glass block wall installations. From their information, we found we were 20% below the actual cost and adjusted our pricing accordingly.