Give your clients an estimated price range on a deck to find out if you're both speaking the same language. It's surprising how good you can get at ballparking," says Tom Resek, owner of Archadeck of Minneapolis, a deck-building franchise. "I'm usually within $300." And a good ballpark, he says, helps to close sales on fewer visits.

Why give customers a ballpark figure when you're not really certain exactly what that deck will cost? "If you feel like your chances of getting the job are slim, that's a good reason," Resek says. That and maybe customers are in a hurry. Because Resek can't afford to build a deck for less than $5,000, yet another reason is to "find out if I'm speaking the same language as the customer," when it comes to price.

Archadeck Resek bases his ballpark price on square-foot costs. He determines a high, medium, and low figure based on materials -- cedar, composite decking, or pressure-treated wood -- and the features prospects say they want. From there, other price variables include the cost of railings, stairs, benches, planters, and whether or not foundation work is required on the project.

"Usually in a ballpark, though, I deal with those items separately," Resek says. He adds that he doesn't always give a ballpark figure to prospects on first calls, and "I don't sell it on the ballpark."

Within range

Pat Nicholson, founder and president of the deck-building franchise Deckmaster, often encounters situations where homeowners ask for a ballpark figure that's a price per square foot. He doesn't give it to them. "One thing I explain is that that's like going to a car dealership and asking how much are the 18-foot-long cars?" Instead, Nicholson gives prospects a price range.

"Ballpark figures are exactly what the name implies," he says. A ballpark figure, or a range, is useful "in establishing whether you have a relationship or not with the client -- to determine whether it's just a prospect or a potential client."

Nicholson says he avoids handing clients a square-foot figure and a price because the first thing they do is divide the two and "figure out how much you charge." His company -- which offers mostly custom decks but will build from a range of 24 pre-designed decks costing between $2,800 and $7,000 -- generally gets back to clients in short order with a computer-generated proposal.