Building Quotations

Dealing with Builders and Their Quotations

Q - Our builder is unhappy with us because of the changes we have asked him to make which takes the work beyond the original quotation. He is hinting that it is costing time and money and will need to be addressed at the end of the job. Our problem is that neither of us has had anything to do with the building trade before and have difficulty in making decisions on the position and colour of some items until they are fixed. We haven't fallen out with him yet but are uncertain on how to achieve what we want whilst keeping him happy. Can you help?

A - Your builder deserves sympathy. There is a lot of talk about cowboy builders but there are also cowboy clients. Most builders just want to get the job finished and move on. Working for an indecisive client who makes frequent changes to a previously-agreed specification is frustrating. Explain to the builder that it is your inexperience that is causing the problem and he may suggest a way of solving the problem together. But don't be surprised if you are presented with a bill for the cost of the delays at the end of the job.Q - My builder has offered to give me a quote based on work up to first fixing stage. What does this include?

Q - My builder has offered to give me a quote based on work up to first fixing stage. What does this include? 

A - There are three trades usually involved in first and second stage fixing; joinery, electrical work and plumbing and the work covered would be as follows. Joinery: structural timber work, flooring, windows, door frames and usually stairs (depending upon local conventions). Second fixing would include skirtings, doors, architraves, rails, kitchen fittings, cupboards and everything else to complete the work. Electrical work: meter boards and all the work you can't see when the job is finished - mainly wiring. Second fixing includes the fixing of plugs and sockets and other visible work. Plumbing: all pipework and wastes, boiler and cylinder. Second fixing includes installing the sanitary fittings, radiators and sinks.

The reason for the need of two stage work is that these trades are interdependent upon each other and it usually means leaving the site after stage one and returning to complete when other trades have carried out their first stage fixing. The above allocation of work is normal but check with your builder that his understanding of the work covered is the same as yours.

Q - We employed a builder for the conversion of an old house we have bought and we now have his final account. This shows the cost of the labour, materials and subcontractors plus a mark up of 15%. This seems excessive to us. What do you think?

A - 15% is an acceptable figure to cover profit and site and office overheads but it should not be applied to the cost of any subcontractors that he used. This should be reduced to about 5% unless you had a previous agreement to the contrary.

Difficulties with Building Quotes

Q - We sent out enquiries six weeks ago to four builders for quotations for the large extension we are planning. Only one has replied and his price is almost double the amount the architect mentioned. Is this normal and what can we do about it?

A - This is becoming quite common these days. They probably guessed by the style of your enquiry that they were in competition with other firms so didn't bother to reply. And the one that did reply probably just thought of a number and doubled it.

You have two choices. You can either go through the procedure again with other firms and hope for better luck or you can invite individual firms to visit your house and show them the work that needs doing (together with the drawings of course). They may believe that they are the only firm involved and take your project more seriously.

Q - Some friends of ours have recently completed their house but have had problems with sub-contractors over the scope of the work they were supposed to carry out. It turned out that the quotations were mostly one-liners with no details of the quality or amount of work to be carried out.

We want to avoid this happening to us and would like to present each subcontractor with a specification detailing the work to be done. I am used to writing specifications (but not in the building industry) wonder where I find a standard building specification that I can adapt for my own needs?

A - The National House Building Council (08702 414302) publishes a specification for houses a CD Rom version and a ring-bound hard copy.

Q - We will be starting our home extension project shortly but have been shocked by the two quotations we have received. It is a large extension (160 square metres) plus a small two-storey section to the side of the property. We budgeted for a build cost of £150k and this was also the sum estimated by the designers. But we have received quotations of £230k and £247k which is far beyond our budget. How can we get a fair quotation?

A - The difference between what construction work should cost and what you are asked to pay can often vary widely. Your estimated cost sounds about right so all you can do is to persevere with the enquiry process until you find a builder who will give you a sensible quotation.


Provisional Quotations

Q - We have received a quotation from a builder and he has included Provisional Sums for the kitchen fittings, sanitary fittings and electrical work. What effect will this have on what we will have to pay out?

A - The use of Provisional Sums is a method for providing you with an approximate overall cost of the work for budget purposes at an early stage of a project. They usually cover items where it may be too early to decide on the colour and specification of items like kitchen and bathroom fittings so a sum is included that will be adjusted later. However, the values included should be realistic or the budget will not be able to serve its purpose.


Q - A Prime Cost (PC) sum of £450 was included in an estimate for our extension for electrics but the final invoice was £717 so what is the point of having PC sums?

A - No point at all if they are as inaccurate as yours. Prime Cost sums are included to put a temporary value on work at an early stage of a project mainly for budget purposes. They usually cover items where it is too early to decide on the colour and specification of items like kitchen and bathroom fittings so a sum is included for adjustment later. But the builder and client should make sure that the figure is realistic otherwise the budget has no value.


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"As an Architect, I agree that a cost per sq m of anything between 1.5 and 2k for domestic extensions is wise. Nearer the upper figure if a new kitchen is involved. Also advise Client of the 20% VAT element as early as possible. Major problem is that having quoted for a basic house single storey rear extension, say 30sq m, the brief and budget grows (and I am normally expected to stick to my quoted fee). Recently a project grew into the rear two back rooms of the existing house so much so that when itemised, the cost of the additional work was grater than the proposed extension works. Project suspended. I do put a proviso in my to cover this, but it often creeps in very gradually."

Jack McNaney

"Totally agree and see architects "Quotes" that are miles off all the time. You have to ask would the client have appointed the architect in the first place to draw up the scheme if the "actual cost/ builders real life qoutes" were way beyond the client budget? So the architect simply halfs his questimate to get the commission and start his drawings. He gets paid and its then too late for the client when they go out to competative tender.I work in central London and see this all the time. A recent cleint asked me to look at a project he was considering building in the scottish highlights. Architect quotes £250k for a very fancy circular 3 bed house. 40% was floor to ceiling glass, rest clad in stone, built into a hillside that needed removing/ retaining, conicle roof with 12x (Yes 12x) junction details on it. Builders quotes came in at £370-£425k. The client is asking my opinion. I said a local 3 bed period cottage is on the market for £170k, buy that and spend the remaining £200k on holidays in the sun!. My point is my client would never have appointed the architect if the architect had quoted c.£400k for the build as they simply don't have £400k!. my client has a pile of plans to show for it and a plot of land in scotland that they are never likely to use. But hey, the architect has been paid hansomely for his grand design (@ c.£15k!) and the builders are probably all wrong/cowboys/chancers."


"In addition, to my previous comment. If you think £150k is about right for 160m2 extension you are living in cloud Cuckoo land (or the 1980's, take your pick). that's a build cost of £937.50/m2. A domestic extension is roughly anywhere between £1,500 - £2,000/m2 depending on the level of finishes required. I don't know who answered these questions but they clearly have not been working in the industry in the recent past."

Simon Patrick

"The answers raised for the two questions about quotations received being a lot higher than the budget figures supplied to the client by their design team are quite frankly utter nonsense. I am an Estimator for a Building Company and no where in the answers does it even touch on the fact that perhaps the budget was wrong in the first place. This happens so often, I can't tell you how many times I have seen projects shelved due to Architect's budgets completely misinforming clients. The Architect isn't the expert in pricing Building work, the Builder is. For instance the question with the architect saying its going to cost £150 k and then getting two quotes back at £230k and £247k. Why is it automatically assumed the builders prices are wrong? These are the people who price these jobs for a living, an architect doesn't. You have two prices within £17k of each other, this is a lot closer than the £80k the architects budget is away from the lowest builders quote, yet at no point is the architect's pricing questioned as being incorrect, the assumption is that two builders, who have no knowledge of each other pricing the project are incorrect yet they are a relatively small margin away from each other but both miles away from what the architect said. Again, with the question about only receiving one quote back from six because everyone realised they were in competition! 90% of contracts I look at we are in competition with other builders, it is called 'competitive tendering' and is quite normal in the industry (and a free service to the client I might add, I bet the clients pay for the architect’s budget figure) and to suggest that the builder who did return a quote just 'thought of a number and doubled it' is quite offensive to those of us who spend our lives trying to get the most competitive quote for a client so we can win the project. Have you looked out of the window lately and seen what a cut throat market the building industry has become. Yet, again you assert the builder’s price is wrong and he's just 'thought of a number and doubled it'. Have you considered perhaps the designer who gave them budget was wrong in the first place? Apparently not! Sorry to rant on like this but it is this kind of ill thought out response to client’s genuine worries that perpetuate the myth that all builders are cowboys and only out to fleece the client for every penny they have. I spent 7 years at college training and have a degree in Building Production to get to where I am today but its websites like this that perpetuate the image that all builders price work on the back of a fag packet and that just isn't the case. Architects and designers are not infallible, it would be nice to hear that for once. "

Simon Patrick