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50plus handyman   February 2006

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The handyman column 
By Roger Runswick

Estimate or quotation?

50plus Handyman director Roger Runswick discusses what customers can reasonably expect to receive in terms of estimates and quotations for home maintenance.


The words estimate and quotation are often interchanged in common usage so let’s start with some definitions:

  • An estimate is the sum that the service provider believes will be the cost of the work. The final bill may vary both up and down, depending on what is found when the work is carried out.

  • A quotation is an offer to carry out work for a fixed price, although certain terms and conditions may be included to reduce the risk of the service provider, in that he or she may reasonably ask for additional fees to cover unforeseen circumstances.

We would all like a fixed price for work. When can this be provided and in what circumstances is it reasonable?
The answer depends on to what extent the works can be clearly defined. Here is a list of examples, showing items most suitable for a quote:

  • replacement windows

  • laminate flooring

  • decorating

  • simple electrical works

  • plumbing repairs.

But, I hear you say, surely something simple like changing a tap can’t be that difficult to calculate an estimate?
Well actually, yes it can be. It is possible to replace a tap within half an hour; it is equally possible for the job to take 4 hours and longer.

Why is this? Here are two real examples:

  • The easy tap replacement. Isolating valve fitted to the supply pipe, so all that is needed is one turn of the screw and the water supply is off. The tap nut is accessible and can be unscrewed so the tap comes off. The fitting is of the current standard and the new tap is the same length as old, so the pipe meets up. So off with old and on with the new and the jobs done. Simple and cheap!

  • The complicated job. The tap’s has been in place for a good deal of time, probably 20 years or more. There is no isolating valve. The stopcock – oh yes when the kitchen was refitted that was left behind the cupboard, you can probably just see it. But there’s no room to turn it and its solid anyway. Water meter (meaning a nicely accessible outside stopcock)? No. Do you know where your outside stopcock is? No? OK – but we’ll need to dig the rubble out of the hole first…. And so it goes on. Other variations include inaccessible bath taps (fitted to the bath before the bath was installed), jammed gate valves and many more obstacles.

So how can you as a customer help to ensure that an estimate is accurate or a quotation remains fixed?

The answer to the question is in 4 parts:

  • Think about what you want, plan it before hand, write it down and above all be as accurate as possible

  • DO NOT change your mind halfway through. Change equals additional cost

  • Set reasonable expectations. To take the plumbing example, if you can’t turn off the water easily, then changing the tap is going to need the stopcock repaired first

  • By all means talk to/make tea for/even chat up the workforce, but do not divert or distract them. The ‘whilst you are here is it possible to?’ question is well-known and almost guaranteed to remove attention from the job in hand. Either plan ahead or ask after the first job has been completed.

We are all familiar with the rogue tradesman. Trading standards expos? do help, as do personal references, but there is one other way in which you, the customer, can avoid rogue tradespeople. Don’t get talked into a job by casual callers at the door or by flyers through the letterbox. Always get a recommendation or a reference.

And what should the provider of the service do? Clarity about charging is key. Always get a written reference. Ask about how long a job could take (although sometimes customers do not want to hear).

At 50plus Handyman we will, wherever possible, provide an estimate of how long we think the job will take at the time of the initial call. We then have a representative look at the job on site to provide him or her with a ‘ceiling’ number of hours (and hence cost) which they cannot go beyond without seeking approval.

Finally do talk to the service provider. Don’t be afraid to ask pertinent questions and if you don’t understand the answer ask for a plain English explanation.

Roger Runswick is a director of 50plus Handyman and a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. He can be contacted at


Previous articles in this series:


Fixing drips and changing your taps

Can I still change my light switch?

Fitting an outside light

Pre-winter maintenance

Thinking of installing a shower?

Decorating – are you getting your money’s worth?

Estimate or quotation?



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