When you are getting contractors in to do a driveway for you it is imperative to agree the costs up front, to ensure that any quotes or estimates are clearly understood by both sides. In many of the articles on this site we stress the importance of getting quotes or estimates from at least three contractors before deciding who to use.
Quotes and Estimates
It’s important to know the difference between a quote and an estimate. An estimate is a rough guess as to how much a job might take, and is not legally binding. A quote is legally binding and represents the price that will be charged, once a quote has been agreed by the customer. The price then cannot be changed unless the customer agrees. Many contractors will know the difference too, and that might make it difficult to get quotes rather than estimates.
Some contractors won’t actually know the difference, but will think that writing something down will affect the legal strength of the price. This is not strictly true. The distinction depends on whether the word ‘quote’ or ‘estimate’ is used, regardless of whether it is verbal or written. But when it comes to settling disputes it is far harder to argue against something in writing than something that was said weeks or even months ago.
Catering for the Unknowns
Many driveway contractors will be reluctant to give a quote, relying on the more loose arrangement of an estimate. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are trying to avoid commitment. It could be that there are a significant number of unknowns in the job – for example, they may be unsure of the ground that they will discover once they start digging.
In a case like this, try to get the contractor to agree to quote for the things that they can work out with certainty, such as the materials and some of the labour, then provide an estimate for the areas where they have concerns. You will at least then be able to nail down a proportion of the costs up front. Make sure you stay on top of the costs as the job progresses though.
Specifications and Extras
Part of the customer’s responsibility is to provide a decent specification for contractors to work with. This means that contractors aren’t having to guess what the customer might want, and that estimates or quotes can be compared from contractor to contractor.
Once the job is underway it is the responsibility of both the contractor and the customer to agree any extra work or changes. It is critical, and often forgotten, to agree costs for any of these changes. Many disputes between householders and building contractors arise because the contractor does extra work, but then the customer is up in arms when they see those extras in the final bill.
Watch out for VAT
Finally, any written quote should be absolutely clear as to whether it includes VAT or not. You could be in for a nasty surprise if you think the price is as quoted and then VAT is added on top. If you are unsure, get the contractor to write it clearly on the quote or estimate.