Here’s what every contractor’s renovation estimate must include

Most things in life are not created equal. But despite our previous experiences and wherewithal, we sometimes expect certain things to feel on the same level. Take, for example, receiving estimates for a home renovation. You’d assume that since you’ve given the same design, project details, and budget to several contending contractors, you’d receive bids that more or less use the same logic and calculations to arrive at similar game plans.

Or… maybe not.

We’ve seen some pretty bad estimates out there. To save you the trouble, we’ve compiled a list of six things every contractor’s estimate absolutely must have. If any of the following items are missing, you might be at risk of starting a project that causes hiccups, headaches, and possibly contractor failure.

Radical specificity

This one’s more of an overarching philosophy. But if you look at each cost, there’s a bit of a linguistic riddle that must be solved for every line item: all material expenses must include the space + a verb + quantity + the object.

Wait, what?

Let’s put this into practice. A good line item can be read as such: In the master bedroom (space) we will supply and install (verb) four (quantity) mahogany doors (object). We're not sticklers for this specific format, but you should be able to easily understand these four nuggets of information for each line item–so you know exactly what you're paying for.

Specificity in this business is key. After all, if you were looking at the cost of major surgery, you probably wouldn’t want to see a line item that simply says “medicine.”

Clear start, duration, and completion dates

This one’s a bit of a no brainer. You should have full transparency into when things will begin, how long it’ll take, and when everything will be wrapped up.


You seriously, absolutely, 100% do not want to work with a general contractor who doesn’t include insurance costs. Put plainly: it’s illegal to work without it. And if those folks working in your home aren’t covered and something bad happens, you could be on the line for paying for it.

All estimates must include two types of insurance.

General liability

This is typically 3% of the gross project cost and protects the third-parties involved. That typically means you, the homeowner, are protected in the event of damages, losses, and so on.

Workers’s comp

In New York City, worker’s compensation is typically 17% of the labor cost and protects workers and laborers in the event of injury, loss, or in worst case scenarios, even death. (Yes, this is an unfortunate reality sometimes.)

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Logical material costs

Material costs typically eat up about 60% of the whole project budget, but it has to be presented in a way that makes sense. Within the estimate, you must be able to break out two different types of material costs:

Direct job costs

These are raw construction materials like sheetrock, often purchased in bulk at standardized prices.


Costs for material allowances are usually presented in a range when you know you want a certain functional material (let’s say tile for a bathroom), but you don’t know which exact tile. Therefore, the price is represented by a range of potential costs, from low to high, based on the contractor’s knowledge of the marketplace. Of course, if you want that handmade, hand-painted, trimmed-in-gold tile from Tuscany, your price is likely to fall a bit outside the contractor’s projected range.

Human beings

Not literal human beings, but you get where we’re going. If paying people isn’t top of mind for your contractor, you should probably run for the hills. Renovations don’t build themselves! Here are the three types of labor costs you should be looking out for:

Project management

This is the brains of the operation–the person who has awareness and oversight of the total environment.

Site management

This is the person who is running point on the ground. Think of them as the eyes, ears, and mouth on the project.

General labor

This is the team who rolls up their sleeves and does the heavy lifting. Continuing the analogy, these are your arms and legs.


You definitely want to make sure that your contractor is paying… himself. Your contractor’s estimate must clearly include profit and overhead, or else something is very fishy. If a contractor has not accurately budgeted his earnings, mid-build isn’t a good time for him to realize he's losing cash. And unfortunately, it’s the reason why a number of contractors walk out in the middle of the job–thinking they can earn a profit elsewhere.


At Bolster, we’ve got a different approach. Because we’ve engineered the renovation operating system, our team leaders, architects and builders work hand in hand, ensuring a truly accountable process, soup to nuts. That also means everything we design is guaranteed to be built on-time and on-budget. And you can bet our build estimates are as radically specific as they come. (Seriously, we dare you to find something more granular and transparent.)

We’ve built a full-stack financial operations model that helps you equitably and evenly share in the savings earned from our process. We maintain full and flexible control of our materials and logistics supply chain–and that’s a good thing. Our tried and true model helps streamline processes, save time, and spend smarter. So that means every time we secure a fairer price from a preferred materials partner (as opposed to leaning on the chaotic retail market), that’s money in your pocket, time earned, and risk…well, de-risked.

We think of it as becoming financial partners with our homeowners, because when we’re in your home, we’re all in this together.

About Us

Bolster is a data-driven team of experts on a mission to eliminate risk from major home renovations by being radically transparent across everything we do. We hire the industry’s best talent and use a continual improvement process to financially guarantee that your major home renovation is designed and built beautifully, on-time and on-budget. From the first sketch to the final handshake, our homeowners know the cost of every line item and have full visibility into project milestones.