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Is There a Difference Between an Estimate, a Quote, and a Bid?

The answer is yes. It’s very common for contractors and clients to use these words interchangeably. In our business, it’s common practice for the terms pressure washing, power washing, and soft washing to be used to describe a service, but in fact, they are not the same. Click here to see how they are different.


Let’s get back to the difference between an estimate, a quote, and a bid, and why the contractor and the client need to be on the same page.


What is an Estimate?

An estimate is drafted based on the contractor’s experience, knowledge, and input from the client. It’s an approximation of what the job will cost. Estimates are typically used when the client is budgeting the contractor does not have in-depth knowledge of the project and estimates the job site unseen. This could result in change orders, based on their findings once the job begins. Estimates are not legally binding.


Example: A client calls a contractor to pressure wash a three-story apartment building and asks for an estimate. The contractor provides the client with an estimate, which is what they requested. Where problems can arise is when the contractor shows up on the job, ready to wash, and discovers the building is covered in mold and mildew. The contractor didn’t estimate the additional time and material to remove the mold and must submit a change order. I’m positive that the client ever wants to hear "That wasn't included in the estimate."


An estimate should include the following high-level details:

·         The services that will be provided.

·         A brief description of what the services will entail.

·         Timelines and completion expectations.

·         Any exclusions, terms and conditions, disclaimers, and add-ons, for example, additional charges for travel time. This will help avoid disputes later.

·         The period for which the estimate is valid.


What is a Quote?

Unlike an estimate, a quote is legally binding and provides a fixed price that will be honored for a specific timeframe. Once a client accepts a quote, you are legally bound to complete the work as described in the quote.


When submitting a quote, a detailed job scope needs to be included. This way there is no confusion as to the client’s expectations, versus the finished product you deliver.


Quotes should be submitted when the contractor has a solid understanding of the project details and costs. This requires speaking to the client, asking specific questions, visiting the job site, and possibly researching costs.


What is a Bid?

Bids are more common on large commercial projects which are managed by a general

contractor. Subcontractors are asked to bid on a portion of a larger project, relevant to the service they offer. Once the general contractor awards the job to the winning subcontractor, and a contract is signed, the bid becomes legally binding.


Bids include a more detailed breakdown of costs, materials, timelines, and other variables, such as delays due to material availability. Unlike a quote, bids typically carry a contingency percentage to cover any unforeseen or cost oversights, or, on that rare occasion when the job comes in under budget.


To Sum it Up

An estimate, a quote, and a bid are not interchangeable words, and it’s in the best interest of both parties that each understands what these differences are.



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