Itemizing Bids

Pros discuss how much detail to provide in a bid breakdown. March 14, 2005

How do you break down your bids for customers? Do you break them down by doors/drawers, cases, units, finishing, or what? We go by base, upper, tall, doors/drawers, finishing, trim/miscellaneous, and install… but sometimes the less info you include, the easier it is to hide some misc. costs for some of those pain in the butt customers.

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
I make a detailed estimate listing all materials + 10%, and all hours per operation... Drawings, dressing lumber, cut to size, shaping, joinery, glue-up, sanding, finishing, wrap/delivery, installation, onsite extra work. I now give my clients the bottom line numbers only unless they ask for a breakdown, then I show the detailed estimate. Was told not to show too much information by a designer/client. Wasn't necessary. These days I don't work for pain in the butt clients at any price, except by accident. I miss the excitement of a confrontation, though! Good business can be so boring.

Why would you want to provide the client with a breakdown? What purpose does that serve? I can understand why you would want to provide a list of all the things you were going to do for them, but to price each part seems like a waste of time and likely to lead to the client looking for cost savings by modifying specific lines. Surely what's needed is a price for the whole job.

If a client is concerned about the bottom line and they ask for a breakdown, that's what I show them. I hope to earn the clients' trust on an expensive project. I try to be expensive and honest. They don't really care to digest the information on a detailed estimate except maybe total hours, shop rate and wage. I don't care. Hopefully they are drawn to my craftsmanship in the end. I use the rest of the information to track myself in the shop and try to stick to the time budgets projected on the detailed estimate. I have only been asked for a breakdown once and I got the job - new mahogany coachhouse doors.

I agree. This level of trust with the client makes the workflow so much easier in the long run, and leads to an easier process of developing trust with the new customer. It's a snowball effect.

We use a PDF file in which we line item most everything (although we can include or exclude any of the groups, and include or exclude any single line item, or show any combination with or without the price - in other words, just a list of the items with no price shown).

I prefer to show my clients everything (including the price), and have found that it cuts down on the number of phone calls I get asking what it would save to cut this, or that, or how much it would cost to add two more of this or that. It provides a menu for the client to choose what they want and what they do not want, with little or no interaction from me (I like less phone calls a lot).

This also builds trust between my company and my clients. They can clearly see what they will, and in many cases, what they will not get (i.e. light rail in a laundry room could have a line item with a zero quantity and zero cost if needed, which would remove the opportunity for a misunderstanding). They can clearly see that when a change is made, they are indeed only being charged for the additional items, or actually got a full credit for what was removed.

As far as hiding costs for problematic clients or jobsite conditions, that is taken care of in the markups themselves (the percentages that all of the material and labor content are marked up). As a matter of fact, I have one percentage available to me that is specifically for adding or subtracting to the job cost. If the builder insists on digging a moat around every house the day before we deliver, or stacking all the trim in the middle of the kitchen floor, he gets a little percentage added to all his estimates and proposals. On the other hand, if a builder seems to accommodate us, and always has clear access to the house at delivery, and keeps a clean jobsite, we can give him a small break on all his estimates and proposals.