Review: Using Homewyse to Price Jobs

by Caitlin Snow October 16th, 2018

One of the first and most critical steps in starting your contracting business is knowing how to price your services. Quoting too high could lose you potential clients. A low quote might get you the job, but you’ll just end up losing money when you run over budget.

Accurately estimated and quoting projects can prove to be a difficult task. Homewyse is a site that was developed specifically with independent contractors in mind, to help you provide accurate quotes to your clients. It gives you useful information to enable you to make smart pricing decisions. By using the Homewyse estimator, you can ensure that you quote clients accurately and fairly. Or at least that’s the claim…

Comprehensive Homewyse Cost Calculator

Homewyse offers a so-called comprehensive project cost calculator. Homewyse has four general calculators and then a long list of project-specific calculators, called “Material Cost Calculators.”

There are some variations, but the calculators all use the same metrics and similar versions of the same variables.

Metrics

Once you’ve selected a calculator, Homewyse uses a few different metrics to determine the correct pricing: materials and fixtures, labor, and supplies.

While materials and supplies may sound pretty similar, Homewyse distinguishes between them. They define materials and fixtures as the major elements of the work. For a kitchen remodel, this may include appliances; for a standard remodel, it could be doors or tile flooring.

Supplies, on the other hand, are defined as “backing and underlayment, fasteners, adhesives, sealants, equipment allowances and equipment consumable supplies needed to achieve professional results and maintain conditions of manufacturer warranty.” This could be anything from copper wiring to grout.

Basically, materials and fixtures = big stuff, project supplies = little stuff.

Of course, you also have the labor costs. Homewyse measures it by the time the project will take to complete, which they determine based on the project options you select. They do not let you alter the number of hours. They say their estimate includes “basic job planning, setup and site preparation, material handling, fabrication of installed materials, installation and cleanup.”

Variables

To understand what is really tricky about pricing, you have to dig into the variables that Homewyse uses to assess these metrics. We’ll use the kitchen remodel calculator for our examples here.

At the bottom you have two things that impact everything. The zip code allows Homewyse to adapt the pricing to your area. Obviously almost anything is more expensive in Manhattan than rural Kansas.

The project options let you customize the exact nature of your work. You can select as many or as few projects as you’d like and the materials; Homewyse adjusts the supplies and labor costs accordingly.

Back at the top, the area of the space being worked on is the only one of the sliding variables that affects all three metrics. Naturally, the larger the space, the higher the cost to refloor it, install or remove molding, paint it, etc. in terms of materials, supplies and labor, all. Of course, if the project is simply installing a faucet or a dishwasher, the size of the kitchen doesn’t affect the cost at all.

Homewyse does build in a safety net. If you define the space as 60 square feet, the calculator lists the materials for 64 square feet, 200 square feet at 209 for material, etc. This allows for variation, errors and breakage. Pretty smart, actually.

The quality of materials and supplies comes next. The quality can be one of four grades, from “discounted” to “superior.” The scale is not linear though. The bump from discounted to basic is small, while there is a drastic leap from basic to the third level, “value grade,” whatever that means. Then, just to keep you on your toes, the jump from value to superior is somewhere in between.

Labor type, or labor quality, is up next. Coming it at a wonderful price of $0 is DIY.

For remodels and “home structure additions,” next up is what they call “unlicensed – handyman” (which are two different things…). Then you have “vendor supplied,” “licensed and bonded contractor” (again, two different things) and finally “sourced by builder/designer” (does that mean subcontractor??).

For some reason the interior modifications calculator has a different scale entirely. Six options from DIY for free to “discount subcontractor” to “hired by designer” at the top. Not really sure what that even means. None of these have a definition anywhere on the website and, as I indicated above, they aren’t exactly clearcut.

The next variable is the floor plan, though they call it something different in each calculator. Makes sense to consider this.

Except that it’s done illogically. For example, they lump together kitchens with islands and those with open floor plans. But an island can make a lot of projects much more complicated and expensive than an open plan kitchen (flooring, countertops, etc.)

Plus, they let the floor plan impact the cost of some projects that I can’t image it would really impact, such as installing a sink or installing recessed lighting.

They also don’t let you alter or customize the time frame assigned to a given project. Lots of projects take exponentially more time if done alone. Maybe you know you’re slower at certain tasks. Maybe you’re in a humid environment and grout drying takes longer. Whatever it may be, it would make sense to let you alter their estimate, but alas, no. It also doesn’t take into account travel time to the location or time for purchasing supplies.

Finally, one of the biggest issues isn’t related to any of these elements; it’s more general. This calculator doesn’t take any overhead into account. The costs of running a business are significant. The weight of rent, taxes, insurance, tools and many more overhead costs has to be divided up and added to project costs. This is a major consideration, especially for a young business and Homewyse doesn’t include it at all.

To Homewyse or not to Homewyse? That is the question.

To answer this question, I’d like to turn to some real contractors. Due to the problems with Homewyse’s methodology, contractors take issue with their results. On the popular forum on Contractor Talk, Homewyse has been discussed several times. Overall, the responses tend toward the negative.

Generally, contractors indicate that Homewyse’s estimates are too low, which makes sense when you consider that they leave out overhead, travel time, etc. A remodeler and carpenter posted, “The highest price given for a deck is half of what we charge. It’s just a bad site all around.”

Another decker points out that Homewyse and similar calculators can give customers a false sense of understanding. “It’s sites like these that make customers feel educated when they call you for an estimate. Hell I can’t even buy materials for this,” he remarks.

But then one contractor says, “I dug into that site a little deeper and I wish I could get 681 bucks to install an interior lock set.” Clearly, the pricing is inconsistent and not entirely reliable.

The same can be said of their time estimates. One gutter installer points out that Homewyse “says 8.5 hours to install 150′ gutter” and follows it up with the crying laughing face. Another writes, “How does Homewyse know where and what kind of molding you’re installing? It says it’ll take 8 hours to install but on what is that based?”

The general attitude is that no program or calculator can tell you what to charge. More contractors rely on a supportive community and trial and error. One commenter told a couple that is just starting out, “Only you know what it will cost you to stay in business and have the lifestyle you want… You will miss and you will lose money in the beginning, but that is the way you learn.”

You can use Homewyse to understanding what your customers might be seeing online or for a ballpark when you’re just starting out. But once you have some experience and have built your brand and a customer base, using Homewyse for quotes would be a mistake.

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