Eight years in the web design industry, I still hear the same question. It's easy to ask, but extremely difficult (and sometimes impossible) to answer.
"I want a web site. How much will it cost?"
After 3 potential customers asked me this question in the same week, I was inspired to look outside the web industry for the answer. I wondered: Could different business types quote prospective customers before understanding their specific needs? I wanted to know how others managed this difficult question.
So I called up a custom homebuilder (in Naperville) and started my research.
Here's what I found...
Rick: Hi. Can I speak with someone who can provide me with an estimate?
Builder: That would be me. How can I help you?
Rick: I'd like to have a new house built for me. How much will it cost?
Builder: What kind of a house do you want built?
Rick: I'm not really sure -- something to live in, I guess.
Builder: Hmmm...Where would you like to build the house?
Rick: I haven't really thought about that. Does it matter?
Builder: Oh heavens yes! Lot price dictates everything.
Rick: I see.
Builder: Do you have a blueprint?
Builder: Do you have a plan of some type?
Rick: No, I'm sorry. I don't.
Right about now, I'm feeling awfully guilty because I could sense her frustration. But it's research - so I continued.
Builder: Ok...do you have an idea of how much you would like to spend?
Rick: No, I don't. I'm just trying to figure out my budget.
Builder: [Silence] Well, a new house could cost you anywhere from $250,000 to $3.5 million - or more! (Remember, this was a Naperville builder.)
Rick: Wow, that's a pretty big range. Other than lot location, what else affects the cost of a new home?
Builder: Oh dear. There's really so much. You have home size, subdivision covenants, interior architecture and decorating -- not to mention the floor plan and architectural design. You have choices for granite and marble, landscaping, slopes, rocks, beds. There's so much! You have septic removal, water, heat and centralized air -
Rick: Wow. So I assume an estimate is out of the question?
Builder: That's right! [Laugh] There is absolutely no way we -- or any ethical builder -- can issue a quote without an idea of what you want.
Rick: I see.
I then confessed and told her the purpose of my questioning. Needless to say, she was relieved. She went on to tell me that most custom home seekers gleam ideas from other homes and then throw their own ideas into the mix. "Estimating becomes a little easier," she says, "but still not concrete."
She also said her company has a "discovery process" that helps walk new buyers through the planning and creative stages. And as the plan materializes, she can better gauge the final cost. "It really helps," she says, "when they give us a budget to work with."
Now I was relieved.
As it turns out, there is no magic estimating bullet for their industry either. Both the custom web and Home building profession require upfront planning before investment size can be gauged. Both can provide "general" cost ranges and planning guidance. And we both have difficulty working without a known budget.