Discussing budgeting can be awkward for the contractor as well as for the client. Many of you probably put together a list of the prices of completed projects to share with clients to help establish a budget. However, I've been in this business for 40 years and have never built two totally identical projects. Many variations impact the eventual cost.

The square footage of a project seems to be the preferred basis for budgeting by contractors, architects, and clients alike. But quoting a single number—for example, $50 per square foot for a pressure-treated deck—can get you in big trouble. If you bid on a smaller job based solely on the square-footage cost of a larger deck you've built, you...

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