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I'm interested in the semantic implications of using the words quote and estimate in a business scenario.

Here's the situation: When someone wants to purchase a service that I provide, they can fill out a form on a Website with information about the work to be done. Based on that info, they are instantly given a predicted price. This is intended only to be a ballpark. Once I manually review the work order, I will contact them with a personalized, much more accurate guess at the price.

My instinct is to use estimate for the ballpark and quote for the more precise guess, but I'm interested in both your opinions and the more subtle distinctions and implications of the two words.

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Your question was answered and you should have awarded the answer. You edit is actually a different question. Anyway, "estimate" is the word you are looking for. If you need to differentiate the estimates, add an adjective (Rough estimate, preliminary estimate, initial estimate, planning estimate, budget estimate, not-to-exceed estimate...) see businessdictionary.com/definition/cost-estimate.html for some ideas, but at this point, it's mostly a marketing choice: whatever will give your customer a warm feeling without committing you to a specific figure. – Sylverdrag Feb 12 '11 at 4:20
@Sylverdrag: There is no time out on accepting an answer; to wait to accept an answer (even though the accepted answer can always be changed) gives time to other users to chime in, and give their own answer, if they have one. It is not said that the first given answers are the correct ones, or the most correct ones. – kiamlaluno Feb 12 '11 at 7:29
@Kiamlaluno: The (minor) issue was that the asker had asked a question, received a satisfactory answer to the question, then asked a new question as an edit instead of posting it as a different question. No big deal. – Sylverdrag Feb 12 '11 at 8:20
@Sylverdrag: Editing a question is not forbidden; it could be the OP noticed that his question was not understood as he meant, and changed it hoping to make it clearer. Other kind of edits should be avoided, but is not related to how quickly an answer is accepted. – kiamlaluno Feb 12 '11 at 8:46
up vote 4 down vote accepted

An estimate is an unofficial ballpark figure, the final cost may be lower or higher.

Once a quote is given for $X, the person who issued the quote is obliged to charge $X. It is effectively the price. If the actual cost differs from the quote the quote is still the amount payed, unless the customer and quoter re-negotiate the price.

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I agree with your instinct; a quote is "here's exactly what you'll pay for this list of exactly what you'll get", and is almost alway legally binding; while an estimate is "here's approximately what it should cost for exactly what you're asking to get". Sometimes estimates come with a guarantee that "final price will be within X% of the estimate".

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