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When I had work done last year here in San Diego, I got a very detailed, line item quote for each thing I wanted done. I spoke with the Project Manager assigned to my boat each day, and he told me how things were going, and if we were on budget for each line item. I had it written in the quote and contract that any items that reached 90% of the estimated value, and were not done, and would go over, had to be approved by me. In the end, I came in under the estimate over all, but a few items went slightly over, but I was able to get a few extra items done using this approach. You need to cover yourself to make sure a 3x factor doesn't happen without you being aware it could get that bad.

As you mention, some items you had done, couldn't be quoted accurately until they got into the item, but still, they should have given you a best and worse case range.
 
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