Free Estimates

There has been some discussion by contractors and free estimates. I am bringing it to you, the homeowner. Do you give more credibility to a contractor who charges for coming to your home to do an estimate? Does it make a difference as to the depth of the project? How do you feel about paying contractors for estimates?
  22 answers
  • Karen K Karen K on Jun 18, 2012
    Not a fan of paying a contractor for an estimate. I don't see why that would make the contractor more credible.

  • Leslie D Leslie D on Jun 18, 2012
    I have never asked for payment for an estimate, even though most of my work is commercial and sometimes takes me days to put together. I consider it a part of the cost of doing business and being considered for the job. My feeling is that if someone wants to be paid for an estimate, they probably have a history of being the high bidder and aren't awarded many jobs. If one of my subs wanted to charge for an estimate, I would move on to the next candidate.

  • Jan C Jan C on Jun 18, 2012
    I also don't charge for estimates with our landscaping company. I like to help people with ideas, and if they choose me, great, if they don't I wish them well. I agree, my time for preparing a proposal is the chance you take of possibly being awarded the contract.

  • I think it depends on what the job or service being offered is. We do NOT do free in home estimates. Over the phone i will be more than happy to put together a ball park figure or if the homeowner has measurements i will give a quote. If the job will require coming out to do an estimate then it will cost or be billed into the job. The one exception is if someone calls and they are close by or we are out working really close to their home, in that case i dont mind going by and giving an estimate. Gas & diesel is not cheap!!

  • Designs by BSB Designs by BSB on Jun 18, 2012
    Free estimates at their home? Should be a charge. If they offer pictures, etc.. free is ok. But.. I side with free has little value. It is a guess at best without a solid plan in place first. Doesnt matter whether it is a whole home... a yard, or a kitchen. Otherwise? the homeowner is asking the contractor/professional to guess what they should spend. Labor is *mostly* straight forward ... product variables, especially since "imports" invade us... are not. Getting an estimate without a plan.. without specifications, equates to havoc for everyone. No one understands the value of pre-planning and paying for design until its too late :( Ok.. jumping off soap box! (sorry.. passionate about this one! .. knowledge is power, estimating/guessing is not!)

  • 3po3 3po3 on Jun 18, 2012
    I think it depends on the project and the contractor. I got a bunch of free estimates for a new roof, but it was pretty straightforward. If it were a whole new landscape plan or something like that which might require a much more involved estimate, I would feel comfortable paying a reasonable fee for an estimate, or getting a free ballpark figure before they do any of that work.

  • I provide free estimates to a point. I do not give out written estimates without good faith money on the table. The amount depends upon the cost of the job and how much detail the client needs. For AC systems, I do not bother, but if a client asks me to provide them with a load profile on the house. I charge them for my time. With home sale repair estimates, I provide a simple costing for them and only deliver it to them via email. Want it printed and mailed, Going to cost them. The bottom line with me is if I need to spend a lot of time doing research on the project just for a tire kicker, they are going to pay me for my time. I do however credit them some not all of the money back if I get the job.

  • Woodbridge, i avoided the word tire kicker in my first reply but i wanted to say it so bad. Im glad someone else knows what a tire kicker is and understands the value of time. Too many people do not understand the value of time, there has to be more than a "chance" to get a job before a contractor should be expected to spend his money and time.

  • Dee W Dee W on Jun 19, 2012
    My dad would give a free "estimate" -meaning he is giving a general price for time and materials. He would also offer an "evaluation" for a fee which meant he would come out and investigate the job as if he was already hired and prepping to do it. This tends to be closer to actual price and takes out some of the surprises. Part of this fee would go towards the project.

  • Becky H Becky H on Jun 19, 2012
    As a consumer, I've got to say that I believe free estimates are the right way to go. A proposal is a different thing. During the estimate, I use the meeting to get a general feel for determining the true scope of the project and the character, skill and imagination of the contractor. For the most part, when I hire out a job, I already know what I want to do, so I'm not soliciting ideas for designs; I'm simply learning who they are, the quality of their work, along with an idea of how that compares with other contractors. 12 yrs. ago, when I was ready to remodel both bathrooms, I KNEW what I wanted to do in both; I called 3 different types of contractors in to give me estimates, one of which was an interior decorator, who'd been recommended to me, because he has exceptional subcontractors. The interior decorator arrived w/his assistant, went into the bathrooms expounding upon what he wanted to build, without listening to my ideas, and it cost me $80.00 to get rid of him after 30 mins. That was one of the very few times I've ever paid for an estimate. While I realize everyone's time is important, it strikes me that charging for an estimate is an easy income. I am one who will refer new customers to those who do a great job for me; I don't charge the contractor for my referrals.

  • Pam Pam on Jun 19, 2012
    For people on a limited income, such as disabled or elderly people, a free estimate is needed. They need to have a general idea of the cost of the job before they know if they can afford to have the job done. I understand that sometimes problems exist once workers get into a job but that needs to be conveyed to the homeowners while giving a free estimate so that there are no suprises for the owners with limited income to spend. I have had a carpenter painter ask what is my budget and made sure to work within that budget. This was a help to me.

  • Teresa D Teresa D on Jun 19, 2012
    As a customer, I very much appreciate free estimates. It gives me a chance to get a feel for the company as I compare estimates. Also, I typically get up to 3 estimates so paying for each one could get costly. Often times, I don't have an idea of what would be reasonable to pay for whatever I need done and I need to know what that ballpark is. I don't value a company who charges for an estimate more than one who provides one free. Unless it is an industry standard, I would probably not get an estimate from the one who charges if there are lots of others who do not charge. I think my initial thought would be that they are probably too expensive for me anyway or that they care more about getting money than doing the work. Probably not true, but not knowing anything about the company, that may be my first thought. Lastly, I also agree with other comments, that it depends on the work that needs to be done. If providing the estimate requires actual work beyond looking at something and sizing it up or even measuring, or takes an excessive amount of time, I could see justification for charging a minimal fee. Again though, if the competition is doing the same thing free of charge, I would probably go with their estimates.

  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Jun 19, 2012
    I have always done the free estimate thing...maybe its just me but I get a weird vibe from charging for a looky look.

  • 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) on Jun 19, 2012
    Do you think a prorated mileage fee would be inappropriate? Free up to a certain radius, then a mileage factored in?

  • Becky H Becky H on Jun 19, 2012
    Personally, I believe most don't expect companies to work but within a particular number of miles of where they've established their business. The only reason I'd call any type of contractor to work outside of his area would be if none were offered locally, and if I requested they drive quite a few miles outside of their area, I would understand an additional prorated mileage fee. A lot of this also would depend upon the economy. When times get tough, jobs few and far between, contractors sometimes have to accept jobs outside of their area without such charges, just to stay in business. Outside of that, I think it would be a part of the contractor's overhead expenses. I understand that is one of the factors that drives some prices. To begin to formally label certain charges in the total columns, along w/taxes etc. would be inappropriate. Those expenses should be considered and covered when bidding the jobs, not itemized.

  • Dee W Dee W on Jun 19, 2012
    I think a mileage fee is acceptable. The company my husband works for does it no matter the distance-round trip. Being in the country, "local" means wihin an hours drive.

  • Leslie D Leslie D on Jun 19, 2012
    I should clarify my earlier post. If drawings/design/consultation are involved in the estimate, then yes, charge a fee and offer for it to be deducted from the estimate if you are awarded the job. I have to submit landscape plans for some projects and always pay for the drawings. Landscape work would be different from my bidding. I bid from plans and rarely have to leave my office. It's different when you have to spend hours with a client who may only want ideas so they can execute the work themselves.

  • Marg C Marg C on Jun 19, 2012
    totally agree Leslie. When i charged for the drawn up plan, this price was deducted from the total charge for the job if they went with me. There's nothing worse than seeing your plan implemented by someone else and you didn't make a dime for your creativity and valuable time.

  • Marg C Marg C on Jun 19, 2012
    my earlier post dissapeared so I will re-post...when I had my landscape business I did not charge for the estimate. When they wanted an estimate on a design concept...I then made a design on the computer and printed out the picture. If was free to look at during the estimate...if they wanted to keep my design, then I charged a fee. This way if they went with another landscaper and used my design, at least it wasn't a total loss of the time it took me to create it.

  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Jun 20, 2012
    The question about millage is sound. I have been doing some work for a client well outside my "normal" area. In fact this gig is over 2 hours away in Cheyenne...When we figured the "rates" I actually gave then a bit of a break on my exchange I spend the night in their guest room and they feed me. They were having trouble finding competent help...this is an older home with lathe and plaster walls, knob and tube wiring etc. Not your normal track house. Part of the reason I took the gig is I like to see old homes like this fixed up, and be fixed properly, a second equally good reason is I work well with these clients.

  • Becky H Becky H on Jun 20, 2012
    KMS I call that a fair trade............or should it be considered a fare trade? How about, a fair, fare trade.

  • Marg C Marg C on Jun 20, 2012