Angie's List: Cost of Free Estimates

By Lauren Maloney

Published 08/22 2014 03:43PM

Updated 08/25 2014 11:48AM

We’ve all heard the expression there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but what about a free estimate?

Many service companies offer them, but how do you know that bid won’t come with a price tag?

When is a free estimate really free?

The answer may depend on your project.

“When it comes to free estimates the general rule of thumb is small jobs that don’t require a lot of investigation work to figure out the problem will typically be free estimates. If it’s a more involved job or something that is going to require figuring out what the problem is, that’s when you typically see a charge,” Founder Angie Hicks said.

Brian Ashpaugh says when it comes to electrical work; his company offers free estimates on new installations.

“The reason why we can’t always provide a free estimate is based upon service. Say in your home you have two bedrooms that the outlets don’t work. You checked the breaker panel and all the breakers appear to be on and working but the outlets are no longer functioning properly. That we can’t give a free estimate on because we have to come into the home, we actually have to do some physical electrical testing. Electricity is an invisible force. You can’t tell like with other work,” Electrical Contractor Brian Ashpaugh said.

Every company has a different definition, so always ask what the estimate entails and how they plan to deliver it to you.

“Typically we always offer free estimates. Sometimes we can talk to a couple of customers about the price on the phone by giving them a price of per window of what we charge and the type of windows they have. If they feel more comfortable with us coming out and giving an estimate, we can certainly do that,” Window Cleaning Owner Mike Angle said.

“Make sure you understand any type of charge that might occur with an estimate. Some companies might offer a free estimate, but make sure they don’t have a trip charge or a fuel surcharge that you’ll be hit with instead. One Angie’s List member reported she thought she was getting a free estimate from a company, but when the company was there they presented her with a bill for $45, for a trip charge. So don’t get tripped up by the terms that can be used for these charges,” Hicks said.

Angie’s List says service providers might charge for an estimate if you decide not to hire them. While other contractors have a fee for providing a detailed bid that includes a line-by-line breakdown of the work. You should also ask if you’ll receive an estimate on the spot or if you’ll have to wait a few days.

Angie’s List Tips:

·         Understand the charges: Some companies do have reasons for when they charge for an estimate. The type of bid you get might depend on the project. However, they should explain this up front. For instance, a company may only offer free bids for large jobs or new installations. Before you accept a free estimate, make sure you understand the details.

·         Estimate versus inspection: Verify if you’re getting an estimate or an inspection. Most contractors consider these two different things.

·         How will the estimate be delivered? Know what to expect when you ask for a free estimate, and if you’ll receive it on the spot or another date. Do you want a number scribbled on a piece of paper, or do you want a line-by-line breakdown of your project’s cost? Ask the company what their estimate entails and how they plan to deliver it to you.

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