Are Free Estimates Really Free?

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There are few topics in the home improvement industry that generate as much discussion as the topic of Free Estimates. Both customers and service providers play games with this concept, frustrating the other party.

For smaller projects, where there isn’t a salesman involved up front, some independent service providers offer free estimates as a loss leader. This is irresistible to some consumers. Like airlines, that overbook seats, they schedule several free estimates. Upon winning work, their remaining estimates are no longer a priority. Estimates are how they find work; working is how they get paid.

Now consider, if you took time out of your day, or time off work, to meet this guy and he didn’t show up was that free-estimate really free? What’s the value of your time?

On the flip side, many consumers look for more estimates than they reasonably need. They want 4-6 estimates so they can pick the cheapest one. If a consumer gets three estimates each vendor has a 1 in 3 chance of winning the job. As consumers get more estimates, the chances of any one service provider getting the work goes down. Customers waste a lot of service provider time doing this, and so missing a few estimates doesn’t concern them.

Is there a better way?

The best way to handle smaller project (a few hours to a few days in size), is the ‘service’ model. Think plumbers, or the appliance repair guy. They quote a dispatch or diagnostic fee to show up and assess your situation. If you have them stay and do the work that day, they waive the diagnostic fee and complete the work as per the price quoted. Otherwise, that fee is collected to offset their time invested at your home.

Most consumers want to know the likely price of their project before approving a start, so this process gives them that. Most consumers will not pay 3-4 diagnostic fees, so they’ll generally do the work if the service provider is credible and presents them something reasonable.

In the service model they are coming to work, not just to review the work. There is a high likelihood of staying and doing the work, so they do not have to overbook estimate visits in the hopes of winning something. This is paying work and the person is much more likely to show up; or call if running late.

If you find a company with a great reputation, that offers good value for the rate they charge, that has the staff with skills to complete the work, this is the fastest path to getting your project completed with the least amount of frustration.