At Bolster, we are well aware that many contractors provide free estimates to their customers. The "Charging vs. Free" debate is one of the most frequently discussed topics among professionals in the renovation industry.
We believe that if the effort to produce an estimate is minimal, then a free estimate is fine.
If however an estimate takes significant effort and cost to produce, then offering it for free can cause more harm than good to a project which is something a good contractor will try to avoid at all cost, even when it means having to pass on otherwise really exciting projects :(
Here is why our policy is to charge a refundable fee for estimating on big / complex projects:
- Estimation is a service. Cost estimation, when done correctly, is an actual service that refines the scope of work and helps value-engineer the customer’s desired project outcome.
- An estimate is a product. Cost estimation produces valuable and tangible output that any other contractor can successfully build from.
- Estimation requires focus. Producing free estimates places an enormous burden on a contractor’s operation and finances: A detailed estimate typically takes several hours, if not days, to prepare, involves several trades and suppliers and can incur several thousand dollars of cost. Few contractors can sustain this cost and subsequently produce less-than optimal output or suffer the financial consequences later on when the financial costs of multiple unsuccessful bid attempts take their toll.
- Measure twice, cut once. Because of the focus estimation requires, free estimates are typically more prone to errors and create more change orders and cost during the construction phase. This ultimately creates a less enjoyable project experience for everyone. It's always better to get it right upfront.
Also, it's important to point out that if the expectation from a customer, in any industry, is to receive a significant service for free from a professional before a project is underway, typically, that's an indicator of how the project itself will be.
This expectation is dangerous and leads to professionals losing money, poor quality work being performed and disputes.
Again, something best avoided at all cost whenever possible.