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Why free estimates?

ccmorical's picture
Why does the remodeling industry believe it must offer free edtimates? When I do a call for an addition, I probably spend at least a day making the call, working with the owner on design issues, measuring, sketching, researching, estimating, proposing, and presenting. All with the hope they use me instead of taking my hard work and giving it to some other company. It probably cost me a few hundred bucks. What do you think? We need to start charging for our services.

We need to start charging for (post #201921, reply #1 of 22)

We need to start charging for our services.

 Sure, you be the first.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Hopefully (post #201921, reply #2 of 22)

Mike Smith will see this thread.  I'll try to direct him here. 

He has a good system that for one eliminates the worry, while compensating you for work done.


The mythological system where you'll "apply" the cost towards the total price is eliminated as well.

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


free estimates ? (post #201921, reply #3 of 22)

what's an estimate ?

i qualify the leads and inquiries over the phone.... most of the time i will meet with the prospect

listen to their needs .... explain what we can do

since we're  "design / build "

i offer to do the design for a fee


if they already have a plan and specs... i offer to prepare a proposal ....for a fee

if they  pay the fee....they will probably hire us to do the work

if they won't pay the fee, that's my out to move on

if the job  lends itself to T&M, i state the rate and  they can hire us on the spot


anything that requires estimating, pricing, and  written  proposals   has a fee attached

it sure eliminates the tire kickers

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore


Mike, (post #201921, reply #4 of 22)

Well, I knew that.

You should have directed your response to the original poster................


of course, if he's new or didn't check the box for notification, likely he won't even see it no matter what the course.



So, does the end of the home win streak mean we're doomed?

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


great feedback (post #201921, reply #5 of 22)

Thanks Mike. Thats the kind of info I'm looking for. I meet with sometimes 4 or 5 people a day and really need to discover early in the visit if this client is worth the effort. This is not being rud, it's just a good sales strategy. The only thing that really pays the bills is finding a way to get payed for what you do. Let's hear more?

Greetings, (post #201921, reply #6 of 22)

I see you are a Calvin as well. 


A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


If you're (post #201921, reply #7 of 22)

meeting with 4 or 5 people per day, you're not doing enough on the phone to figure out who is actually going to hire you, and who just wants a free consultation. Do you ask them what their budget is? Do you ask them who else they are talking to? Do you ask them how they got your name? Where are these leads all coming from?

Man-hour estimate after the fact. (post #201921, reply #19 of 22)

I stripped 2835.5 square feet of hail-damaged comp. shingles and #2  1- inch pine board sheathing from a roof, replaced sheathing with 5/8 cdx, 30 lb felt and 30 (35?) year shingles with ridge vents. Simple gable roof, no valleys. Nothing to trip up an armchair estimate with hidden costs. We can call the contractor's desk at any Home Depot or Lowe's to get the materials estimate, but are there any pro roofer/carpenters out there who can estimate the number of man-hours 2835 square feet would require?  I'll bet there are. It's the complicated and the unforeseen that gives y'all estimating nightmares.

Any way, a hail storm from hell blew this roof away. After seeing the (lack of) quality of the rest of the replacement roof jobs in the neighborhood and talking to my insurance company, I decided to slow-poke it myself. I got a good result but it's time to settle up and the insure company wants a time estimate of my labor. Materials are well documented. Since I fit this project between 60 day tours offshore and other interruptions, I don't have an elapsed time from start to finish.

Auto service shops have all the common service/repair shop time estimates figured out by make and model. Is there a contractors' estimator reference work out there? Computerized, no doubt.

Thank you. Work safe.



Demo costs (post #201921, reply #21 of 22)

The books are the RS Means Estimating Guides.  There are different books for different work susch as Site Work, or Commercial Renovation.  They used to publish a residentual book, but don't have it this year. 

Asphalt Shingle Demo is 0.011 hrs per sqft for a 5 man crew.

Demo for 30# felt is 0.267 laborer hours per 100-sqft.

Any Plumbing vents are 0.25 hrs each.

There isn't a relavent listing for removing the old sheathing.  Removal of vertical boards is 0.020 hrs per sqft, wood siding is 0.021 hrs per sqft.  I'd guestimate the roof sheathing at 0.025 hrs per sqft. 

You don't say how the tear-off was disposed of but be sure to include that. 

For the install:

5/8-CDX hand nailed is 0.012 hrs per sqft, for a two carpenter crew, with a nail gun 0.010 hrs per sqft.  Doing it by yourself will be around 0.018 hrs per sqft.

30-lb felt underlayment is 0.138 hrs per 100 sqft.

The shingles get trickier because heavier shingles take more labor.  They vary from 1.45 hrs per 100 sqft, for Class A, 210 to 235-lb shingles, to 2.26 hrs per 100 sqft for the Class A, 260 to 300-lb shingles. 

Ridge vent takes about 0.05 hrs per lineal ft, the ends about 0.167 hrs each. 

Depends on the job (post #201921, reply #8 of 22)

It really depends on what the job is. If it is something like go out measure a roof, or install a new front door, or something minor as such we do not charge. However if it is an addition and we are involved from its inception, well then you have much more time and people dedicated to only bidding that job , then yes you must be paid for your time. More often then not we charge at least 40 hours to a big job such as a major kitchen remodel or an addition. You have to much time wrapped up with subs, takeoffs and dealing with the archetect or designer. I see no issue with charging for an estimate as these things dont just magically come together by themselves. Your time is your livelyhood and you must be paid for it.

estimate (post #201921, reply #9 of 22)

You are right, if it only takes a little time an estimate it should be free. If it takes several hours or days they can only expect a good estimate if you are compensated for your time.

Utah carpenter

one  way   to  get  paid  (post #201921, reply #10 of 22)

one  way   to  get  paid  for  "estimates"  is  stop  calling  them  estimates..  an  estimate  is  a  guess

it's  worth  nothing, it  puts  no one  at  risk.

guesses  are  FREE...

tell  them if  they  want a PROPOSAL,  you  have  to  charge  to  prepare  it.

a Proposal  means  you're going  to  bet  the ranch... there  are  only  three  possible  results  when  you  offer  a Proposal if  they  accept it... you  will make  money,  you  will lose  money,  or  you'll break  even ...

 the  last  two  are  not  why  you're in business

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore


Is there ANY industry where (post #201921, reply #13 of 22)

Is there ANY industry where you can expect to get paid to propose you services? I am not a contractor and I am no longer involved with a sales organziation or a "for hire" engineering firm. I have spent most of the last 3 decades involved in those types of organization.

An Architect or an Engineer or a Design Build Contractor, at least in this area (the midwest) that would expect to get paid to spend their time to develop a proposal? Either a megalomaniac or a compete idiot. Finding, scoping and bidding jobs that you hope to win is part of the business. Most understand this is overhead.

I work as an engineer, but I also buy, renovate, sell and lease residential property. I use a lot of contractors. I would never consider paying someone to bid one of my jobs. If their time is so valuable (or they or so inefficienct or inexperienced) that I must pay them to market their company and capabilities to me, that would be a giant red flag.

As a customer of contractors, there are far too many hungry competitors out there to consider paying for a bid/proposal. It would be great way to develop some more free time. Maybe get some fishing done or work on that short game.

Tim (post #201921, reply #11 of 22)

I don't know you,  nor you-I.

But under these ideas:

They'd probably be too busy or arrogant to show up on time or get paid when the work is finished (I won't pay more than 50% of a jobs total cost before final closeout and payment, ever), or remebdy their mistakes

I'd never work for you.

You also mention "contractors" in the plural.  Do you have a good relationship with one so there's no need to hunt down others that fit your mold?


I'm in Ohio, and I know the free in free estimates, which around here includes proposals.  I've done the dance.  I know I'm out of market to expect a customer to be overjoyed paying for such a thing.  However, to develop a cost study for their benefit free of charge is not going to happen.  My time is as valuable figuring as it is doing.  I'm still here 40 yrs since I started.  I offer a good service at a higher than usual for this area price.  Business is all direct referral so the no worry about showing up,  pulling off or not finishing it is already a given.  

So if you or anyone is "trying to figure out" how much it costs to do their "dream job", well that's a marketable item.

And the 50 percent until final?   Who rights up the contract, you?   All the eggs in your basket screams teamwork.  For a contractor to have that big a bank account that he could wait for your payout, seems like you could very possibly be missing out on a good price.

But like you say, in these times of cut-throat contracting, most anything is probably possible.  Of course, the warranty might just be till the tail lights dim on the horizon.

Best of luck.

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


You're probably right. You (post #201921, reply #14 of 22)

You're probably right. You would never work for me. I would't pay for all the time you spend here....

The scenario of a "dream job" evokes the idea of housewife pining for something the family cannot afford.

I run a business. I'm not speculating or thinking about it, but getting things done once, right and on schedule. The GCs or semi-builders out there that are looking to take advantage of a homeowner a few times a year are not the professionals that I deal with.

I mention contractors in the plural, because I hire A contractor to do A job. I pay the roofing contractor to do the roofing work. I pay the electrical contractor to do the electrical work. I pay ythe framing contract/carpenter to do their craft work, etc. I don't hire the least expensive or the most available. I hire contractors that understand and will meet my expectations. Or ones that I have reasonable belief will do so.

I do not hire GC for types of projects I have. I, and/or my business partner, manager our jobs. I don't "shop" anyones number unless, based on my experience, it is out of line. I thouroughly estimate the cost of repairs to a property before I invest in it. I am always wrong in what any particular craft might cost, but never by much. I'm also dealing with limited and reasonably known scopes of work. If a plumber I have look at a job cannot give me a firm price to plumb up a house with open walls, in a few hours or less, then I have to question their knowledge and/or experience. The good ones know how much it will cost to do it right and they have no problem quoting the job.

I'm not cheap. I am demanding. I always pay, when the work is done to my satisfaction. I work with most contractors on a repeat basis. Honest work for an honest price, nothing more or nothing less. You don't do business that way?

I have had a contractor or two in the past walk with more in their pocket than was complete. Learned that lesson. I believe anyone that would pay a contractor more than 50% before completion is taking a risk.

ok smart [JOBSITE WORD]. (post #201921, reply #12 of 22)

You think I charge for work I don't do-


You're wrong.

Enjoy yourself.

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


I have no idea what you (post #201921, reply #15 of 22)

I have no idea what you charge or the quality of your work. I made no allusion to you or your pricing. If my comments hit a little too close to home for you.......oh, well.

With skin that thin, you wouldn't work for any demanding clients.

So, who's paying you now?

Tim (post #201921, reply #16 of 22)

Keep running your mouth .

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


Dream job and or tire kickers? (post #201921, reply #17 of 22)


The scenario of a "dream job" evokes the idea of housewife pining for something the family cannot afford.

Instead of your housewife scenario, how about the multitude of potential customers who have no idea what there proposed project could cost.

I've spent so many hours bidding work just to see the customer roll their eyes when I give them my price.  It wouldn't be so bad if it was a case that I lost the job to another contractor who either presented a better price or was just a better salesman. The majority of the jobs I bid and don't get are never done by anyone.

The tire kickers are a bane for any contractor. For any sizable job, there can be hours to days of time spent.


You're probably right. You would never work for me. I would't pay for all the time you spend here....

First off, that is an [MEAN JOBSITE WORD] comment to a better person and craftsmen then you are likely to ever come across. Secondly does that mean you are willing to pay the time that a contractor spends on bidding other jobs that don't come through? The overhead that you feel we don't understand.


No, my market area doesn't let me charge fully for proposals. If the job warrants it, the best I can get are some design and drafting expenses, payable if they decline to have me construct the job.

Any professional contractors (post #201921, reply #20 of 22)

Any professional contractors out there that would be suprized that bidding work to homeowners could be frustrating? Time consuming? Really? No one ever dealt with a developer using your number just to beat down the price of a "prefered" provider?

It IS the nature of this industry and every other one where services are sold face to face and products are bid on a competitive basis. The time spend buying materials, commuting to the job site, bidding the jobs, creating the invoices, paying the invoices, managing employees, paying taxes, insurance and facilities, marketing, advertising, enteratinment and meals, vehicle insurance and maintenance, legal and accouting fees, vacations, medical insurance and benefits, recruiting AND actual material/labor costs are all part of the mix that any successful business owner has to accomodate in their business model. If that includes time spent playing around here, good for them.

I have yet to deal with a quality contractor of any trade that expected to paid for a proposal.

I can't speak to Calvin's level of craftsmanship, but I believe from years of conversations here that he is certainly very knowledgable in some skilled trades. A better person than I am likely to ever come across? Based on statements above, I have to disagree. Maybe it was a bad week for Cal. OTOH, anyone who claims that they would never work for me because I, as the one paying the bills, demand to get what I pay for, is 100% correct. The fact that we operate our businesses in different states plays in that more than a little. Does that make me a [MEAN JOBSITE WORD]? Probably right there, too.

It is not possible to stop (post #201921, reply #18 of 22)

It is not possible to stop free estimate. What one can do is to minimize the time taken to give estimate.