Everyone has heard the phrase, “You get what you pay for” so why do people ask for a free estimate, free consultations or free designs from a renovation contractor? Better yet, why do contractors promote “Free estimates?” Let’s discuss these two interesting questions and how a homeowner and a contractor can both achieve better results when hiring or selling their service.
Why should a contractor provide a free service?
There is a belief that contractors should provide free estimates to potential clients, because they need the work and that is how you get work; by giving away your time and knowledge. I am not saying that contractors should start charging for all estimates, although it would cause potential clients to value the time and knowledge it takes to complete this request. What I am suggesting is that clients need to be reasonable with their expectations of a free service and respect the time and effort that is required.
Putting together a detailed estimate takes time, therefore a client should do some work prior to contacting the contractor. Research on-line for ideas, have photos of ideas, know your budget and if it is realistic and for more detailed or larger projects hire a designer. Keep in mind that free estimates do not typically include designs, engineering, or product details. Spend some time and money to ensure you can provide the contractor with details of what you want and need in your renovation, then you will get a more accurate price and the contractor will know you are serious about doing the renovation and not just price shopping.
If you have not hired a designer, then write a list of the things you want included in your renovation. This list can and should be accompanied by photos of products and styles, notes on electrical, plumbing, flooring, trim, etc., the more detailed the better. We often call this list a “Scope of Work” which can be provided to multiple contractors to have a consistency of estimates.
How many estimates should you solicit?
Typically, three (3) estimates will provide a good appreciation for the price of the job. The strategy of having three prices is to have two prices that are close to the same, which allows you to eliminate the high or the low price, which may have an issue if drastically different from the other two quotes. More often than not, if the low price is more than 20% lower, then there may be an issue, either something was missed, or they didn’t understand the scope of work.
It is equally important to invite contractors of similar reputation and capacity so you will be able to compare “apples to apples” with their estimates. This requires research on behalf of the client to find reputable, reliable contractors who are qualified to do the job. We don’t mind good competition on projects, as long as the other contractors provide the same service, have the same standard of care and are fully insured and experienced. The onus of the client is to research the contractor and ensure they have the credentials to do the job right.
Another benefit to having three contractors visit your home is it allows the client time to interview the contractors before they hire. To be completely honest, when I visit a home, I am interviewing the client to see if they are someone I wish to work with. This interview process is often the most important part of the process. You should get a feeling of confidence and comfort with the contractor during the interview. If you don’t, it can be a signal of challenges to come, regardless of how good the price.
What should be included in an “estimate?”
Based on my personal experience, we provide a detailed estimate for every project. We do our best to include every detail discussed during the visit and when a design is provided, we provide an accurate estimate based on the design. There are times, when we visit, that we determine the renovation is not in the best interest of the client or they have an unrealistic budget. A client does not need an estimate if they have a budget that is half the value of the project or if the renovation doesn’t fit the present or future need of the client. We are honest about this process and discuss priorities for home renovation, expectations of return on investment and how long the client plans to stay in the home. These are factors that determine if a renovation is actually needed.
In summary, it is okay to have “free estimates,” but it is important to ensure that the estimate actually provides the information required to make an informed decision and affords the confidence that the work will be done as per the estimate. Otherwise, it is better to invest a little to ensure you get values, not just “free.”
I hope this article has provided some insight into the process of requesting an estimate and how clients and contractors can both have a successful renovation project.
by Dan Monk