Are estimates free? Know When Can You Charge for Estimates

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Do you want to make money for the time you invest in making estimates for a client? Read on to find out in what case you can charge and still win clients!

Are you unsure if you should charge for your estimates or not?

If so, not to worry! We’ll tell you all about it.

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Knowing when to charge for estimates and when not is a big deciding factor for winning clients. 

Therefore, you must find out in what cases one can offer for free, the pros and cons of offering free estimates, and what factors are considered while charging for estimates.

Read on to find out!

📝Key Takeaways:

  • Free estimates can be offered for simple projects that don’t require too much planning, inspection, or designing.
  • Estimates can be charged when multiple stakeholders are involved in the work.
  • It can be charged when the job requires site inspection, several rounds of planning, careful considerations, and revisions whenever necessary.

What is a Free Estimate?

An estimate is a rough guess about how much effort, time, money, and materials will be required to complete a project. Some contractors offer free estimates since they are less accurate but more flexible than generating a quote that mentions a fixed price.

There are typically three methods for estimating the cost of a project:

Phone calls

When the prospective client calls for an estimate, you ask them imperative questions about the project and fill out a work order form based on the description of their problem or work requirements.

Job site assessment

Some jobs call for an in-person evaluation of the job site. This requires you to go to the job location, inspect the problematic zones, make notes of the work’s demands, and ask your clients critical work-related questions for more clarity. 

Online software 

With online estimating software such as InvoiceOwl, you can generate free estimates with automation and accuracy and send them to your clients via emails from anywhere.

Should You Offer Free Estimates?

If you should offer free estimates or not is generally determined by what works best for your company, industry standards, and clients.

Free estimates are ideal for small projects that aren’t complex, such as painting an entire home or washing windows. If you’ve done similar jobs earlier, you can easily put together estimates for such projects. 

You can choose to charge for the estimate if it’s a major project with a team of service techs and detailed designs. 

Therefore, if you are a general contractor in charge of numerous specialties, such as plumbers, electricians, and roofers (for instance), asking fees for estimates is reasonable.

Advantages of Offering Free Estimates

There are various benefits to offering free estimates to prospective clients:

1. Allows you to make a decent first impression

Free estimates can help you arrive at your clients’ doorsteps and keep your name or your company’s name on your clients’ minds, especially if you remember and ensure to follow up after sending the estimates.

2. Gives you a competitive edge

Offering free estimates to your potential clients sets you apart from competitors who charge for their estimations. Also, it gives you an advantage over other small businesses that do not charge for estimates.

3. Can act as a marketing strategy

how much do estimators charge

Many service companies use free estimates as a marketing strategy or as special promotions and deals. They also make reference to it in their marketing ads and, for instance, offer a ‘Free Estimate’ button on their business website.

4. Helps you save time and energy

An estimate can be easily created using a free estimate template since it is merely an approximate calculation. Then, when the customer is ready for a detailed quote, you can negotiate on final figures afterward (or an invoice when the job is done).

Downsides of Offering Free Estimates

A free estimates policy sounds appealing, but there are a few drawbacks that could make you reconsider:

1. Lower the perception of service quality

Some companies hesitate to offer free estimates because they believe it undermines the value of their expertise and services. If their skill set and experience are important enough, they ought to be capable of charging for estimates the same way any other company would.

2. Waste of effort and time

You will not be compensated for the time spent visiting the client’s home and discussing the project. There’s also no assurance that you will acquire the project and earn the potential money, even if you put in your effort and time.

This is why many companies and contractors believe that charging for the construction estimate will guarantee some money for the time and effort invested in site inspection.

3. Bring in the wrong clients

Clients who choose quality over pricing are the best prospects. However, offering a free estimate could entice clients more concerned with spending the least amount of money possible, which might also impact your sales revenue.

4. Impact on client satisfaction

is it legal to charge for an estimate

Sometimes, clients cannot differentiate between a free quote and a rough estimate. They may become upset if they don’t receive an accurate price and may press you for a more specific proposition.

Now that you are aware of the downsides of not charging for estimates, this raises the question of if you should charge instead from potential clients.

Should You Charge for Estimates?

As a general thumb rule, for complex projects like property construction or kitchen renovation, you should charge for estimates. 

However, if a small business or contractor charges for an estimate, it is mostly determined by the scope of the job, the standard procedure of the industry, and personal philosophy.

Let’s discuss these variables in detail for better understanding:

1. Scope of the job

You should charge for estimates for complex projects where multiple stakeholders such as subcontractors, designers, or architects are involved. It is because preparing the estimate while coordinating with them will take considerable time. 

2. Standard procedure of the industry

If you should charge for an estimate can also depend on whether your competitors are doing the same or not. Some industries consider free estimates as part of their overhead costs and just another operational factor in doing business.

3. Personal philosophy

Some companies want to be compensated for any work they do, and there are several contractors who believe that charging for estimates eliminates insincere clients and saves time.

If potential customers ask why you charge an estimate fee whereas your competitors don’t, this is an excellent chance for you to express what sets you apart from your competitors and the value you bring to the table.

How Much Should You Charge for Estimates?

How Much Should You Charge for Estimates

Angi says that estimates often cost between $150 and $1000. This includes the consultation as well as a design that incorporates customized work, several rounds of planning, and multiple revisions (whenever required).

You can charge an amount that includes your overhead expenses, hourly rate, and profit margin. Some contractors may charge a flat rate for estimates, then use half of that fee as a deposit for the project if they secure the job.

If you’re offering estimates for free, be sure to factor them into the cost of the project. The client won’t worry, thinking they had to pay for the estimate. And if you get the job, you will be compensated for the time spent inspecting, planning, designing, and estimating.

If you charge for estimates, always go the extra mile and provide new clients with a detailed price quote instead. As a result, your accuracy is improved, and you receive payment for the time and effort you invested.

Frequently Asked Questions
  1. What’s a contractor estimate?

    A contractor estimate is an approximate valuation of a project’s costs. You might need it for easy jobs such as painting, pressure washing, or window cleaning.
    A contractor will visit your residence before offering you an estimate, inspect the extent of the work, and give you an approximate figure on how much it will cost. Estimates, on the other hand, are just that: estimates, and they may vary after the job starts if the scope or type of the work changes.
    For instance, you call in a repair and maintenance tech to repair a dishwasher, and they may offer you an estimate for the job. However, if they discover pipe corrosion or some other plumbing issue during the job, you may have to spend more to replace everything and ensure the appliance works effectively.

  2. Do contractors charge for estimates?

    In many instances, a contractor won’t charge for an estimate on smaller projects such as window washing, painting, or lawn care

    Estimates are normally free of charge if the work is easy and does not necessitate thorough consultation or project design.

    For instance, if you hire a contractor to paint your bedroom, they will take some measurements and determine the color, quality, and type of paint you want. 

    They would also check if you would like any decorations or customized treatments and give you a rough figure of what you can expect to pay at the end of the job.

Leverage InvoiceOwl to Generate Automated Estimates seamlessly!

We hope you have now understood when to offer an estimate for free and when you can charge a potential client for it.

But simply knowing the difference won’t do much good. You also need to send them fast with accurate details to your customers.

This is something that InvoiceOwl can help you with!

InvoiceOwl is one of the best online estimating software in the construction industry and other service industries.

With InvoiceOwl, you can effortlessly create estimates with a single tap using our professional and customizable templates. It will help you work smarter, win more jobs, and get paid faster.

So, don’t wait up anymore. Try our FREE trial plan and experience the benefits we offer!

Author Bio
Jeel Patel
Jeel Patel

Jeel Patel is the founder of InvoiceOwl, a top-rated estimating and invoicing software that simplifies the invoicing and estimating processes for contractor businesses. Jeel holds a degree in Business Administration and Management from the University of Toronto, which has provided him with a strong foundation in business principles and practices. With understanding of the challenges faced by contractors, he conducted extensive research and developed a tool to streamline the invoicing and estimating processes for contractors. Read More

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