You’ve done your research. You’ve narrowed down your list of potential outdoor living contractors. You start calling around to set up appointments and the contractor you pegged as favorite doesn’t give free estimates. Bummer! Or is it? It might seem against the grain to find hear this, but there’s much more to a free estimate that you aren’t thinking about.
Contractor Needs Your Business
It’s not top-of-mind as to why, but there are multiple reasons you’re being offered a free estimate. The first reason, most likely being, is that the contractor really needs the work. There’s nothing wrong with any contractor trying to find more projects, but this approach falls on the lazy side of the scale. It’s comparable to that end-of-the-month car salesman tactic of “we’ll do whatever it takes to get you in the door today and off the lot with a car.” You’re basically a number on a spreadsheet to meet quota.
When this happens in construction, it’s not a good sign that this company will be there for you down the road after your project is complete.
Something Is Missing
No contractor is perfect, let’s be clear about that. What we mean by “something missing” is that there’s probably something that the contractor is trying to divert attention from – whether it is operating without a license, not carrying insurance, lack of experience, poor quality, lousy service, etc…
Tunnel vision can happen and all we see is “free estimate”, but you must try and break through and look at the total picture. This is when you’ll need to ask detailed questions about what the estimate entails to help distinguish reading an accurate, professional bid versus free estimate.
Free Isn’t Really Free
It’s only free to you if you choose to do nothing with the estimate. The free estimate approach is a dartboard. You, the client, are just one of many darts thrown at the board. Some stick and others don’t. A contractor giving free estimates must make up for lost time. If 10 estimates are given out and only one person moves forward, the costs associated with the other nine estimates have a good chance of being lumped into your price.
This is also where you must thoroughly review the estimate to determine how detailed it is. The less specific in scope of work, the higher chance you’re reading a very watered-down cost to have an outdoor kitchen built properly.
How Much Work Went Into The Estimate?
This is your hard-earned money. This is when you should be asking yourself if you feel comfortable moving forward on the project based on the amount of work that this contractor spent estimating and preparing that estimate for your space? The analogy here is remembering ‘you can’t see the forest for the trees.’ When you get hung up on getting a free estimate versus a paid, professional bid, you’re potentially setting yourself up for a bad experience and inaccurate information that muddies the waters when evaluating different companies.
There’s a lot of work that goes into preparing a professional bid. There is extensive site surveys, proper questioning, detailed note logging, accurate product knowledge, life-like designing elements and real-world problem solving. This takes hours of dedicated focus to provide accurate information. It’s a very detailed, methodical process.
Not everyone will have a problem with the time spent on an estimate, but it’s a clear indication of the type of finished product to expect when dealing with a contractor.
You Aren’t Actually Getting Accurate Information
The numbers you get from a free estimate really don’t have much value to them without specifics. It’s the age-old question “just give me a ballpark figure?” Okay, which ballpark would you like: the new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles or Lambeau Field in Green Bay? There’s a big difference between the figures you’d get which makes the question nearly irrelevant.
A free estimate is just a way for the business/contractor to try and win the job. They’ve momentarily soothed your conscious with this offer. Trust us, it’s the least bit helpful.
Rethinking Free Estimates
A contractor giving a free estimate is hoping to win your job. A contractor that is providing a paid, professional bid is planning to complete the work on your project. Let that sink in.
When you begin to understand and think about these aspects, a free estimate is really not the bargain it seems. Paying for a professional bid is not as taboo as many other companies would like to make you think. It is a tactic to put doubt in your mind about legitimate companies that provide a superior service to theirs.
Look for these signs and proceed with caution if choosing to source free estimates. Remember, it’s worth exactly what you paid for it.