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Depends on what I am estimating.. $0 if I am in the area and can scope it out in a few minutes, or $75 if I have to drive there and scope it out in a few minutes. I never get anyone to take me up on the $75, which is fine with me.
 

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Project Manager
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I've been tossing this idea back and forth lately. Still giving out "free" estimates. Though I notice from incoming calls, that some of the contractors in my area must be starting to charge, because more and more people are asking if I charge.

I'll stick to free for now. I like the idea of charging, but I feel if I let someone have it for free, that that might lead to them haggling with the estimate price...
 

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The way I see it it actually saves a potential client money. Think about it, I spend a couple of hours traveling to their house, measuring, picking out materials, colors, and what not. Then I spend a few more hours doing a detailed design, CAD drawings, and making a presentation. Add in fuel, phone charges, paper, ink, etc. and I have some bucks tied up in this. If I do it for free and they decline the project I have to make it up on a future project, raising my rates and making me even less competive on price.
 

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Another benefit is that it weeds out the tire kickers, the broke, and the lonely. If they're not willing to pay for the time it takes to design a landscape (or any project) that should tell you something about the client.

Also I've designed projects and then a few days later I see the HO posted a ad on Craigslist. They're looking to hire a yard worker for $8 to $10 hour to build the project. Probably went to HD and got cheap materials too. It stings less if I've been paid for my time it took to design the project.

What's really funny is when they call me during the project with questions.

"Hi Bob, we're calling about the garden you've designed for us."

"Oh, would you like me to come by so you can sign a contract?"

"Actually we've found someone else to build the design cheaper. I would like you to come by and explain to us what the gravel and geotextile fabric is for that you spec'd for the retaining wall. We can't figure out what it's supposed to do."

"It's to build the wall to ICPI standards, they have a website you can look at."

"Oh ok, thanks."

Then they call back later.

"Yeah that ICPI book is $100. How about you stop by tomorrow and explain to my guy how to build it?"

"Oooohhh, tomorrow? Yeah that's bad, I'm pretty booked right now. Let me check my schedule... (sound of me flipping through my day planner)... ummm, I have an opening after the season in October"

Click.

That kind of thing happens 3 to 4 times a season. Part of the business I suppose. Whenever I'm in the neighborhood I make a point to stop in and take a look at what they did with my design. I've only seen one that turned out ok. The HO did it himself using the high end materials I spec'd out, saved the labor cost. His patio was a little loose and the pattern was off. Overall not that bad though. The rest...
 

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I have ran into a rash of balkers this week not wanting to pay for our estimate.

I thank the Lord for everyone of them that says "I will talk to the wife and call you back."

Some of the phrases attached to some of these people --

"I'm collecting estimates.."

"I'm just starting the bidding process..."

"I met with 4 other contractors, I thought I should call a few more...."

"Oh, no thanks, I have 2 other people showing up tomorrow anyways..."

:laughing:
 

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Usually $20-$40 (but I give it back to them if they choose me to do the job, and tell them that) depends what I am estimating and how far it is to drive there, besides it seems if you don't almost estimate the job for free they wont take it now a days. I have been getting people wanting me to bid through email, but then again these are people coming from Craigslist, I don't charge for this most of the time.
 

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I do first free estimates in the area of 20 miles, If they are out of the area or sound like they are taking many different estimate i charge $50 which i make it sound if they agree to my services i would knock of $50 in there proposal. If i get a call back or a change order i charge $50. The 50 bucks seems to cover my gas at least. Hey we all know Time is Money!
 

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Always Free Estimates. It's in bold on all my advertising. I will never charge unless I move to a city of 1 million or more residents. Then it's a no brainer


EDIT; I should add that most of my estimates take 10-15 minutes and most of the time write the price on the back of my business card. I think alot of guys on CT are confusing estimate with design. To me an estimate is ringing a doorbell, look at the area they want the treated deck, and then give them the price. That's free and takes 10-15 minutes. My town is about 30 miles long east to west, and about 15 miles north to south so you can always pop in during a lunch break or on your way home.
 

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I've never tried it, my TIME happens to be valuable to me. It may work for some but not me! Also weeds out the tirekickers.
 
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JimmyS
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estimate or look at job?

Are you guys talking about actual estimating, or your first walk-through with a prospect? I'll set an appointment and go talk to any prospect for free, unless they sound too flaky or job not in our area or line of work.
Actual estimate is free also, but only if our meeting makes me think they're likely to hire us. We get about 3/4 of the jobs I look at, except for Dec./Jan. when people were freaking out about the economy.
Sometimes I get too much time into an estimate and the job is canceled or awarded to someone else, and I'm PO'd. Haven't stopped doing it that way, though. Providing a design for someone, that's billable. Most of our work is designed by someone else, and in the $40-$400K range.
Going through the estimating with a prospect teaches both parties about the other. Then the customer (the one who pays, right?) can decide whether to take the plunge.
Jim
 

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We've always done the 1st meet 'n greet for "free", then it's a charge for the design and proposal...usually $800-$2k for basements in the $80-150k range...or used to be anyway :rolleyes:

I'm still mulling over the idea of charging an initial $39/59/99/whatever for even the the first meeting (after emailing design samples/portfolio pics/etc), I'm just a leeetle bit chicken right now with the already miniscule amount of calls... :shutup:

I did just start a $1,200 design/proposal project yesterday for a 1300 sq. ft. basement...
 

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Starving Tile Artist
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How do you approach the HO with estimate charge?

Charging for estimates is great. It gives you something to justify spending some odd 5 to 10 hours putting what they need on paper. This weeds out those who don't want to pay or are just going overboard on getting estimates. (Had one last week that intended to get 10 estimates for a 40 sq ft bathroom remodel.)

Here is the problem, I get a lot of people who are putting their house on the market and need to get estimates for an inspectors fix it list.

These people are willing to pay an inspector to come out and tell them whats wrong with the home but I have never had any that are willing to pay me to give them a cost on fixing it.

Now for the meat of it. If a customer calls you and ask if you do free estimates. (I get this A LOT!)

How would you tactfully inform them, without blowing the sale, that they are being charged for an estimate that will be returned on signing with you?

I usually answer the question with a flat, "NO, sir or maam, we charge a $50 refundable fee that we reimburse upon signing a contract with us."

I then wait for the dial tone.

(Educate the contractor time!)
Someone do a word for word walkthrough of how you handle it.
 

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Establish the Relationship

Another benefit is that it weeds out the tire kickers, the broke, and the lonely. If they're not willing to pay for the time it takes to design a landscape (or any project) that should tell you something about the client.
I think this is the key. You're not charging because you really expect to make money doing estimates, you charge for the estimate as a way of finding out what the customer is willing to do. If they aren't willing to invest at least a little money in your initial work, you want to know that right away.
 
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