Charging For Estimates

What is a Ball-Park Estimate?

Let’s talk about free or what some clients refer to as “ball-park, estimates. When people tell me they want a “Ball-Park” estimate… I secretly want to say; Which ball park would you prefer; Fenway or Yankee Stadium?  

Just kidding!

There have been so many times in my career, where a homeowners asks for a “Ball Park” price for their project.  The reality is that MOST “Ball Park prices,” end up being nowhere close to the actual price of the project?  I find the whole idea of “Ball Park” pricing comical. 

I’m not saying it doesn’t have value in some selling scenarios. I am saying however that when contractors offer a ball park price, more times than not they strike out, rather than hit a home run.

Charging For Estimates

Charging for estimates is still a relatively new approach and one that is growing in our industry. I think it’s really important for contractors and clients to understand that accurate estimating takes time.  It’s a professional “service,” and what professional doesn’t charge for their services?  I recognize many in the industry would not agree that companies should charge for an estimate, because many believe that it would hurt business.

Saving Time

Do I really want to waste hundreds of hours every year and lots of money for jobs I’m never going to get?

For me, I had to realize that I didn’t want to compete with other contractors for my work.  I had to charge what I needed to charge, to maintain my business. Proper estimating a job costs takes time, experience, and is a professional service.

Hoping To ReCoup Estimate Time Cost

On the other hand, many contractors who tell their prospects they do not charge for estimates are actually not charging for the estimate in advance, They try to or think they can recoup the cost of estimating through their extras, or markup; but only if they sell the job.

The more meaningful conversations about the fact is that “an estimate” is really just a guess and may not have any relevance to the true cost of what you would actually want to buy. As a result, I’m willing to meet with a client, discuss the project, and scour through their plans and specifications, 

I could give them a fixed price, in place of the “estimate.” After all, that’s what most consumers really want; a fixed price for acute budgeting.

So here’s a challenge…. Do what I did and start small.

How To Charge For An Estimate

Tell prospective clients that you charge  $150/$300 depending on the size of the project –for a 1 hour consultation. Use the word consultation because it sounds way better than the word estimate. 

People are also accustomed to paying for consults. After all you are consulting with them and may even be giving them design ideas or telling them what wall is a bearing wall, etc.

Some guys I know charge 3% for a large job proposal. You figure out what makes sense for you.Tell the client that that fee also includes your written [fixed price] proposal. Also tell them that if they hire you – you will credit that fee toward the job. If they agree – you need to turn around a written proposal quickly and professionally.

Do Charging For  Consultations Work?

I initially thought that I would lose business, I didn’t!  I stayed the same – and I had more time to myself, and I got rid of ALL the TIRE KICKERS that wasted a ton of my time.

Try it for one month and see what happens. You may be surprised and never go back to FREE estimates again. Let’s get the comments going on this one – I’d really like to hear from you guys.

Charging for Estimates Video Discussion

About the author

Rob Robillard

Robert Robillard is a remodeler, general contractor, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business located in Concord, Massachusetts. He also writes the "Ask the Carpenter" advice column in the Boston Globe, and serves as the Editor of Tool Box Buzz and founding editor of A Concord Carpenter . Rob is in charge of our Tool and Product Review - Tool and Product Review - Video Channel, , where we post all of our tool reviews and video tutorials. Rob enjoys using his knowledge and experience to help and educate building professionals as well as DIYers on best practices in the remodeling industry. The Concord Carpenter's motto: "Well done is better than well said!" : Read more about Rob Robillard

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1 Comment

  1. Kyle Jones

    Thanks for much for this article, Rob.
    As someone who is still relatively new in pricing out his own jobs and working for himself, I’m the estimator and the muscle. Time usage is critical.
    I really appreciate you going into this area of business.
    It’s definitely something I will incorporate.

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