Len McAdams: We do not directly charge for estimates in our company, but we don’t do a detailed estimate without a firm budget commitment from prospective clients and an understanding that they intend to engage us. This means we stick to our design/ build business model and have money in hand before doing work. Estimates are hard, tedious work in my view. As a result, we rarely are in a position to serve clients with their own architects and have to accept the fact that is not our market.

The bottom feeders will always say they’ll give you free estimates, but the best in any business give nothing away. They know what they’re worth, and they don’t have to do it. Their clients understand their differentiation ... their unique value.

 Renee Owdom: We charge for an estimate. We have a proven track record that we can stand on.This has allowed us to save our clients money and work with the kind of client that we want to work with.

Ted (Last name not provided): The few times that I tried to charge for estimates (usually insurance work), the idea went over like a lead zeppelin. I like the idea (who wouldn’t like to get paid for estimates?), but it sounds like something out of a book, not something the market (or my business model) will embrace.

Jason Jones: I have been doing a preliminary ballpark for people the last couple years to see if they are serious. Then I go the next step of a detailed estimate if I feel good about getting the job.

Jim Bartlett: When you are looking to buy a car, a dozen roses, or a haircut, the price is pretty much a known quantity ... and the seller doesn’t have to do a lot of work to help you figure out what you need and how it will be designed or configured to work for you. ... We are coming to the client. Then, we’re talking about helping the client develop a plan for how to make his most valuable asset worth more than it currently is, and also make it work better for his lifestyle. Since doing this takes real skill and some work effort, that is naturally something that’s very logical to pay for.

Jason Jones: If it’s a small job and an estimate can be produced rather easily, I feel it’s not a big loss. But I have estimated very large jobs that take upwards of 15 hours between talking to subs, pricing materials, laying out an accurate scope of work so the estimate is accurate, etc., then driving both ways and spending an hour to pitch the job. I’ve probably given away months of my life in the last five years. Is that fair to me?

Robert Youngs: I was involved in a discussion on LinkedIn a couple of years ago and realized that most of us (contractors from several countries were involved in it) were giving out our time for free. Fortunately that’s changing as the industry starts to mature. ... I can give an estimate over the phone after a few minutes of conversation. Some folks go away; good for me, as I don’t waste time with price-shoppers. When they’re serious about a project and have a realistic budget (determined on the phone also) then it’s a lead, not just tire-kickers. They know my time is valuable as is theirs. Keeping appointments and looking professional helps immensely also. How many guys can sell a $250,000 remodel looking like they just crawled out from under a house?

Phil Vanderloo: Actually, I don’t consider them “free estimates” because I factor it into overhead. Sales are no less overhead than if you had a paid sales staff. The sad part is that it’s the paying customers that are paying for your sales time in the long run. But there is no way I can charge for estimates in Sacramento Calif. I would be sitting at home looking for another career.