Free Estimates- Are they worth the price you pay?

The Free Estimates Trap- Why to Avoid Free Estimates


 “Free Estimates” = “High-Pressure Sales” 

Are free estimates better than going through the design process with a legitimate builder?

This social contract goes like this, “I will give you a free estimate and there is no Obligation”.  Potential clients should see this as the “Free Estimate Trap”.

One of our competitors likes to say that it is his chance get in front of potential customers in order to sell them. Would you like to know where he learned to sell?  IBM. He went through IBM sales training before starting his deck company.  If you think you can resist a persuasive sales approach, you need to try him out. You are not likely to meet him in person, but you can experience what he has trained his “Sales Force” to do if you call the right deck company.

A body in your home is hard to get rid of. On the phone, you can just hang up if the salesman says something you don’t like.  Just try escorting a pushy or manipulative salesman out your door.  Everybody coming into your house for free has the intention of leaving with a deposit. After you meet with a few hundred clients, you can become very compelling. They tell stories, they make it personal, they will let you in on secrets and they will fish for positive responses until you finally agree to give them your business. Some of these guys will stay for hours!

Everybody loves a Deal!

We have heard all the sayings before:

                                                                     “Nothing is really Free”                               

                                                                       “You get what you Pay For”                                                                       

                                                                     “There’s no such thing as a Free Lunch”

“We are different! No Obligation!  Really!!! These things are just what our competitors say because they are jealous!”

Why would a Free Estimate be any different? Why is all of a sudden everything you know about “nothing being free” no longer applicable? Is it because you are smarter than anyone else? Are you somehow less likely to be persuaded by a talented salesman? Are you an expert negotiator?

We love to get a bargain. We love to negotiate a better deal and then brag about it with an air of superiority.  Everyone wants to get a unicorn deal where the builder made no money to feel superior. The trouble is, that this ambition to dominate others, a need to win at someone else’s expense is fraught with financial peril. What happens when the deck has problems and you have to pay someone else to fix it?

What if it goes Wrong?

Nobody wants to be seen as “lacking”, or god forbid “Soft”.  This is the flipside of your optimistic deal of the century. You found a deal that was 1/3 of the price of the top bid. 3 of the 10 contractors you spoke with said that it was less than they would pay for materials. You didn’t see a red flag. Your hackles didn’t get raised. You are about to lose. You just hired the low bid, and that low bid is so low that the builder will not have the ability to buy the materials he specified in the deal. Here are a few ways it could go:

  • They will never start your job.
  • The contractor may take your deposit and never start the job.
  • This builder may start the job and ask for more money, then walk away without finishing whether you give him money or not.
  • They may cut corners and do a terrible job with different materials than you expected and you may need to replace everything within a couple of years because it is dangerous, defective or will not pass code.  (We replaced 2 of these last year for clients–yes, they paid twice).
  • This contractor may start the job and then start hitting you with extras “Not Specified” in the agreement. These extras are how he gets his pay and profit.
  • They may go out of business before finishing — He is obviously a bad businessman.
  • The builder may finish your job and supplement the budget with his trust fund or savings. ( likely 1 in 10,000 cases)

If any of these things happen, how superior will you look to your friends and family? I hear from about 50 of these cases every year. “My fence contractor didn’t show up”.  “Our waterproof deck is leaking and the contractor won’t call me back”.  “My pergola guys were supposed to show up in May and it’s September now”.  Was it a good deal ma’am?

 Design Consultations–With a Real Designer

Old School sales tactics are dying out, but at the home shows, you would never know it. Signs are everywhere for free estimates. Salespeople are collecting names in big books to arrange their free estimate at their convenience. When I explain that we don’t do free estimates unless you have plans already most people understand the concept. Some, normally elder folks are outraged. “I have always gotten free estimates in the past”, or “Everybody else does free estimates”. We do our best to explain that it really isn’t the best way to plan a project and they often agree by the end of the conversation.

Our company is helping more and more people that have been the victim of high-pressure sales for renovations based on a low price only to be disappointed with the result. When it comes to home improvements, people are now realizing that if you want something beautiful and inspired done at your home, the best first step is connecting with a designer. When the designer has real experience overseeing the kind of work you are considering the results are usually stellar. Builders generally design what is most profitable for them…with no care for what it looks like later or functionality.

Designers can head off issues like space planning, zoning, and code requirements, and, if they have talent, they will design at your budget. Designers with experience can coach the builders to use the right methods and materials to build better. They can also coach you in the planning. You will have input into the design, but the designer will offer different layout options to consider.

Designer projects will always look better and be more functional. They are an extension of the home and an inspired space, whatever the budget. Involving a designer to create the concept plan and assign specifications within your budget range is an investment–because a designer will never work for free, but the investment is worth every penny.

Free Estimates are not the Only Way–

Leading by example has always been our thing. We have always done well teaching our clients to spot better building. Giving our clients the technical ability to go with our company based on merit. By showing you “what we do differently” and “why we do it that way” is an excellent way to separate ourselves from our competitors. We are in business to serve people better–and that leads to success. Not satisfied with building better than everyone else–we want what we build to look as good in 10 years, as it does now. That means better materials, better labor and more effort on our part. That also means we are never the lowest price…  but that’s ok with us.  We want to be the folks you turn to for the most beautiful and long-lasting work–we can’t do every job.

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