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Blog: Stop Doing Free Estimates

Stop providing free estimates. It’s called free consulting, and you won’t be successful giving away your time. In providing an estimate to a potential customer, you may be doing everything from putting together some initial numbers to actually providing some preliminary design work. Let’s create an action plan to begin the practice of charging for estimates.

The first step in stopping free estimates is to convince yourself that what you are doing has value. Architects are paid for their time. Interior designers are paid for their time. You deserve to be paid, too, if you are completing an estimate that may include:

1.  Meeting with the clients
2.  Comprehensive needs analysis interview
3.  Jobsite measurements
4.  Preparing conceptual drawings
5.  Meeting with clients again
6.  Design/floor-plan consultations
7.  Meeting with subs to review the design
8.  Revisions as needed to the floor plan
9.  Meeting with clients again
10. Blueprinting costs
11. Copies
12. Telephone expenses

First, you have to overcome the typical homeowners’ built-in notion that you should provide free estimates. Can you imagine going to your doctor for a free physical or going to your dentist for a free checkup? Why do remodelers still offer to do 15 to 30 hours of work designing and estimating projects before they ever sign a contract? You can’t afford to do it anymore. Your time is too valuable. If you are doing a smaller project like replacing a window or a door, then a design agreement isn’t appropriate, but common sense will tell you that.

Convince yourself

How do you start charging for something you once gave away? It’s a two-step process: 

•    First convince yourself 
•    Then convince your clients

The first problem is internal. You have to become convinced that you are providing a valuable service to your client during the estimating and design development phase. What other professional would give this much away? At some point in working with a potential customer, you need to start charging for your time.

The first visit is free

The initial meeting is free. That’s when you do your due diligence. Ask about:

•    Timing
•    Budget
•    Client research and project understanding
•    Any past experience the homeowners may have had with remodeling—was it positive or negative?

Are their schedule, goals and budget realistic? Do you want them as clients?

At the end of the first appointment, I tell potential clients that the next step in the process is to sign a design agreement. The design agreement lays out a payment schedule for the delivery of preliminary plans and the cost estimates that go with them. I would point out the benefits of working with a design agreement and the value that the customers would receive by working in this way.

Getting a signed design agreement creates some powerful results. When homeowners write a check (however small), they are off the market because they won’t sign a design agreement with more than one contractor. They are now your customers. With a design agreement, free consulting stops after the first sales call.

For a sample design agreement, e-mail me at David@RemodelForce.com


David Lupberger has been in the remodeling industry for more than 20 years and is author of “Managing the Emotional Homeowner,” “The Remodelers Turnkey Program,” and “The Home Asset Management Plan.” He can be reached at david@davidlupberger.com or 303.442.3702.

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