(ANGIE'S LIST) - When is a free estimate really free? The answer may depend on your project.
Angie Hicks from Angie's List says, "When it comes to free estimates the general rule of thumb is small jobs that don't require a lot of investigation work to figure out the problem will typically be free estimates. If it's a more involved job or something that is going to require figuring out what the problem is, that's when you typically see a charge."
Brian Ashpaugh says when it comes to electrical work, his company offers free estimates on new installations.
"The reason why we can't always provide a free estimate is based upon service. Say in your home you have two bedrooms that the outlets don't work. You checked the breaker panel and all the breakers appear to be on and working but the outlets are no longer functioning properly. That we can't give a free estimate on because we have to come into the home, we actually have to do some physical electrical testing. Electricity is an invisible force. You can't tell like with other work."
Every company has a different definition, so always ask what the estimate entails and how they plan to deliver it to you.
"Typically we always offer free estimates. Sometimes we can talk to a couple of customers about the price on the phone by giving them a price of per window of what we charge and the type of windows they have. If they feel more comfortable with us coming out and giving an estimate, we can certainly do that," says Mike Angle, Window Cleaning Company Owner.
"Make sure you understand any type of charge that might occur with an estimate. Some companies might offer a free estimate, but make sure they don't have a trip charge or a fuel surcharge that you'll be hit with instead. One Angie's List member reported she thought she was getting a free estimate from a company, but when the company was there they presented her with a bill for $45, for a trip charge. So don't get tripped up by the terms that can be used for these charges," says Hicks.
Angie's List says service providers might charge for an estimate if you decide not to hire them,while other contractors have a fee -- for providing a detailed bid that includes a line-by-line breakdown of the work. You should also ask if you'll receive an estimate on the spot -- or if you'll have to wait a few days.