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When is a free estimate really free?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When is a free estimate really free? The answer may depend on your project. An estimate helps let you know how much you need to spend for a specific issue and it should include a breakdown of costs, materials, labor, as well as a time-frame. Getting written estimates from at least three potential contractors will help you compare costs and timelines.

Before you agree to a free service estimate, make sure you know what the company considers "free." Otherwise, that bid may come with a price tag. Angie's List asked highly rated companies about their policies on estimates.

Some companies add a trip charge to travel to your home to cover their fuel and vehicle expenses. 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.

Angie's List Tips:

  • Understand the charges: Some companies do have reasons for when they charge for an estimate. The type of bid you get might depend on the project. However, they should explain this up front. For instance, a company may only offer free bids for large jobs or new installations. Before you accept a free estimate, make sure you understand the details.
  • Estimate versus inspection: Verify if you're getting an estimate or an inspection. Most contractors consider these two different things.
  • How will the estimate be delivered? Know what to expect when you ask for a free estimate, and if you'll receive it on the spot or another date. Do you want a number scribbled on a piece of paper, or do you want a line-by-line breakdown of your project's cost? Ask the company what their estimate entails and how they plan to deliver it to you.