getting quotes over the phone

Getting quotes over the phone from contractors is like pulling nails with your teeth.
Chimney masons this time: I know they cannot give a real quote but getting them to even give the magnitude of a job type is nearly impossible. They all want $75 to $120 to just come out and tell me how much it will cost to fix. What kind of comparison shopping is that?
I know, I know. Just wanted to rant for a minute
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I'm surprised they didn't charge you to talk on the phone.
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AutoTracer wrote:

I am not surprised. I can imagine how many times they have lost jobs (or at least think they lost jobs) by guessing too high over the phone, or had trouble because they were low and everyone got mad when they had to up it.
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Joseph Meehan

26 + 6 = 1 It's Irish Math
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We all love to rant and I appreciate you situation. On the other hand, you and I both know why the contractors function the way that they do.
Too many people ignore the contractors caveats as he says "this is an extremely crude estimate that I really hate to give over the phone, blah, blah." And some homeowners fail to mention important details over the phone.
One of my neighbors pressured a contractor for a "rough estimate" over the phone. Impressed with the price, he took some time off from work one day to met the contractor at home. The on-site estimate was about 4 time the phone estimate and my neighbor went ballistic - accusing the contractor of low-balling him with the phone estimate (which the contractor didn't want to give in the first place!). I don't know the contractor, but I know that he has a very good reputation in our area and seems to have a record of fair estimates and good work. He wasted his time on the phone, wasted his time on the visit to the home, he's not getting any revenue for this effort, and he has an irate homeowner who is badmouthing him.
You may not like my suggestion, but when I can't get estimates easily, then I type a description of the work & take a photo or two if helpful. I send copies to several good contractors along with self addressed envelops, a map & directions to my home and a typed note explaining that I am aware that such an estimate can be very inaccurate. For exterior work, I give them a fair amount of time to reply since some of them will stop by and look at the work when they are in my area.
This sounds like a lot of work on my part, but after doing this several times, I've already got some good "boilerplate" from previous times to make it easy to do again. For example, the map & driving directions haven't changed in many years and I've got a photocopy machine at home to copy them with little hassle. Etc.
Gideon
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Really I just wanted to determine if I can afford to fix it now or if I should wait. Mainly its cosmetic now but it is degrading. The damage is from the 1989 earthquake in the SF bay area.
I was considering using digital photos and a website to communicate details to contractors. They still may be inaccurate but I am a reasonable person and wouldn't treat a contractor like your neighbor did.

contractor
but I

phone,
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AutoTracer wrote: ...

snip...
But a contractor doesn't (and can't) know that and, unfortunately, most have far too painful experiences w/ those who are of the ilk of the neighbor mentioned above (or worse)...
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Duane,
Thanks - that was my point. I'm not accusing the poster of being unreasonable, but most contractors have been burned too many times and wasted too much time on blind leads.
Gideon
================
AutoTracer wrote: ...

snip...
But a contractor doesn't (and can't) know that and, unfortunately, most have far too painful experiences w/ those who are of the ilk of the neighbor mentioned above (or worse)...
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On Wed, 09 Mar 2005 16:34:43 -0600, Duane Bozarth

My favourites are the ones who ask for a ballpark figures, I tell them it will be in the range of 25 to 30 thousand but I can't narrow it down until I look at the job, they say "Sure, please come out".
On site, I discover their budget was 12 thousand ... and they figured that once I got there and saw how simple their job was, it would be twelve or thirteen thousand.
And of course, they set the budget at 12, because that's what the realtor said it would cost, when they were buying the house.
And that is why I charge for estimates.
Ken
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Now you've got me laughing. We bought our home about 30 years ago. Every time we spotted a problem with a home we were looking at, our realtor would tell us, "Oh, I've got a guy who can fix that for such-and-such amount." Needless to say, after buying our home we discovered that neither her references or anybody else in the county would come in at anything less that 4 or 5 times her estimate. Live and learn.
We also need to mention the customer who solicits many estimates from a variety of vendors with absolutely no intention of hiring out the work. He plans on doing the work himself, but he wants to pick your brain while talking to you during the estimate phase.
This is extremely prevalent in white collar project-oriented environments. A company gets 10 large software houses to present proposals and estimates for some computer systems development. They have no intention of hiring anybody, they just want to cherrypick the best features from the 10 proposals and to get the 10 free project estimates to reduce the cost of doing budget estimates for their own in-house development. The cumulative cost eaten by the vendors for preparing those 10 proposals and estimates can easily be over a quarter million dollars on a large project.
I feel sorry for auto body shops. About 40% of the estimates that they do are for people who have to get the estimates for the insurance company, but they intend to pocket the insurance money. Another 40% intend to fix their vehicle out of pocket, but get immediate sticker shock from the estimate and decide to live with the damage. At least 3/4 of the remaining folks are going to go to the cheapest shop in town and waste your time getting an estimate from you. Of course those customers will then complain in a year or two when the bargain repair starts to rust and the paint starts to blister and then they'll badmouth the body repair industry.
Personally, I believe that everybody should charge for non-trivial estimates and give some credit if the work is contracted.
Gideon
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all I wanted was something like this.
An estimate costs $$ and a simple repair will be at least $$$ but if worse comes to worse, and we have to tear it down and start over things can get as bad as $$$$. This simple paraphrase does not even require knowledge of the job itself. Some customers just need to know how bad it can get and where it will start.
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"AutoTracer" wrote

If the damage is from an earthquake, how can you be so sure there isn't structual damage? There might be more than cosmetic damage to the trained eye of a professional than the typical layman can evaluate.
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IMHO, any contractor who gives a quote without looking at the work * carefully * is doing both himself and the potential client a deep disservice.
My favorite contractor charges $75.00 for an estimate and reduces the price if he is retained.
This is only fair. His time and expertise are valuable.
TB
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I'll second that. Reducing the initial charge if the potential client retains the contractor separates the serious from the tire kickers.
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