Getting quotes over the phone from contractors is like pulling nails with
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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)...
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.
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.
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.
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.
IMHO, any contractor who gives a quote without looking at the work *
carefully * is doing both himself and the potential client a deep
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.
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