Everything You Need to Know About Free Home Repair Estimates

Scott Dylan Westerlund
Updated October 18, 2021
A young couple getting an estimate from a contractor
Drazen Zigic/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

This is what you need to know before getting free home repair estimates.

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You've been offered a free home repair estimate that sounds like great news. Is it? Homeowners should know that service providers sometimes attach strings when advertising free estimates. Take a look at everything you need to know about free home repair estimates.

Free Estimates May Provide Limited Information

Free home repair estimates don't always go the distance. Before accepting a free estimate, ask what’s included to ensure it covers the scope needed for you to make apples-to-apples comparisons between different contractors.

If you're hiring out for a big project, an estimate with line-by-line breakdowns of services and charges will be more helpful than just a final cost quote.

Estimates and Inspections Aren’t The Same

As a general rule, if you want to know how much it will cost to fix something, such as repairing a roof or replacing torn siding, a free estimate should cover it. If you need help diagnosing a problem, you probably need an inspection. Most contractors charge for inspections because of the diagnostic work involved.

For example, you’ll likely pay for an inspection if you want to know how long your roof will last, why your basement is flooding, or why temperatures fluctuate in your home.

Design Plans Are Not Usually Included

A family and a contractor talking about home plans
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Be prepared to pay for personalized design plans pertaining to your next project. In addition to providing compensation for time, contractors tend to create design plans for customers who are ready to start their project soon, not for those still researching costs. This helps protect contractors from customers who may use their sketch plan to shop their competitors for a lower price.

Some Contractors Only Offer Free Estimates for Big Jobs

Some contractors only offer free estimates for projects that go above a certain dollar amount. That means you might have a hard time finding a contractor to give you a free quote if you're just looking for a smaller job like appliance repair. Many contractors consider coming out for an estimate for a smaller job a "service call," which can vary by cost depending on the type of repair needed.

Estimate Costs Are Sometimes Refunded

If a company only does paid estimates, don’t rule them out entirely. Many companies that charge for estimates will apply the cost toward your final bill if you decide to go with them. Ask if this is a possibility before choosing your contractor.

Get Your Free Estimate Offer in Writing

Don't just assume that your estimate will be free because a company advertised free estimates. The estimate being advertised may not apply in your case. A better option is to ask for an offer to receive your free estimate in writing. This will cover you in the event that a bill for an estimate shows up down the road.

Don't Just Pick a Company Because The Estimate is Free

While a free estimate is enticing, you shouldn't choose a company based on "freebies" alone. Before hiring a contractor, check their customer reviews and reputation in addition to their qualifications and experience. If this company is the only company in your area offering free estimates, ask yourself why that may be. Free isn’t always best.

Most Importantly: Get at Least Three Estimates

Getting more than one estimate—three is best—will help you to establish a high cost, middle cost, and low cost for the project you need done. Consider paying for some of your estimates if you can't find three companies willing to provide free estimates. After all, the cost of paying for an estimate is nothing compared to the cost of choosing the wrong contractor for the job.

Once you pick a contractor, hold on to your original estimate to compare it to your final bill.

What to Expect When Getting a Free Estimate

First, your prospective contractor will set up a time to come out and look at the project. After the appointment, you can expect to get a scope of work, which details how long the project will take and how much it will cost. You may also get a peek at drawings or plans—particularly for larger projects—but don't expect to get copies unless you agree to hire them for the work.

What to Ask Before Hiring a Contractor

There are a few questions you should always ask a contractor before signing on the dotted line:

  • How many years of experience do you have?

  • Are you licensed and/or insured?

  • Will you obtain the necessary permits needed for this job?

  • Can you provide references?

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