So you can relax your powers of deduction, I will inform you at the start that the photo above has nothing whatsoever to do with my post today. It is simply a Bucerias, Mexico street scene, where frogs not only eat flies, but are also musicians.
In the last three weeks I have been taken advantage of three times. Being a self-employed tradesman, I give free estimates. Three times I was called on to give an estimate and in all three cases there was absolutely no intention to have me do the work.
Case 1: A very pleasant young mother whose husband works in Ft. McMurray and has no time to do the re-decorating, wants me to give her a price on basically re-doing the main floor area in her home. This always involves a trip to the location, a consultation, and then a period of time to work out the figures for labour and materials and then putting it in a email or a hard copy that gets mailed. She called back a day or two later, and then four more times, revising the amount of work to be done and wondering what this or that aspect of the job, by itself, would cost. In the end, there was no work, but they were simply trying to figure out what to pay the friends and relatives that ended up actually doing the work.
Case 2: An old neighbour calls and says his daughter bought a home and he would like me to give an estimate for re-doing the whole house. As I ask questions and want the address so I can come take a look, he begins to get evasive. He is a really good guy and honest as the day is long and I sensed that something was going on. He finally admitted that he and his family were going to paint the whole house but wanted to amortize the cost of the paint job into the mortgage and the bank needed to see a written estimate. Because I like him and I did not need to be too detailed or accurate with the estimate, I consented but it still cost me time and effort.
Case 3: I get a call from an apartment manager who needs an estimate to get a vacant suite ready for renting at the end of the month. I spend the time to go there, question him on what exactly he wants, do a colour match, and then go back home where I work out a price, print it off, and hand deliver it back to him later in the day. (he has no computer to which I can send an email with estimate attached.) As the deadline for the work approaches and I have not had the 'go ahead', I call and discover, by reading between the lines of his comments, that all he needed was to know how much to charge the building owner if he did the work himself.
A friend suggested that I charge a minimum amount for estimates, in other word, no more free estimates. My friend is not in the trades nor is he self-employed and does not get it. If I do that, I get zero work and zero jobs. Even refunding the fee if I get the contract will not work. Potential clients refuse to pay for an estimate as long as there are free ones 'out there'.
The cost of doing this is either absorbed by me, or I raise my prices and pass it on to the next job. Both ways are unfair. The old axiom is true. "Whenever someone gets something for nothing, someone has to give something for nothing".