The myth of the “free” estimate is one that I have to constantly battle. A free estimate is an estimate that is provided to a contractor, owner or architect for no cost, in the hopes that when the project moves forward they will get better consideration once the project is awarded. This method of estimating is a conflict of interests for the project.
First, there is an incentive for the contractor to make the estimate lower that it should be. The project will not be built if it is over-budget, and the contractor will not get paid unless the project moves forward. Early in the design phase of the project it is critical to be honest about the cost of construction, so design decisions can be made early on.
Second, is the fact that any estimate costs money. When people’s time and resources are being used, money is being spent. Make it known to the person that is requesting the estimate that it does cost money and what the cost will be. By paying for services, you can minimize the expectation of the project being awarded to whoever provided the free estimate.
Third, with the free estimate, you get what you pay for. If there is not going to be payment for services, you are not going to get the best end product. Your estimate will not be a priority, and if you push the deadline, you will just get an “estimate” that is more of a wild ass guess (WAG) which is even worse than the free “estimate”, aka scientific wild ass guess (SWAG).
So, don’t be taken in by the promise of a “free” estimate! Remember, you get what you pay for!