What is a “Free Estimate”, and Should you decide whether or not to acquire one?


What is a “Free Estimate”, and Should you decide whether or not to acquire one?

Everyone loves free, right? Let’s face it, the term “free” automatically gets our attention.  It’s used in advertising everywhere. From free fries with a burger, to buy-one-get-one free offers, everyone likes to think they are getting “something” for nothing.  Free is great. I like free, you like free. Free is good. It means “Yes, i got SOMETHING”!

We feel good when we get something. As long as it puts us ahead of whatever we gave to get the “free something” to begin with. Free offers work for many of our daily consumables. Shampoo, soap, coffee and soda and even the “35% more macaroni” we just consumed. For consumables and other commodity-type goods, FREE is a great marketing tool. When you have a choice between two brands of the same type of “thing”, FREE is a great way for one to stand apart from the others. So when does it not make sense to trust “free”?

So when does it not make sense to trust “free”? That’s a tough one. Perhaps we are so used to “free” that it’s hard to imagine someone offering goods or services without a “we can help you for free” type of offer. Think hard. It may sound silly, but would you trust specialized service providers enticing you with free? How about “buy 1 eye, get 1 eye free” Lasik surgery? Or, buy “2-1/2 quart oil change, receive the other 2-1/2 quarts free” offer? Perhaps the “Free upper mouth teeth cleaning with every bottom mouth cleaning purchase”? Yeah, the examples are ridiculous. But they are a reminder: Why invest in only half the amount of success? Wouldn’t you rather have both eyes functioning, or ALL your oil changed? And if you’re only getting one half of your mouth cleaned, forget it.

Free is good, but only when it’s relevant to your success in whatever you’re acquiring. Free is good when distinguishing between two shampoos, both of which will clean your hair. Or between two burgers both of which would fill you up. FREE works great as a hook for services or goods where you have to pick two very similar products. Free seldom works to distinguish between overall value, customer service, experience and skill.

As a professional kitchen & bath design showroom in Baltimore, one of the biggest questions we answer is, “do you give free estimates?” It’s a valid question. Undoubtedly at some point in the past, a salesperson at a big-box store decided that providing free estimates would be a great marketing tool, and it has become generally accepted by the public today that the construction industry provides free estimates to anyone who asks for one. How often have you seen a contractor’s truck with a sign that says “Free Estimates!”? Some remodeling contractors give free estimates, and so do we depending on the situation. In relation to home remodeling, there are a few projects that lend themselves to free estimates. However, not all home improvement and major remodeling projects are conducive to the word “free.”

But what is a “free estimate” exactly? The word estimate can be a verb or a noun. The definition of the verb is to roughly calculate or judge the value, number, quantity, or extent of something, while the noun is an approximate calculation or judgment of the value, number, quantity, or extent of something. So it stands to reason that the definition of a “free estimate” when applied to the construction industry would be an approximate calculation of the cost to complete the project, provided free of charge to the prospective client. However, what most prospective clients want and expect, when they request a free estimate, is an exact cost, and not an estimate at all. After all, who would want to embark upon a major kitchen or bathroom remodel, addition, or renovation project in Baltimore County based only upon an approximate calculation? We certainly wouldn’t!

The old adage “you get what you pay for” is no more appropriate than with regard to home improvement work. A kitchen & bath designer that provides a free estimate is HOPING to get the job. And a designer that is paid to provide a detailed project proposal is planning HOW to do the work, and in so doing, is able to spend the time that is necessary to prepare a budget and scope of work that is accurate and comprehensive.

Additions to your home, major modifications to your kitchen and bathrooms, and other larger-scale remodel projects are not good candidates for free estimates. Why? It’s simple. These projects are complex; they require a great deal of design, planning, budgeting and a sizeable investment. Getting a quote from a local contractor may in fact be free; however, the design required to obtain an accurate and firm estimate is not.

For many remodel projects, a detailed, to-scale plan helps set the scope of a project, the parameters in which to work, as well as depict how a homeowner should expect a project to look when it is completed. This attention to detail, the fact gathering and all else that is required to give a guaranteed price to complete the work as specified does not come without cost. Giving a free estimate without agreed upon details doesn’t mean much when it comes to extensive home modifications.


       “Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, we can indeed custom design a wood hood for your kitchen. In fact, we will do it in a deep barn red color, just like you asked. It will cost about “x amount of dollars”.  What, you want to know what it will look like and how it will tie-into and blend into the your home? Well, we don’t really know. BUT, we do know we can do it and it should be about this much money. But, will you be able to match the style of our home so it doesn’t look out of balance and appears as though it was custom made for our house’s architecture?”   Ummm.


Sure, you can trust your contractor to make it happen, but you will have to wait and see how it turns out. Good luck and happy gambling.  Consider yourself lucky if you at least get a nice pencil sketch on a McDonald’s napkin to portray how your investment of your home will look.  The reality is if you trust a “free estimate” to give you something you like that suits your tastes, your needs and the style of your home, you’re likely to be disappointed.



At Grandior Kitchens & Baths we will gladly meet with a prospective client to discuss a project free of charge, and will also provide an informal, high level estimate of what we think a project will cost. If a prospective client is interested in possibly moving forward with a project, for a reasonable fee, we will prepare a detailed design work, drawings, budget and scope of work that explains clearly and precisely how the project will look, what needs to be done, and how much it will cost.

If services of general contractors and builders are required, we can provide names of some of the ones we have worked with before on many occasions. Not only are our prospective clients provided with accurate budgets, this process allows them to get to know us in a professional capacity and to see how we perform, all without further obligation or commitment. After all, wouldn’t it be better to determine that a particular Designer is a good fit prior to starting work, and that the project budget was not based upon an approximate calculation?




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