Angie's List: What to expect when you ask for a free estimate

LEWISTON, ID - We've all heard the expression there's no such thing as a free lunch, but what about a free estimate?

Many service companies offer them, but how do you know that bid won't come with a price tag? In Angie's List report, what to expect when you ask for a free estimate.

"Typically we always offer free estimates," said Window Cleaning Company Owner, Mike Angle. "Sometimes we can talk to a couple of customers about the price on the phone by giving them a price of per window of what we charge and the type of windows they have. If they feel more comfortable with us coming out and giving an estimate, we can certainly do that."

"When it comes to free estimates the general rule of thumb is small jobs that don't require a lot of investigation work to figure out the problem will typically be free estimates," said Angie Hicks, Angie's List. "If it's a more involved job or something that is going to require figuring out what the problem is, that's when you typically see a charge."

"The reason why we can't always provide a free estimate is based upon service," said Electrical Contractor, Brian Ashpaugh. "Say in your home you have two bedrooms that the outlets don't work. You checked the breaker panel and all the breakers appear to be on and working but the outlets are no longer functioning properly. That we can't give a free estimate on because we have to come into the home, we actually have to do some physical electrical testing. Electricity is an invisible force. You can't tell like with other work."

"One thing consumers need to keep in mind when it comes to estimates is not always will companies deliver the estimate on site," said Hicks. "Be prepared, ask questions to find out when you'll have the estimate in-hand. Is it going to be same day? Is it going to take three days? That way you're not disappointed."

"I use a detailed, very descriptive quotation," said Ashpaugh. "I don't want there to be any gray areas where there could be misunderstanding and/or an unsatisfied customer thinking something was involved in a quote and it wasn't."

Angie's List said service providers might charge for an estimate if you decide not to hire them. While other contractors have a fee for providing a detailed bid that includes a line-by-line breakdown of the work. You should also ask if you'll receive an estimate on the spot or if you'll have to wait a few days.