I've thought about free estimates for months now. It is a substatial expense in time. What I've thought about the most lately are good clients who I got over the years by giving a free estimate.

There are many factors involved. Half of the display ads in the phone book here mention free estimates. While we don't want to reduce our business to the lowest denominator, we are in competition.

There are a few ways to handle free estimates.

1). Give the time away.
2). Consider it an overhead expense and include it in your rate.
3). Charge it in advance to those that want it as a prequalifying measure to weed out clients that want low price more than quality service.

From a personal perspective I want low price AND quality service. I usually have to call 10 contractors to get 2 or 3 to call back. Of those 2 or 3 I may find that none of them are insured (a real recent experience).

My conclusion so far is to do free estimates when I have time. If I'm sitting around praying for the phone to ring I'll do free estimates for anyone. If I'm installing 40-50 hours per week and doing 10-20 hours of office work when I can, I'll try to weed out the people that are only interested in low price.