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#156175 04/01/05 11:26 PM
Joined: May 2004
Posts: 697
Dave55 Offline OP
I got a call today. A guy wants me to bid a job about 15 miles away, a basement remodel. Will I do a free estimate?

I'm trying to reduce my unbilled hours this year, so I ask him if he has a print he can fax to my office (he doesn't). I tell him there will be charges if I come to his house. He asks if I charge hourly or by the job (I charge by the job).

Then it's...never mind, he's already had two guys over to measure and bid, he'll have one of them do it.

My point is, if I didn't have some kind of defense for these kind of guys I'd still be running all over the county for free...for a one in three chance of getting a job with a guy who's looking for low bid. If I plan an extra outlet or two (as he has no plan), or install a higher quality sub-panel, etc. my bid will be higher (with all other things being equal). I typically do install more outlets than required by code, so it's a waste of time.

It's good to have better customers. Anyone else tired of these kinds of calls?


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#156176 04/02/05 12:27 AM
Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 24
Dave, Unfortunately I know exactlly where you are comming from. Of all the free bids I have gone all over town to do I would say I get about 1% of them. Hardly enough to justify the gas, wear and tear on my pickumm-up truck, and most of all my time. I tell people now that it will cost them $20.00 for a bid but if they use me to do the work I will refund the $20.00. I just started doing this in January and havent had 1 customer go for it yet. That tells me right there they have no intention of using me to do their work, they just want a price. I would say that 100% of the people that call and ask for a free bid have no intention of ever using me to do their electric work. Maybe you could try the $20.00 for a bid and tell the customer you will refund it if they use you, if you do, tell me how it works for you.

#156177 04/02/05 10:42 AM
Joined: Dec 2004
Posts: 1,064
Well, you have to look at it like this also:

The other 2 guys, MAY have, went out and bid that job for free.

That gave them a 50-50 shot at getting the job, which someone did get.

If you can give the free estimate and the total time of the estimate was 1 hr, we'll say. Frome leaving your house, till the time you return. Heck, let's say 2 hrs.

2hrsX$50/hr=$100. That's $100 you in time you've spent.
Now on a 50-50 shot, let's assume you get 1 in 2 jobs. That's $200 you spent in time only.

If you get 1 job like that, you'll surely make the $200 back in change orders or extras pretty easily.

Same thing applies with 1 in 3 jobs, with 3 people bidding on it.

Sometimes you have to match what your competition is doing if you either need the work, or want the work.

If your busy as heck, charge for estimates.
If not, it may be something to think about.


#156178 04/02/05 11:48 AM
Joined: Jan 2002
Posts: 1,457
If you can give the free estimate and the total time of the estimate was 1 hr, we'll say. Frome leaving your house, till the time you return. Heck, let's say 2 hrs.

2hrsX$50/hr=$100. That's $100 you in time you've spent.
Now on a 50-50 shot, let's assume you get 1 in 2 jobs. That's $200 you spent in time only
What about the time spent on the phone discussing the job? (I just spent almost two hours discussing 4" recessed vs 6" vs white baffle vs alzak vs halogen vs incandescent) The time spent writting up the estimate? A $50 to $100 fee is more than reasonable and should be standard. That said I have not charged up front est fees because I work with a couple of contractors that more or less gurantee I will get the job. My estimates are more a formality for budgeting. I do however add an extra hour or two into the price that covers the estimating time.

[This message has been edited by Electricmanscott (edited 04-02-2005).]

#156179 04/02/05 01:48 PM
Joined: May 2004
Posts: 697
Dave55 Offline OP
My point, though, is that I'm installing a Squre D QO subpanel and breakers with more outlets and circuits than another guy installing a Homeline. I don't have a 1 in 3 chance of this job unless I can sell the additional work and quality to the customer. Based on price alone I'm wasting my time.

Another point...I'm starting to require customers to provide a bluprint or scale drawing. Is it really too much to ask if they have a plan? You take 3 different guys with a tape measure to a basement and I guarantee you'll have 3 different plans.


#156180 04/02/05 02:40 PM
Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 5,411
Likes: 1
Cat Servant
When dealing with the general public, there is a lot to be said for a "trip charge." Heck, call Sears for a service call- they won't come untill you've given them a credit card # and agreed to a trip charge. Why should you be different?
Customers ned to respect you, and appreciate that your time, and experience, are worth something. If you get the job, you can agree to rebate it!

As for there being no plan....well, the surest way to have trouble with a customer is to have a customer who doesn't know what he wants. If nothing else, having a well thought-out plan suggests the customer is committed to getting something done, and not just idly dreaming.

Let's face it...these days, everybody with a screwdriver thinks they're an electrician. There is no "up side" to doing the planning, and supplying a parts list, to some weekend wonder who will later blame you for everything that he does wrong.

#156181 04/02/05 02:48 PM
Joined: Dec 2004
Posts: 1,064

I understand your dilema, you are using better materials and adding more stuff than the other guys. Great selling point, but one that is hard to get across to customers.

Particuarly to the "cheapies" out there. They are only interested in the cheapest price.
The most important thing I have learned is how to figure out in the first 10 minutes talking to someone, whether they are looking for the cheapest, or most responsible contractor out there.

I still haven't mastered it, but I am getting better.

The first impression is what usually sells a job, in my eyes. If a guy shows up in torn up jeans and unshaven with yellow teeth, he could know everything there is and still not get the job. Yet someone else who shows up with a photo portfolio of recent jobs, and the experience to show customers different things, has a better chance of getting the job.
Residential work is an art all to itself. Just dealing with some of the people brings on unexpected headaches.

Agreed that you can spend alot of time on the phone with folks, but why?
I try to keep it short, and do as much business face to face. I can tell more from a person that way. Also, time on the phones suck, but we all gotta do it. Time on a phone is lost time. You generally don't make money while on the phone, but phone time is like opening a door. Use it to do that, open the door for you. Then get a face to face and close the sale. We all spend alot of time on the phone from all those @#$@$$ telemarketers that keep calling. I would love to send them a bill for wasting my time. I could retire by now.

The phone is a tool, you have to use it to your advantage,not let it dictate to you.

Sticking with the "free" estimates. I like to think along these lines. If I needed AC work done on my house, I would never pay a guy $50-$100 to come out and give me an estimate. What happens if the guy bids too high or too low, he still has my $100 and I'll never see him again, in fact he probably won't return my calls anyway.
Now I'm back to calling someone else and another $100 out the window.
When it comes to estimates, I TRY to do all of them on the same day, like a saturday, or during off hours, say after 5pm. I already did my work for the day, and then this type work is a un-billable hour, but really not.
See what I am saying here. Your spending time doing it, but really not stopping billable hour work to do it.Make sense?

Good luck.


#156182 04/03/05 05:55 PM
Joined: Feb 2003
Posts: 687
For HO doing their own remodeling with no electrical print we want to start charging a design fee. It's more than just an estimate when there is no print.

You show up to a large empty basement. They tell you there will be a bedroom, bathroom, office, closets, entertainment room, bar in no exact location. No door swing is figured out until you ask. They tell you price it out per code. So your measuring out outlets, figuring switching, and lighitng layouts. You end up telling them what should go where. With drive time easy 2 hours waisted.

I say qualify them on the phone. They ask how much to do a basement tell them the last few we did were between $3k-$4k. You can't price it out without an electrical print. To design a print will be $. You could also give them general prices over the phone like $$ per can or $$ per switch.

The last time our furnace broke we called and there was no free estimate. We were just happy someone came out.

It just seems like too much is included in a free estimate. Some people call up a say something does not work in their house. They ask you to come out after hours for free to solve the trouble and then give them a price. We tell them there is a service call for that. The people hang up and call the next EC. I can just see some EC going out to a home and finding a bad splice in the free estimate. Then the customer says I'm not going to pay that much for you to splice the wires.


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