Free Estimates vs. Free Consultations

I would absolutely say yes there is a difference between a Free Estimate and a Free Consultation. An estimate is the anticipated cost of work to be completed. A Consultation is an analysis of wants and needs which may or may not include an estimate of cost of work to be completed. But first let’s make sure that we understand the key characteristics of each.


Anatomy of an Estimate

1. The Details or “Scope” of work has been determined.

2. Product to be used has been selected

3. Takes place in your home

4. There is zero value to the estimate if 1 and 2 has not been determined.

5. Next step is usually sending you off to see their approved vendors

6. Typically lasts 30 minute

An example of an estimate as it relates to kitchen and bath remodeling would be; costs to install a specific cabinet layout, install a defined amount of tile or flooring, painting a particular area and may or may not include a generic (unrelated to your wants and needs) dollar amounts placed on materials. You want to avoid making your buying decision from the “free estimate” particularly if your project has a lot of variances built into it. This can be when the cost can be greatly influenced by decisions yet to be made making the estimate not worth your time. An estimate is more of a commodity, you should be able to have 3 professionals create 3 duplicate estimates so you can determine the best value. An estimate can be an extremely valuable tool if you treat it as a “bid” process but it only works if all the details; scope of work, materials have been selected has been determined. Use this for task based pricing.


Anatomy of a Consultation

1. Wants and Needs analysis is performed as part of the consultation

2. Professional is more interested in the development of your project which includes design and product selection

3. Ideas and advice is given based on their experience and your wants and needs

4. Budget ranges can be developed but are dependent on final design development

5. Next step is usually a Design or Project Development Service retainer

6. Can take place at their place of business or your home

7. Typically lasts 1 ½-2 hours

A free consultation is a deeper discussion into the features and functions you want from your room remodel. By discussing your specific wants and needs specific elements and ideas can be shared. The more details discussed the better information can be provided. A consultation is an excellent tool to find a professional you know, like and trust to guide you through the process of designing your remodel and developing your scope. It is also a great tool to use to begin to educate and build your project’s budget range.  An experienced remodeler will offer advice on the appropriate budget and the ways in which to save costs during the design and selection process.  Consultations with the remodeler and/or the designer saves valuable time and produces more accurate costing  models because they are going to be the one guiding you through the planning phases.


Understanding What You Need 

Understanding the differences will help you make the first important decision in the remodel process; who should I talk too about my remodeling questions. If you need help planning your remodel then the consultation format is going to give you a lot more information. If you know what you want but need someone to do the work then the estimate will be advantageous. Either way ,by simply asking during the phone conversation, what is included in their “Free Estimate or Free Consultation” you will be able to quickly separate the contractors who are focused on providing a generic or task related price to those that are there to educate and guide the process. Both are valuable but for different needs in your process.


Free vs. Paid

The truth is there is no such thing as “Free” . It might be “Free” to you but it is costing the professionals in time and/or actual money to offer this service. Some industry experts will charge for the consultation if they have to travel outside their office or showroom to your home. The best and brightest in the design and planning arena will charge for their time, look for reasonable fees for valuable information. Most will then offer a credit against the cost of a future service should you decide to move forward. As consumers we have been trained to believe that cheaper is better and Free is the jackpot. A small fee is money well spent when you get a smart industry expert into your home to help guide you at the earliest stages. Particularly when you consider that you will be making a significant investment into this project.


What To Watch

Be watchful for the professionals who waste your time providing no real value in advice, guidance or information, whether it be free or paid. You should gain clarity regarding what changes you want to make, have additional resources to check out, and understand the process and next steps. Too much focus on the process and next steps is a sales call not a consultation. Your time is the most valuable thing you control so I recommend protecting it, if a professional is wasting your time it’s costing you money.