What should I expect from a Free Estimate for our Kitchen Remodel?

Providing Free estimates for Kitchen Remodeling has been a standard practice for decades in the Remodeling industry. Homeowners look at this as a service that they can take advantage of when considering whether a kitchen remodel is possible for them. A typical homeowner will begin getting “estimates” so that they can identify the costs and ultimately find the right contractor. But in the contracting world the offering of “Free Estimates” has become a marketing and sales tool, sometimes with very little value to the homeowner’s that they visit. Below I’m outlining what you can expect from a “free estimate” versus what you may really need and how to get that information.

What Can you expect From a Free Estimate:

  1. The typical “Free Estimate” appointment. You call , they schedule a time to come to your home and look at you kitchen in order to provide the estimate. At this stage both people will be taking time from their schedules to meet which is fair as long as everyone involved in the decision making is present. Often times, only one person is present which is the first step in getting inaccurate or incomplete information.

  2. Lots of ideas are tossed around, some big dreams other more approachable, but for the estimate to be of any value it needs to be specific to one course of action. At this stage most contractors or their salespeople will default to the easiest scope of work and throw out general ballpark numbers for other changes. It’s almost impossible for you to keep it straight as to what the estimate actually includes and whether it accurately conveys the quality of materials you would expect.

  3. You walkaway with a couple of cost ranges and a detailed sales pitch on how they can take your kitchen any where you want for a price. They may or may not go back to their office and follow up with you providing a floor plan and proposal to get started on your project.

  4. Many homeowners will meet with as few as (2) companies and some with as many as (5) which can lead to vast ranges of cost between companies.

  5. Estimating is the same thing as Pricing except you don’t know what you will be installing, so it is like preparing a best guess. A bid is very different, it is when you have a specific scope of work with all the details and materials relating to the project already identified. It is important that you don’t think that you are getting a bid, many times customers are shocked when the original estimate is not even close to the proposed cost because of decisions made during the design and selection phase. This is where a Design Build company can excel at providing you with more accurate estimates and the guidance needed, helping you make the selections stay in line.

    6. Wild fluctuations from company to company is caused by (3) factors

    1. Opinions on what they think they heard you wanted and what they think you should do. It’s unfortunate but a truth that not all humans are good listeners. Misunderstanding of what they think you are visioning and what they are seeing can cause both low or high estimating.

    2. Great listeners can also bring up ideas and solutions you have not thought about. This can cause one estimate to be for an entirely different scope of work. One thought or idea could add/subtract substantial cost .

    3. The varying overhead costs each company maintains.

      The Direct cost of your project is the overhead of the employees and subcontractors and materials used to execute your project. Then general overhead is added to the project which covers the cost of the companies operations. General Overhead is maintaining office or showroom space, insurance, administrative personnel, management, benefits such as health insurance and 401K to employees, taxes, vehicle maintenance and continual education. For more information on cost you can read; “How do I select the right Company for my Kitchen Remodel?”. This is one of the reasons it is not the wisest decision to go with the cheapest estimate, quality employees and business practices protect you, the homeowner, comparing two companies that are not the same quality can lead to disastrous results.

  6. This is where “Free” typically ends and you can now expect to pay anywhere from a small fee to a large deposit based on the proposal that has been provided. What you pay to proceed with your project is determined by the Contractor/Company you move forward with. If the Contractor is only interested in installing and you provide materials then you are now sent off to finish the design and make selections without any cost at all. Final pricing will be subject to what you pick. If the Contractor includes design in his proposal they will either have a designer on staff (this is Design/Build) or give you the contact information on where you are to go to make your selections (not Design Build).

  7. Not all Contracting Companies offer free estimates for all types of Kitchen Projects. Once you start to talk about Design Build projects there are so many variables to what you could do and each affecting cost in impactful ways that a Free Estimate would be a waste of your time. Asking about a Feasibility Study or Project Development Agreement would be a much better value.

    When a Free Estimate Make the most sense:

    A free estimate makes the most sense when you are doing minor remodeling updates and a pull and replace kitchen project. Cabinet and other Material Costs can be allocated and the Direct Costs associated with the remodel can be estimated more accurately. It is not the best decision when looking at major structural or mechanical change to the space. The affects these scopes of work can have on the cost of all the moving pieces between electrical, plumbing, framing, as well as the additional material costs for cabinets, flooring and countertops make them basically worthless. In this event the next best option is a Feasibility Study.

    What is a Feasibility Study?

    A feasibility study is a paid process limited to identifying, rendering and estimating multiple options. A detailed feasibility study is valuable to you as the homeowner to determine if you have the right team to make your ideas come to life. It quickly shows you what improvements will be too cost prohibitive when compared to other options.

Then, if your investment range doesn’t seem like it will work with the costs you don’t waste your time spending hours designing and planning the wrong space. The investment range for a Feasibility Study can be several hundred dollars, but can save you thousands of dollars by identifying solutions that make a similar impact without all the headaches or cost of a larger remodel event. Once a Feasibility Study is complete you can move forward with the project by entering into a Construction Agreement or better yet a Project Development Agreement.

What is a Project Development Agreement?

A Project Development Agreement is a paid service offered by Design Build Companies and Interior Design Firms. The fee paid will either be a flat fee retainer or an hourly retainer based on the Companies policy. During the project development you will have a Kitchen Designer to consult with, prepare layouts, renderings, research available materials and specify with you all the products to be used in your proposed project. In some cases Architects and/or Engineers become involved. You receive individualized attention and someone who is guiding you on the decisions, making sure that the project is staying on track with your goals both in vision and cost. This is not an additional cost but takes the cost line item that would normally be included in a Design Build Proposal. By offering it as a stand alone feature it is the best way to obtain a fixed price contract that identifies your cost based on exactly what you plan on doing. No guesswork or Large deposits ahead of being provided with Final Costs. The Project Development Agreement can be used in conjunction with the Feasibility Study. Companies that offer the ability for Homeowners to work with them and obtain detailed costing information specific to them are more vested into the success of your overall project. Kitchen Remodeling is an investment into your home and overall quality of life. When a company invests in having the right people on staff guiding you through that creation process they will have a higher burden of overhead and will naturally cost more than a Contractor that sends you off to make selections on your own.


What if I don’t know what work I need done?

So what happens if you don’t know whether a Pull and Replace Kitchen or a more major Design Build Kitchen is what you want? In the past most homeowners have turned to the Free Estimate as the first step. But there is a much better alternative that will give you more of the information and vision that you need.

A Kitchen Design Consultation is a meeting with a Kitchen Design Professional in your home to review the state of your current kitchen. Armed with detailed life style questions and focusing on what your goals for the completed project look like this one appointment can provide the clarity you need to know how best to proceed. Usually billed at an hourly cost this will save you days of frustrating meetings and stress.


 Finding the right Kitchen Designer can be easier than you think. Many Design Build Remodelers can arrange for you to have a meeting in your home called a “consultation”.

You can expect that a consultation is a deeper discussion into the features and functions you want from your room's 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 that you feel comfortable with. It is also a great tool to use to begin to educate and build your project’s budget range.  An experienced pro will offer advice on the appropriate budget for the most expensive aspects of your project such as cabinets, flooring and countertops. They can also provide additional ways in which to save costs.  Consultations with the designer versus a sales rep saves valuable time and produces more accurate costing models because they understand more deeply what you are visioning and are going to be the one guiding you through the planning phases.


Understanding What You Need 

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


Final Word Free vs. Paid

The truth is there is no such thing as “Free” . It might be “Free” to you at the time but it is costing the professionals actual money to offer any “Free” services. When you become a customer the service is no longer free. The expenses of the time already provided is taken into consideration once you become a paying customer.  Here’s what I mean;

The cost burden of the “free” estimator in your home gets added into the overhead for the company, not just for your estimate but all the estimates that are done annually. They ultimately become part of the cost of overhead for your project.  He gets paid whether you move forward or not. That means that his overhead shows up in your project price and how greatly that affects your bottom line is dependent on how successful he is at selling. The more projects contracted the more projects his overhead gets split between. That is only not the case when an individual contractor is handling everything, which for larger more detailed projects could become a different problem.

Kitchen experts will charge for their time and they work hard to provide you with maximum value.  Remodeling your kitchen is a significant investment, a small fee for a Kitchen Designer or Certified Kitchen Remodeler is money well spent when you get a smart industry experts into your home to help guide you at the earliest stages. For more information on pricing I recommend “How do I select the right Company for my Kitchen Remodel?”.


What To Watch

  • Be watchful for those who waste your time providing no real value in advice, guidance or information, whether it be free or paid   

  • Obtain License and Insurance information before meeting with them

  • Before moving forward with any company after the meeting make sure everyone is on the same page as to what the goal of the project is, cost and scope

  • be weary of too much focus on who they are, their accolades or obtaining an immediate commitment to move forward because of promotions or discounts only good that day.

“Time is one of the most valuable resources we have these days; protecting it for each other is the ultimate sign of respect.”