We are hearing from several sources that some handymen, contractors and service providers are charging for estimates with no apparent intent on doing any work.
Here's how it works:
The company representative arrives at your home or place of business after telling you upon initial contact that a fee is required for an estimate and receives a check from you before they leave. In most cases this is roughly $50.00. You were told that the estimate will be applied to your project if you decide to use their services. When the bid is presented after the representative leaves (via email or by phone) it is so high that you reject it at once or decide to obtain other bids. The company giving you the bid can and will do the work if you choose them and they will apply the estimate fee to the total price. However, you will be paying much more than to most other providers.
We have heard of one cleaning company that collected $40.00 to provide an estimate for a customer that needed a garage cleaned (remove boxes, furniture, etc.and clean) and cleared of a few rat droppings, oil and battery acid (one leaking battery stored in a sealed container) and other items that required some special handling (standard yard and garden chemicals and old paint all contained properly). The cleaning company does not do this kind of work and they even stated that they usually prefer housecleaning upon arrival. It turns out that they do basic house cleaning only.
Based on the status of the garage when we saw it, the work was not considered "hazardous" by our standards. Using gloves and a mask and delivering the items to a appropriate facility was all that was required. The homeowner's relative actually did the work in order to save the $125.00 bid we provided but we were surprised to hear that the other company provided a bid of $1750.00!!! We saw the bid and there was no mention of how they were going to do the work, who would do the work, any special tools or equipment they thought they needed, where the debris would be taken or how long it would take. It simply said, "remove hazardous material and sweep out garage".
We also heard of a contractor that gave a bid for a fence for $6700.00 when two other companies provided bids of under $2000.00. All three required payment for the estimate and the company winning the job did apply it to the final price.
Here's what we suggest you do when someone requires you to pay for an estimate.
1. Call around to find a company that doesn't charge for estimates.
2. Ask why you need to pay if you can't find a free estimate.
3. Make sure the representative is taking notes and go over the notes with them.
4. Ask for a ballpark figure or cost range before they leave.
5. Always try to get a written estimate before they leave.
We charge an estimate fee ONLY when we have to travel outside our standard service area mainly for fuel costs and we apply it to the project cost should you choose us. We prefer to work locally so we won't have to charge fees for estimates.