Angie's List: How much do 'free' estimates cost?

INDIANAPOLIS - If you're a homeowner looking to start a project or in need of a repair, you may be lured to some contractors who offer free estimates or consultations.

Angie's List founder Angie Hicks said homeowners should be cautious because every "free" offer isn't free.

"When it comes to free estimates, the general rule of thumb is small jobs that don't require a lot of investigation or work to figure out the problem will typically be free estimates," Hicks said.

Ashpaugh Electric in Westfield offers free estimates on new installations, but in most cases, not on actual repairs.

"Say in your home you have two bedrooms that the outlets don't work. You checked the breaker panel and all the breakers appear to be on and working but the outlets are no longer functioning properly. We can't give a free estimate on that because we have to come into the home. We actually have to do some physical electrical testing," Brian Ashpaugh said.

Every company has a different policy so it's important to ask what each estimate entails, Mike Angle with Window Genie said.

"Typically we always offer free estimates. Sometimes we can talk to a couple of customers about the price on the phone by giving them a price of per window of what we charge and the type of windows they have. If they feel more comfortable with us coming out and giving an estimate, we can certainly do that," Angle said.

"Make sure you understand any type of charge that might occur with an estimate. Some companies might offer a free estimate, but make sure they don't have a trip charge or a fuel surcharge that you'll be hit with instead," Hicks said.

For example, one Angie's List member said she was charged a $45 fee for an estimate she thought was free.

It's always best to ask for a line-by-line price breakdown before hiring a contractor.

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