Q: Should you charge for estimates?

Lynn Bucknell

Man using laptop at home.When you are working with potential customers, you encounter a wide range of people. You might be working with professional property managers, or you could be dealing with someone who has never hired a contractor before.

Regardless of a prospective customer’s experience, though, there’s one thing I know: My target market does not include price shoppers. We love to paint, we’re experienced, and I know we do it right. But if someone is shopping based exclusively on price, I’ll almost always lose that job.

When I’m working with someone for the first time, I like to have a conversation about the job and their previous experience with a painter. I’ll ask why they aren’t going with the painter they hired the last time. Eventually, many will say they’re trying to find out how competitive their painter is. That’s a price shopper, and those aren’t the types of customers that are a good fit for my business.

And that’s a big part of why I charge for estimates. We charge just $20 for an estimate. We’re typically bidding on large, expensive jobs, and if a customer doesn’t think my estimate is worth $20, then I know we won’t be a good match. They’ll know it too—and they’ll opt out of the sales process, saving us all a lot of time and aggravation.

Someone once asked me why I picked $20. I said: Because there’s no $25 bill. Honestly, it’s kind of an arbitrary dollar amount because if you look at what we provide in an estimate, it’s worth far more than $20. And that’s what I tell our customers. I explain that it’s a two- to three-hour process, at the end of which we provide a detailed spreadsheet that breaks down the costs and shows the level of service we provide.

Of course, this works well for my business because we have a lot of leads coming in, so we have the luxury of being a little pickier about our jobs. Not everyone is in that position. If you don’t have a lot of leads, you might not feel you can charge for estimates. (You might also need to spend more time on your marketing efforts to increase those leads.)

That said, when business is slow—for many of us, that’s November to April—you might want to lay off charging for estimates. You need to be smart and make sure your painters are taken care of and your business thrives. I also waive the estimate fee for a repeat customer.

But if you do have a lot of leads and you’re getting frustrated because you’re spending a lot of time doing a lot of estimates and those customers are going elsewhere, then I suggest charging for estimates. It doesn’t have to be enough to totally compensate you for your time. I’ve been told I should charge $200 to $300 for an estimate, but at the end of the day, for me, $20 is the right amount to simply screen out the price shoppers and allow me to focus on genuine prospects.


BicknellLynnBicknell established Bicknell Painting Inc. in 1981. His talented team focuses on residential custom repainting— providing customers with a consultative approach to high-quality, painless repainting and light-carpentry services. Prior to starting his business, Bicknell worked as a realtor for nearly 12 years and served in the U.S. military before that. He has a B.A. in history and political science from The University of Vermont. Visit

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