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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I wanted to get everyone's feedback on doing estimates virtually. There have been some online estimate websites popping-up lately and I was wondering if people are using them or if you haven't heard of them, would you use them? For those who have not heard of them, these websites allow homeowners to submit their jobs online and then the website service provides them to the member companies. The companies then come up with a bid based on the information submitted and send it to the homeowner.

Sounds like a decent idea to me, especially with higher gas prices, many people only basing their decision of a contractor on price, and a lot of tirekickers. In theory, you could perform estimates at night and spend the day doing work (i.e. making money). What does everyone else think?
 

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We would be largely at the mercy of the homeowner providing accurate information. I think there is no substitute for us physically looking at the job. Most homeowners do not have the same eye for prep and intangibles that we all have. The best they can do is say "ok I want two coats on my ceilings, walls and trim and its all in good shape." We all know what we see in terms of joint repairs, screw pops, caulking, stains etc. that take some labor to repair. Also, without the site visit/estimate process we don't get the chance to get a feel for the homeowner and their expectations, special circumstances involved with working there, or the chance to make suggestions about the project that they may not have considered.
 

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We would be largely at the mercy of the homeowner providing accurate information. I think there is no substitute for us physically looking at the job. Most homeowners do not have the same eye for prep and intangibles that we all have. The best they can do is say "ok I want two coats on my ceilings, walls and trim and its all in good shape." We all know what we see in terms of joint repairs, screw pops, caulking, stains etc. that take some labor to repair. Also, without the site visit/estimate process we don't get the chance to get a feel for the homeowner and their expectations, special circumstances involved with working there, or the chance to make suggestions about the project that they may not have considered.
Ditto. Thanks for typing all that out so I didn't have to. I agree 100%, especially the first 3 sentences.
The only way this would work if the customer was looking for an educated guess, or a fairly decent ball park figure. I'm way too sure change orders would happen once we set foot on site.

Now, if you are a splash-n-dash type of company, (and I'm not at all saying anyone here is), then it could probably work, as you could bid just what the customer asks, and then do a blow-n-go. Most higher-end customers wouldn't be happy with this approach or final result.

BTW, I've bid several jobs from blueprints (which are obviously way more detailed than the average homeowner would be able to spec on a website), and can't remember the last time I bid from prints and I didn't have to throw out some change orders. Nothing beats physically seeing the site.
 

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Good point, Pro. And when those change orders start flying it looks like we are trying to screw them, or we end up having to struggle to get paid. And if you just do what they ordered you end up looking half-assed. We definitely need to be spec-ing and pricing scope of work based on our professional interpretation of what the homeowner is asking for. Unfortunately, homeowner perceptions are pretty screwy right now because alot of national media - Home Depot, HGTV - is pushing how simple and cheap painting is.

I dont think many high end clients would be using that kind of a service anyways. They seem to go more with word of mouth or trusted recommendation. I think these services would be getting the bargain hunters, probably similar to what alot of people on here are experiencing with Craigslist leads. Also, there is something about eliminating the middle man that we probably all ultimately appreciate. Half our job is educating the customer.
 

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We do estimates and get some good jobs without a visit
(the zero visit close lol)
Out of town or new property owners want to get in our schedule and want
to paint before moving in but have no more visits to their property left.

We need floor plans, MLS sizing info and detailed info on what they need.
It works great on condos, we practically have painted in most buildings,
there are only so many floorplans out there.

You need to put clauses like these in your contract, and you are covered:
- Small picture holes will be filled and included in this proposal. Any more patching or drywall repairs will be priced after inspection.
Prices quoted here are conditional on visual site inspection. Changes in the scope of work will necessitate a written authorization form (change order)
And you need a 30-40% deposit.

We did about 25-30 like these by now,
they were more profitable than others.
Often the crew shows up with tools, we have a 40% deposit
and we haven't met the home owner yet.

Busy professionals love the convenience and are willing to pay for it.


 

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I tried pricing a few jobs via email last year. I actually did sell one, and it was profitable. I did a site visit prior to finalizing the contract. The job included wallpaper removal! The customer sent photos and room measurements, as well as some descriptions. It was almost as good as being there.

So while I agree that it is best to inspect the job, I think there are situations where it isn't absolutely necessary. The perfect example: a new home, never lived in, and the customer simply wants color on the walls before moving in. If you include the clauses George mentions, you've covered yourself.

Brian Phillips
 

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Just put in a clause saying the price is only an estimate and will be confirmed upon visual inspection. Will the service let you do that?
 

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Can it be done? Sure. My only issue would be this. Without me there to sell confidence I'd have to rely on whole bunch of extraneous information and selling sheets to parley what I am giving. Again, that could work but closing ratio on semi-cold leads (non referral) would fall.

If a customer has nothing to base his decision upon except for a piece of paper with a price, how would a company that charges the highest rates have any hope of closing a sale? I think it is best for a newer company to make every single estimate a sales call. You will close more jobs. Geoge I hear what you are saying about busy professionals wanting to push the "easy button" but I have found that my customers want to meet the person whom is doing work around their house (even though the majority of the time it is not me anyway). I'm on the fence with this one because my time is becoming less and less and doing 80 estimates per month is like a full time job in itself.
 

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Can it be done? Sure. My only issue would be this. Without me there to sell confidence I'd have to rely on whole bunch of extraneous information and selling sheets to parley what I am giving. Again, that could work but closing ratio on semi-cold leads (non referral) would fall.

If a customer has nothing to base his decision upon except for a piece of paper with a price, how would a company that charges the highest rates have any hope of closing a sale? I think it is best for a newer company to make every single estimate a sales call. You will close more jobs. Geoge I hear what you are saying about busy professionals wanting to push the "easy button" but I have found that my customers want to meet the person whom is doing work around their house (even though the majority of the time it is not me anyway). I'm on the fence with this one because my time is becoming less and less and doing 80 estimates per month is like a full time job in itself.
If a customer has nothing to base his decision upon except for a piece of paper with a price, how would a company that charges the highest rates have any hope of closing a sale?
A piece of paper with a price on it?
They get way more than that.
Also give them some credit, most (or some) consumers are not stupid.
It's a small percentage that we do that way, but the above are not issues.
Of course you 'll need a lot of leads to spare.
It's funny, I could increase the bids on Adwords (they are low now)
Sit at my desk for a few days,
and close a few good jobs with deposits without leaving at all.

But I got fat doing that,
now I have to lose this weight.
 

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I am for anything that generates the lead. At that point you have to sell yourself. There are many painters on here who aren't the lowest priced, but manage to show the value of using them to complete the project. You have to give more than a price.
 

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With putting more money in Pay Per Click and our existing SEO marketing,
I don't have to leave the office or meet the customer
to close a few jobs in a hurry.

Is this what you are asking?

So other than the docile nature of the Adwords marketing, do you like it as a marketing tool?
 

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George, I do understand where you are coming from but I also have plenty of experience doing both types of "sales". Even if one piece of paper is twenty pieces of paper with perfect quality sell sheets telling your story, there is still not the emotional attachment and trust building of performing a live sale. Many people are going to skip to the bottom line before they do any reading. If they see my price at 300% the lowest bid they may very well look at all of the other literature as a snake oil sales pitch. Evidence? My closing ratio on a live sale is 60% versus 20% leaving proposal packets. Proposal packes cost more, are more time consuming and require follow up. In addition I will now have to increase my lead frequency by 300%. I have run the numbers and that brings my acquisition costs into bad territory.

My main point is that utilizing this method of doing estimating and selling for the new guys is probably not the best method unless they underprice. Trust me, I would rather switch to this method and it is not beyond me to do so. In spring I can have as many as 60 calls for estimates per week. That is a ful time job in itself. I don't mind lowering my closing ratio as my customer database is getting large and the majority of my work now comes from repeat business and referrals. To get to this level, it has taken awhile though.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Very interesting comments! I was just curious about what everyone thought. I do believe that the owner or estimator are truly the ones who make the sale, not a piece of paper summarizing what you will do for the price you charge.

I do find it interesting that you can do almost everything online now, so the thought would be that eventually we would get to the point where online estimates become more of the norm than the exception. I have only come across a few services for my area that offer customers the opportunity to get bids online. Quite frankly, the information they request is inadequate for you to ever perform an accurate estimate "virtually." In order for a system of this nature to work, I feel you would need the customer to complete a fill-in type form, as well as upload pictures of the job. No web service is quite to this point yet. A final point would be that as much as I want the customer to meet me, I also want to meet the customer. If I am doing a bid and I get the feeling the customer might be impossible to please, does not have the ability to pay, or might be a little too demanding, I want to know this so I can bid high. So, if I get the work, I want to be sure it is worth my time. If I don't, I am probably better off without it.
 

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I personally wouldn't use the service.

But, I see two good purposes aside from the obvious. First, if you don't like face to face, this would take care of it. Some great painters don't do really well in face to face sales, where the suave, good looking painter may take the job based on personal presentation.

Second, I would actually recommend a newer guy doing this and maybe taking a little loss to gain valuable experience. I'd expect it to be a situation where there's always more work than you bid on. Gaining experience means knowing how to deal with those situations. If you manage to avoid them, how do you learn?
 
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