PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — We’ve all heard the expression there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but what about a free estimate?

Many service companies offer them, but how do you know that bid won’t come with a price tag? In today’s Angie’s List report, here’s what to expect when you ask for a free estimate.

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When is a free estimate really free? The answer may depend on your project.

“When it comes to free estimates, the general rule of thumb is small jobs that don’t require a lot of investigation work to figure out the problem will typically be free estimates,” Angie Hicks, of Angie’s List, says. “If it’s a more involved job or something that is going to require figuring out what the problem is, that’s when you typically see a charge.”

Brian Ashpaugh says when it comes to electrical work; his company offers free estimates on new installations.

“The reason why we can’t always provide a free estimate is based upon service. 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 proper,” said Ashpaugh. “That we can’t give a free estimate on because we have to come into the home, we actually have to do some physical electrical testing. Electricity is an invisible force. You can’t tell like with other work.”

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Every company has a different definition, so always ask what the estimate entails and how they plan to deliver it to you.

“Typically, we always offer free estimates,” said Mike Angle, of owner of the Window Cleaning Company. “Sometimes we can talk to a couple of customers about the price on the phone by giving them a price 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.”

“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,” added Hicks. “One Angie’s List member reported she thought she was getting a free estimate from a company, but when the company was there they presented her with a bill for $45, for a trip charge. So don’t get tripped up by the terms that can be used for these charges.”

Angie’s List says service providers might charge for an estimate if you decide not to hire them. While other contractors have a fee for providing a detailed bid that includes a line-by-line breakdown of the work. You should also ask if you’ll receive an estimate on the spot or if you’ll have to wait a few days.

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