Sometimes I wonder how honest a home service company really is. I'm leery of people in general. Like when you go to an automotive repair place and they give you a list of 7 or 8 things that all need to be replaced and it totals more than your car is worth. You really don't need all that, but the guy is on a commission and they are pushing everything they can. Of course, you want them to be honest. What do you really need? Does it need to be addressed now or should it be scheduled in the next 3 months, 6 months or when? You build trust when you're honest with customers and long term, a loyal customer base.
Other groups I'm leery of are plumbers or heating and cooling contractors. Sometimes, you schedule a service call. They charge you $89 or so to come out, regardless. I understand that since they have payroll costs and overhead. So I often agree...but mostly because I seem to have no other choice. I would like to see the service call or estimate charge to be at cost though.
Unfortunately, some people will have a person come out to diagnose the problem without ever intending to have them fix it. You want their expertise, but not the cost of their expertise. I know. I've been there too....mostly at the automotive dealership service department. They often have a diagnostic fee. It takes time to check things out and the knowledge of the technician is worth something. They've had training and schooling and just pure experience that allows them to know what's wrong when you don't. You should expect to pay for that.
Is the service call and the diagnostic fee the same? or combined? in most cases, I think they are. The cost to send a tech to a service call may be $50 and if they spend 30 minutes diagnosing the problem and giving an estimate, a $89 is probably not out of line.
Maybe they should tell us "yes, I understand what is needed. I can fix it for $359 or I can tell you what needs to be replaced for $129 (which pays for my expertise and diagnosis)." I wonder how people would react to that. If you want them to diagnose the problem so you can can fix it yourself cheaper, maybe you should expect to pay for their diagnostic fee or service call fee.
I've paid $100 for an estimate only to have it twice or more of the industry average. They guy should have just told me he wasn't interested. But he took my $100....in advance.
On the contractor's defense, driving around town doing free estimates can get expensive if you don't actually book any of those jobs. People should honor the salesperson's time or technician's time and effort involved in travel and estimate preparation. It does force the contractor to be competitive, for the most part. But I also know contractors that charge twice what others do. They just seem to have more aggressive salespeople.
Probably the most fair approach is if the consumer will accept a "diagnostic fee" and a reasonable repair cost. Most contractors roll their diagnostic time into the repair cost which then appears inflated. Unfortunately, not everyone gets this and in certain industries, consumers expect free estimates.
Check out www.waterheatersfishers.com for water heaters. They provide free estimates to my knowledge. Just know they have costs associated to providing those estimates. They are licensed plumbers and do a great job. Maybe the biggest thing is that you can trust them.