We often receive calls from home owners wanting to know how much it will cost to get a dryer outlet installed, or hot tub etc. Most of the time we are reluctant to provide a price over the phone. The caller gets frustrated because, to them, it is a simple question. I would like to help potential customers understand that it really isn't.
Most of the time for smaller projects I will tell them that I charge by the hour plus materials, simply because there are so many variables that it would be impossible to give an accurate quote over the phone. It isn't the same as calling a mechanic and asking them how to change a fuel pump on your car. Houses are all somewhat different in the way they are constructed, different eras used different materials etc. the only way to provide an accurate price it to take a look at where you want the item installed, get measurements and see what kind of obstacles might hinder or help in the installation.
When we offer to do the job at an hourly rate, You should know we are really trying to do you a favor and save you some money. In most cases if we are forced to provide a price ahead of time over the phone we must account for the worst case scenario, resulting in a higher price than if we were to come out and do the work by the hour. By the same token it may not cost you to have someone come out and give a "free" estimate, but you should know that the cost in fuel and manhours that provider has to absorb in order to provide the "free" estimate is normally included in the price to do the work.
Finally don't get upset if a provider refuses to come out and give you a free estimate for a small job such as hanging a ceiling fan or adding a switch. If you look at it logically the provider would have 1-