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I got a note from a good friend the other day, he wanted me to review a request he had received from a potential client.

This potential client had a house built using the “lowest bid” contractor. The builder cut corners, leaving out little details like collar ties on the roof rafters. Yeah, just little details. Of course, the walls are now pushing out and leaks have occurred. You get what you pay for.

So, this potential client is looking for bids on what needs to be done to fix the problems. He supplied my friend a 6-page scope of repairs plus a drawing of the job, and he’s asking for a free bid. He said, in part:

I wanted to get 2 bids on my project. I understand completely that you do not want to spend any time or money on a project that you might not get.

The other contractor has not requested payment for his bid. The cost of your inspection would be relatively minor for the overall project, so the cost of the inspection is not an issue.

The issue for me is ethical. How can I ask one contractor to provide a proposal at his expense and then turn around and pay another contractor to provide a proposal? I can’t do that.

What would you do in a situation like this? My friend handled it well. He sent the prospective client a note and told him he would charge $750 to provide a quote on this job. Of course, if my friend gets the contract the $750 will be applied to the cost of the job.

This potential client is covered in red flags. Start with the fact that the minute you touch this job, you bought the problem. If the original builder didn’t install collar ties, what else did he forget that hasn’t surfaced yet? Add in that the builder apparently hasn’t learned that bids aren’t the best way to pick a contractor, and you can see that your odds of getting this risky job are low unless you want to have the lowest price.

If the other contractor is willing to work for free, that’s his choice. Protect your business, protect your future, be wary of potential clients who don’t value your time or your work. Knowing when to walk is a good thing to know.

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