Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Free. It would be best if you looked at anything offered as free with a bit of skepticism. I earned my MBA in 2010, and one thing that has stuck with me is the phrase, "there is no such thing as a free lunch." And yes, that includes if someone pays the tab. That doesn't make sense; how can that be? At best, during that time eating lunch, you could be doing something else, making money, or making you happy. At worst, someone might ask you to lunch because they have a hidden agenda like they want to borrow your truck!
The allure of free estimates
Offering free estimates will get a handyman more leads, no doubt about it. But for the customer, does free mean better? Going with the lowest price out there may be the obvious choice. But I'll argue that it is not. Now, if you are shopping for a widget, sure, the lowest price will drive the decision of who you buy it from, maybe Wal-Mart, Costco, or Amazon.com. But keep this in mind; that widget is likely the same everywhere you can find it, probably from the same manufacturer and sold in each store. The only difference is the price.
In the service industry, the same would apply if ...
they all show up on-time every-time
were equally trustworthy
did impeccable work
used the same quality materials
always finished the job on time and on budget
Keep looking for the lowest price on that widget, but when you choose a mechanic, surgeon, or handyman, consider that quality, service, and peace of mind are important. You can go with the lowest price and hope it turns out ok, or you can choose someone with confidence that it will be done right.
Time = Money
The time of customers and service providers is valuable. When you sign up for that "free" estimate, there is not a lot of obligation there. They might show up on-time or 30 minutes late, or they might not even show up. After all, it's not like you hired them to do anything yet. Here is another quote for you, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." So, if an opportunity to make fast money pops up, they won't think twice about ghosting you (who might give them money) for a better paying or more likely opportunity (where they know they will get money).
Money = Time
Preparing a quote or an estimate can be a time-consuming, thankless job, but in the end, you want someone that has spent some time (and thought) on getting it right and is tailored specifically to your needs. By charging for that effort, I can give the most accurate estimate that I can and make sure it is planned, resourced, and finished right the first time. Or you can go with a "free" quote which results in someone trying to get it done as quickly as possible, usually generic and frequently inaccurate. And I will deduct the price of the estimate from the final invoice; how is that for a deal?
The Bottom Line
So there it is; it makes sense that if you pay someone to be there at a specific time and do a particular thing, they will show up. And it might also make sense that instead of going with the cheapest option, it might make more sense to pay a decent rate in exchange for a better experience.