Companies have advertised getting a free no obligation in-home estimate for years but is it truly free? Like anything in life, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.


Back in the 1990's when the window replacement industry was taking off and the economy was booming, window companies could charge upwards of $1000 per window. How would they do it? First off, the average consumer knew much less about windows, their advantages, and their cost then people do now. So, companies would try hard-sell tactics. They would send a salesperson to a customer's home for a “Free In-Home Estimate” and try to sell them windows right on the spot. The salesperson would walk around the home and point out the various problems with the existing windows and how much energy the person could save if they switched to energy efficient vinyl windows. The salesman would then whip out his price book and put together a quote. He would try to tell the customer that the offer he is giving would only last until the end of the day because its so “special”. He then would grill the homeowner for three or four hours until he got them to sign a contract.


The window industry has come a long way since those good old days. With the inception of the internet, consumers have become much more educated in the window field. Also, the tides have turned with the economy so people are much more price conscious and sensitive then they were in the 90's. Companies have changed from hard sell in-home tactics to bait-n-switch showroom techniques. Bait-n-switch showroom techniques are when a company advertises they have a certain well known product to get the customer into their showroom, and then when they come in, they try to switch them to a product which is less known and they make a higher profit on. For example, everyone knows the name Milgard. They have done a fantastic job on marketing themselves to the public and really becoming a household name in the window replacement industry. Since everyone knows Milgard, many companies use the name to lure customers in. You have to understand one thing, there are thousands of dealers that sell the same windows. One company may buy windows a little cheaper than the old glass shop because of the volume that they do. But, if you were a window dealer, why would you sell a product that everyone else already has? What's your competitive advantage? Where is your profit going to come from? The more well-known a product is, the more people sell that product, the more competition there is for that product, and the less you can mark that window up because you have to stay competitive. So what do companies do?


  1. They use the bait-n-swtich tactic → They use a big name to lure the customer in and then when they come into their showroom, they point out another product which is less known but is “so” much better. They highlight the flaws in the window they actually came to see and point out the unparalleled benefits of the lesser known window. So in the end of the day, they sell you the window they make the highest percentage on.

  2. Manufacturer the windows themselves. Although this is a highly costly operation, companies who decide to manufacturer their own windows and sell them direct to the public can sell their windows at a premium. Why? They have elaborate ways of selling you the fact that they have control over every minor detail of the production process and that they are local and not a big corporation. But look at it this way, what company do you think is more successful at building windows, a multi-billion dollar company like Milgard, or some local manufacturer? Secondly, a local manufacturer could go out of business any day, a big window corporation, although not impossible, is a lot less likely to go out of business. So, if the small local company goes out of business, your warranty goes town the tubes and you are out of luck.


Back to the topic at hand, what makes a free-estimate not really free?

Well, number one, when a company sends out a salesperson to your home, someone has to  for the time, salary, gas, and automobile of that person. So if it's not you, then it's the next customer. The estimate you get at your home is free if you don't buy anything. So in that sense you are getting something free. But the next customer who buys windows will pay for that salesperson going to all those other people's houses two-fold and that's why its not free.


What you can do


Don't get caught up with companies who want to come to your home and give you a free in-home estimate. Take a tape measure and measure your own windows. Go to a few window shops and call a few places, give them the sizes of your windows, and shop for the best price. If you have questions about styles and code compliance, ask the salesperson to help you figure it out. Then, either install the windows yourself, ask a handy friend, or hire a trusted contractor to install the windows for you. You will save a bunch of money going this route and you won't get taken advantage of.