As a general rule, Jerry Wallace doesn’t believe in providing free estimates.

The president of Swim Chem, a large pool service, repair and maintenance firm in Sacramento, Calif., usually tells homeowners who inquire that if one of his technicians comes onto the property, a service charge is included.

However, there are exceptions to every rule.

“Right now we’re running a special on variable-speed pumps,” Wallace says. “So whenever we’re doing something like that, or anything of an energy-savings nature, we generally will do free estimates.”

Because the pumps are relatively high-dollar items, and the economic climate in Northern California remains tepid at best, Wallace is willing to make the exception.

In fact, he likens it to the old adage that says you don’t quit advertising when business is slow. “That’s when you have to spend a little more money to get more work,” he says. “And that’s where we are with free estimates in this down economy. Sometimes you have to do whatever you can to get jobs.”

Indeed, even the staunchest opponents of free estimates manage to include perks in certain instances. Bryan Chrissan, owner of Clear Valley Pool & Spa in Temecula, Calif., typically avoids the practice. He often likens it to giving away intellectual property.  

However, Chrissan says he does give regular customers 15 minutes of his time, free of charge, to diagnose any heater problem.

“My regulars are different,” he explains, “but I do put that waived charge on their bill or invoice, just so they can see that freebie. As those pile up over the year, they can see all the free labor I’ve given them, so it’s a reminder in a sense.”