Getting Estimates for Replacement Windows
We live in a major metropolitan area in
Southern California and there are dozens of replacement window companies
to choose from. All of the ones we contacted offer free in home
estimates. When we began scheduling the estimates, we were pleased
to discover that the companies were very flexible as to when they
would come. They had no problem with after work appointments around
6:00 p.m. and some would even do Saturday appointments. Of course,
this was great because it made it easy for my wife and me to both
be present. Some of the companies even made a point that they wanted
both spouses to be there during the estimate. We later found out
they gear parts of their presentation to the husband and parts to
the wife. For example, they figure if they man of the house is turned
off by the price, they'll play up the way the windows will beautify
the home to hook the wife.
As you can probably tell by now, vinyl window
"estimates" are really more of a sales pitch than anything
else. Our first surprise was how long the process took. We figured
it would take about a half hour to measure our windows, show us
the various options and give us an estimate. Boy were we wrong.
When an Estimate Isn't
The first company that came out spent a full
two hours in our home! And this was while our two year old was doing
everything in her power to keep our attention away from the business
at hand. The actual measurement of the windows took all of ten minutes
(turns out the "official" measurements aren't even taken
until you've signed a contract). The rest of the time was spent explaining
what made their product better and why the competition was some combination
of inferior, unethical or overpriced. Of course, we got a lot of good
information during the presentation. The salesman was an older gentleman
who had plenty of experience in the business. There was no hard core
sales pitch, but we still felt two hours was a bit excessive. And
here's the topper. After spending all that time in our home, we never
even got an estimate. The salesman said we would have to schedule
an appointment to come to the company showroom before we could get
an estimate! We couldn't believe it. We scheduled an appointment to
visit the showroom which we later cancelled.
The second estimate was from the only female
in the group. Over the phone she assured us that she was a "design
consultant" who could help us pick the very best style of window
for our home. She also she assured us that she worked fast and would
only need an hour or less to measure the windows and prepare our estimate.
The first sign of trouble was when she arrived at the door with only
a binder in hand-no sample window, no cutaway of the frame. She told
us she stopped bringing the sample window on appointments because
it was too heavy. When we asked to see samples of the different patterns
of privacy glass for our bathroom window, she did go to her car to
get them, but the samples were disorganized and some were even broken.
She also told us that the prices she was quoting were scheduled to
go up in two days. We were smart enough to see this was just a technique
to get us to sign a contract right away. Despite her promise to be
quick, she still took about an hour and a half. We never found out
much about her design consulting skills since she spend most of her
time talking about her personal life. Needless to say, we were not
The next three estimates were very impressive.
All of the salesmen were friendly and low-key. They were well prepared
with fully functioning sample windows, which is critical. This allows
you to see how the window functions and how it looks. You can play
with the locks and see how well the window slides. They had photos
of jobs they had done and good samples of the different types of
privacy glass. The main difference was the way they presented their
estimate. One gave us a neat chart itemizing the price for each
window and clearly showing the grand total. The other guy had no
estimate form and just jotted the total on a brochure. If I'm paying
many thousand dollars for a project like this, I expect a well formatted
By the way, after the first estimate took
so long, we learned to tell the sales people up front that we only
had an hour to spend with them. Even so, they all took about two
hours. It's harder than it seems to get them to leave once they're
Avoid the Pressure to Sign Now
Nearly all of the vinyl window sales people
who came to our home offered us some sort of incentive if we would
sign a contract today. It's usually an offer to deduct a certain percentage
off the price or to waive your sales tax. Don't fall for it. This
is nothing more than a sales tactic. You can always call them back
a few days later and say I'll go with your company if you give me
the discount. You can bet they'll do it to win your business.
Tips to Getting a Good Estimate
Here are the most important things we learned
about the estimate process for vinyl replacement windows. Follow these
tips when calling to set up an appointment with a salesperson:
- Ask them to bring a copy of the warranty that
you can keep. Most had the warranty with them, but who want to
sit there reading fine print while a salesperson is looking over
your shoulder. That's why you want a copy they'll leave with you
so you can look over it at your leisure.
- Ask them to bring a fully functioning sample
- Ask them to bring a cutaway of the window frame.
This is usually a corner section of the window that allows you
to see the thickness of the vinyl and the sturdiness of the construction.
One company even let us keep the cutaway which helped with future
- If you're shopping for patio doors, ask them
to bring a sample of the door handle and a cutaway of the frame.
- Tell them you will want a list of nearby references.
- Tell them you expect a written estimate at
the end of the presentation. Seems like that goes without saying,
but not all of them actually do it.
- Ask them to bring photos of jobs they have
- If you value your time, warn them that you
have only one hour to spend on the estimate.
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