Why Are Some Private Investigators More Expensive Than Others? #121

Just to be clear this article is for the consumer, the person or company wanting to purchase the services of a private investigator.  This is to help you pick the right private investigator for the right price and to help you not have to pay more than needed to get the job done.

I read an article the other day that just rubbed me the wrong way and gave me the impression that the writer was trying to justify a specific investigative rate for private investigators.  After some discussion back and forth with the writer he explained that my impression was not the impression the article was trying to leave. The article explained why private investigators were so expensive but didn’t really provide the proper reasons for specific rates private investigators charge.

Too frequently I come across articles or just general discussion warning people (consumers-people that want to hire private investigators) about private investigators that charge small fees for their work.  They tell those potential customers they may not get a quality product or that the investigator may not be very good and therefore take longer to complete the assignment (which will cost more in the long run).  And in some cases this might be true but it is definitely not a rule that consumers should go by.  Here are a few reasons why some investigators may charge less than another investigator.

Why are some private investigators charging less than others?


Many investigators are willing to undercut the competition for services to secure the work from a prospective customer.  How can these investigators charge less?  Here are several reasons why some investigators charge less than other private investigators.

1. They have less overhead

These investigators have chosen to work alone and don’t have employees and may have a home office.  They are only billing for the services they conduct and what they feel their services are worth.

The investigations companies with secretaries, bookkeepers, investigators in the field, rent for their business space, etc, all add up and contribute to the amount they charge customers.  It makes for a bloated hourly rate.

2. These investigators have a lower standard of living

They don’t live in a hut but rather they live a modest lifestyle.  They are not trying to hit a jackpot with each new customer.

3. Different types of investigations have expected costs

If an investigator is working a surveillance is the town where he lives then there are very little expenses that the investigator has to absorb.  The investigator won’t spend a great deal in gas and won’t have much travel time.  This will allow the investigator to charge less than another investigation firms and will keep that investigator working.

4. They aren’t overcharging to make their mortgage payment

I know for a fact that some investigators charge more for work because they don’t know when their next assignment is going to come in.  It is overcharging to make ends meet or to anticipate a time when they don’t have work.  Some investigators are just good at budgeting their money and making sure they can keep their prices reasonable.

Some companies make their living by the volume of work they do rather than the rate they charge for each assignment.  The more work they do the more consistent and affordable they can make their services.

What are some of the fixed costs that contribute to the rate private investigators charge?

Private -Investigator-office

1. Office Space

I mentioned before but this is a fixed cost for investigators that choose to have a physical address to meet clients or for potential clients to come through their doors.  Some need office space because they have staff that do work from within an office setting (secretary, case managers, video editors, report editors, etc..),  utilities and phone bills can all be included in this section.


2. Staff

The large companies needs more people to operate which means there are more mouths to feed. Not every position in a company is actively making the company money.  Their wages contribute to what an investigation company must charge.  This is in house staff like a secretary, assignment managers, video editors, report editors, etc..  It is not the norm for companies to have a large team but it is possible.  Typically investigation companies have small teams from just the owner doing everything to a total of 3 people involved.

3. Subscriptions for access to database information

Most companies pay for a subscription for information that is not available to the general public.  This cost varies depending upon what company they pay for access to the information.

4.  Accessing that information

Even though a company is paying for the ability to access information they still get charged when they receive it.  And when an investigation company has to dig further for information the cost will accumulate.

5. Working your assignment (time)

The time that it takes to work your assignment contributes to the overall cost.  If the investigation company pays an employee to work your file then that will contribute into the cost of the assignment.  This of course will vary depending on what the employee or owner (if the owner is working the file) is paying themselves.


6. Expenses

Investigators might absorb small expenses in their billing rate or it might be tacked onto the bill. Not every investigator is the same when it comes to expenses.

Noel Abejo
freeimages.com/Noel Abejo

7. Travel

If an investigator anticipates traveling quite a bit on an assignment then the rate they are charging you might reflect travel time, gas, hotels, tolls and anything else related to them traveling to the assignment.

8. Expertise

Much like lawyers and doctors have an expertise in what they do, private investigators do as well. Some private investigators have certifications to investigate fire loss,  locate birth parents or have rare knowledge in the private sector that other private investigators don’t have.  Because they are one of few people that can do a specific task they can charge  a premium for their services.

Some people only do background checks and because they do it everyday they are very good at it.  And because they know where to find information quickly, accurately, legally they will build up a good reputation which allows them to charge more without losing business.

Don’t Get Tricked into Overpaying for a Private Investigator

Don’t let an investigation company trick you into paying more for services.  Here are a few things a company might say to justify their high prices

1. “You could hire someone that charges less but you won’t get the same results or service!”

This is nonsense.  A private investigator that charges more than their competitor won’t necessarily do the job any better.  This of course depends on expertise.  I have known private investigators that charge $15 to $20 less an hour and do a great job on an investigation for their client.  More money doesn’t mean you are getting a better investigator.

2. “I have been in business for 30 years and that is why you should hire me!”

What they fail to tell you is that they have had their license for 30 years but they only work a few assignments a month or year and they aren’t good at what they do.  They are not as efficient or practiced in the industry.  We as investigators keep our skills sharp just like any other industry.  And we keep them sharp with practice and actively working in the industry.

Just because they have been licensed for 20 to 30 years doesn’t mean they are better suited to fit your needs.  Many investigators that have been in business between 5 and 10 years have more knowledge than many older investigators because they have adapted to technology while the 30 year veteran has not.

3. “We charge this much because we have the latest technology”

In some cases this might be a true statement but it does not apply to all services.  For example a typical surveillance does not require state of the art technology and you should not have to pay rates because they tell you they are using the latest tech.  If they tell you this then you need to ask what exactly they are using that another company is not using.  Don’t be afraid to question anyone when choosing the right investigator for your needs.

Freeimages.com/Joel R. Terrell

4. “I am a former police officer”

I have a great respect for law enforcement officers.  I have a family member who is a police officer as well as many friends who became police officers after I served with them in the military.  Law enforcement experience is not the same a private investigation experience.  I have seen numerous previous law enforcement officers struggle in the industry.  Law enforcement experience does not justify higher rates.  And it does not mean that they can perform investigative work better than a private investigator with no law enforcement experience.

Final Thoughts

I am a private investigator and I do this job full-time.  I have basically been in this industry full-time for the past 13 or so years.  I don’t defend the actions of all investigators and I don’t think all investigators can do every job available out there.  I am not bias towards investigators just because I am one.  I have seen my fair share of crappy private investigators over the years.
For every good customer-focused investigator there is one out there that doesn’t care about you or your needs and may be unethical or untrustworthy.   I think education and information is the best way to help customers make an informed decision about hiring the right investigator at the right price while still getting the desired results.   I hope this helps you in choosing the right investigator for the right reasons.

There are investigators that charge less because they are not very good and will take whatever money they can get.  You will have to do some investigating to make sure you are getting a quality investigator.

If you have any questions please feel free to email me or ask the questions in the comments section of the article.

I hope this helps you in choosing the right investigator for the right reasons.