Home repair costs

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narcoleptish
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Home repair costs

Postby narcoleptish » Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:35 pm

I do small home repairs/improvements for a living and I'm constantly struggling with what I have to charge. I have my hourly rate and set prices for some stuff but I'm a horrible estimator and usually go over. When that happens I always stick with the estimate and eat the extra costs. Other times when there was no estimate I'll feel like I took too long and end up cutting some time off the bill. This is becoming more and more of a problem for me and I don't really know anyone else in the business so I have no idea what other people charge. So I'm appealing to forons to give me an idea of what you've paid for some random small jobs such as:

Storm/screen door install
Tub caulking
Replace rotten window/door sill
Vent a dryer
Unclog or replace garbage disposal
Repair window weight ropes
etc..

Thanks for any info

city2countrygal
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby city2countrygal » Wed Oct 26, 2011 4:58 pm

I'm a freelancer and have struggled with this too. Good luck getting some numbers on the job-specific items you have listed.

A range of costs might be helpful, like in Madison and also outside of Madison. If you travel for a job, you can count your miles and gas on your taxes.

Another way to look at it is to charge hourly. I'm not sure if that interests you? It could be an option you offer clients. Like if they have a few random things for you to do.

I work hourly as well as a flat project rate, depending on my client. If that sounds interesting, the web is a helpful resource. You can probably search for your specific job and narrow it down that way too. Here's one very general site I found on charging hourly: http://alan.rotherfamily.net/post.cfm/how-much-should-i-charge-for-freelance-work

With the way the ecomony is, freelancing is a great option, esp. if it allows you to do something you love. I also recommend a good accountant for any freelancer. It will save you $ in the long run!

snoqueen
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby snoqueen » Wed Oct 26, 2011 5:39 pm

I'm a horrible estimator and usually go over.


This is the problem.

I was self employed and ran a business doing custom work for more than a decade and I've been there. I finally came up with a better way to estimate and my estimating problems got a lot better. I was a lot more generous adding in possible places things could go wrong, basically.

I also used to take a look at the car the customer drove (in my case, the customer came to my workplace not vice versa) and if it looked like they could afford a little more, I felt free to put that into my estimate. Nobody ever complained. You could build a similar cushion into your estimates since each job is different -- give an old guy on social security a rock bottom estimate, a family with two earners and other signs of ability to pay, a little bigger one. No one can detect, since you've got no written list of standard charges. You could also just say "senior citizen discount" if you're inclined to be generous helping older people (which is nice).

Or you could go time-and-materials if you have absolutely no idea how much something is going to cost. Give the people an hourly rate, tell them you'll supply the materials and bill them for what they use (building in a reasonable markup of course) and then give them a ballpark figure making sure they realize it could be short. If you're going to run way over, show them what's happened and explain why (you have to replace more than just the top of the sill, etc).

You could also give them a generous firm estimate and say if it takes me only three hours instead of four, I'll subtract the last hour I estimated. That way they can only be pleased, not disappointed, when they get the bill. And if they have a tendency to stand around and chat and waste your time, it could give them an incentive to go away and let you work.

But I think the whole key is adding in a little more time than you think it'll really take you, because by your own account you've been shorting yourself too often.

I recently had a plumber come in and do three straightforward tasks for me (new toilet, new sink, repair other sink). His estimate gave hours and materials for each task, and I signed the agreement. When he did the work, he took a LOT less time than he estimated. He had an apprentice along, but it was still less than the estimated hours (which were reasonable). He'll be billing me for the full amount and I'll be paying it with no complaint. He was on time, did a good neat job, and I want to work with him again. It's part of dealing with professionals.

I don't think you should be shy billing fairly for your time if you do a good job and have a good reputation. Do you get recommendations from one customer to another? That's a sign you're on the right track. Being trustworthy counts for a lot, too, especially with non-trade jobs like hanging storm windows, cleaning gutters, window repair, etc. And do you have insurance? People want that. Price isn't the only criteria for picking a handyman.

A friend of mine does house painting and has many years of experience. He prices himself top-drawer and he's always busy. It takes years to get to that level and build that reputation (historic restoration, fancy finishes, the whole nine yards) but there's no shame in getting paid well for a good job. There will always be beginners willing to work cheaper if customers prefer to go that route.

On the list of tasks you asked about, I'd put in a minimum charge. Most trades are saying at least $75 minimum -- a couple years I called a furnace man for something I totally should have figured out myself and he still charged the minimum. I think this is perfectly fair. People need to make sure it's not something they can figure out on their own before they call you in, and you shouldn't be going across town on a call for something lame like fishing pork chop bones out of a disposall without charging pretty good.

Again, if you feel sorry for old people or whatever, then you put in the discount.

pds
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby pds » Wed Oct 26, 2011 5:55 pm

This is the hardest thing about working for yourself. It's really hard to value your own time. Whenever you invoice someone, bill them for your actual time/materials (even if it's a crazy amount). Then on the bill give them a valued customer discount that brings them down to the estimate you gave them (if you intend to honor that estimate amount). Include a short note on why it took more than you estimated. Took extra time to fit door because porch is sagging, etc. Or, there was hidden rot that needed to be repaired under the jam. You are in a business where people don't know what's involved to do the repair or they don't want to waste their own time on it. Explain the value you gave them. When you start seeing that certain types of jobs always take you longer than you expected, you'll feel more comfortable in charging the higher amount. Also, people love the idea that they got a deal. They'll be annoyed that the repair cost them $200, but they'll be happy they got a $600 repair for $200.

I imagine in your business it's a lot of repeat or word of mouth customers. The last thing you need is to do a job for 25% of what you should have charged and have people get it in their mind that you'll always work for so little. Plus, it's not your fault that a window was in worse shape than you thought when you pulled it apart.

That won't help you with the question of how much the market will bear, but I hope it helps. I struggled with this myself for a very long time.

sadiekat
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby sadiekat » Wed Oct 26, 2011 6:12 pm

We tend to do most of our repairs ourselves, even though we can afford to hire handypersons to help us; actually we're pretty hardcore that way. However, when it came time to redo our kitchen (full-scale remodel), I knew my budget, but not what exactly everything we needed was going to cost. I found a carpenter/project manager, and paid him by the hour, with a weekly invoice so I always knew exactly where I was. Actually, we decided to pull a few of the simpler tasks back and just used him for jobs where we knew we needed a pro. Same with the plumber and electrician- the only thing different was the hourly rate. Our flooring installer was paid by the sqft.

One of my problems with snoqueen's approach to billing is that your biggest referral source is previous customers and believe me, we do talk to each other about what things cost. I found my carpenter/project manager on referral from a friend who'd had similar work done, and if he'd quoted me more because my car is nicer or because of where we live, he'd never have gotten the job.

Smaller jobs like those you have listed, I'd expect to pay someone up to $40/hour if I had to hire someone.

Dust Mite Rodeo
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby Dust Mite Rodeo » Wed Oct 26, 2011 7:29 pm

Some well-to-do people drive POS cars, because, you don't get rich by writing checks to car dealers. Some broke people drive expensive cars they can't afford, because, they got to have it.

fennel
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby fennel » Wed Oct 26, 2011 7:31 pm

For small jobs, I think time and materials – with a ballpark estimate – is the way to go. If the client is balky, you can give them an amply padded not-to-exceed amount. And, as always, have some sort of a contract, even if it's only boilerplate with a few fields filled in.

Cut them a discount for stupid time, where you really did spend an inordinate amount of time walking in circles. But remember that taking the time to formulate an approach to a job is itself part of the job, and you need to be paid for that.

When it comes to big-ticket bids, one thing I always look for as a client, is the estimated total hours and a description of what's to be done. That usually provides a clearer indication of what level of work the contractor is offering. If your bid is twice all of the other bids, it could mean you're overcharging, or it could mean you really know what it takes to get the job done right the first time. But if the bid is too vague (no matter the reputation), I will pass.
Last edited by fennel on Wed Oct 26, 2011 7:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

fennel
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby fennel » Wed Oct 26, 2011 7:32 pm

Dust Mite Rodeo wrote:Some well-to-do people drive POS cars, because, you don't get rich by writing checks to car dealers.

I'd never heard of a point-of-service car before. I'll have to ponder that.

snoqueen
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby snoqueen » Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:10 pm

Piece-of-shit cars.

Yes, sometimes rich people drive them and sometimes poor people don't.

I shouldn't backtrack here, but my dad called it "charging what the traffic will bear" and he meant being flexible but realistic when billing people. He too was self-employed off and on, and what he did was bookkeeping for other self-employed people. Over and over he had to sit down with them and go over what happens when you don't price your work to your own advantage: you'll go out of business.

It wasn't easy then (the 1950s) and it's not easy now.

Igor
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby Igor » Wed Oct 26, 2011 10:26 pm

snoqueen wrote:Piece-of-shit cars.

Yes, sometimes rich people drive them and sometimes poor people don't.


Tell me about it. As someone who used to volunteer with youth sports clubs, I know we had at least one kid on scholarship whose parents drove a new car worth more than $35,000. The only time I have ever driven a car that new was a rental in Vegas, and the value was nowhere close.

I am far from a handyman, and I don't know what official rules have to be followed. I don't know if giving people minimum / average / maximum figures would be a help, or would complicate things. You might try to get bids from other folks, just to get a lay of the land. If you do advertising, list particular common tasks that are hard to find people to take on. It took a while for me to find the right people to reroute my dryer venting, for example. I have to think the phrase "no job too small" is a plus - I can find a million people to gut my kitchen, but very few that want to hassle with adding a single small cabinet, or putting in a bathroom sink. When I have found someone to take on those tasks, I tend to go back to them repeatedly, instead of trying to find someone better or cheaper.

narcoleptish
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby narcoleptish » Thu Oct 27, 2011 12:09 am

THanks for all the great feedback, I appreciate reading all of it. I think I may have sounded like I'm just getting into this work, but in reality I've had my business for several years. You would think that in that time I would have figured the pricing thing out. But no, it continues to vex me.

I do generally charge by the hour and for most of my regular customers, that's fine. For the occasional job where someone wants an estimate, 80% of the time I underestimate it. I'm on a job right now where I estimated 3-4 hrs and it's going to be at least 8. I can't just double the charges (I'm not a fucking auto mechanic..) so I'll probably stretch it to 5 and eat the rest.

Years of doing this, and basically having only my own experience to base anything on, has led to my skewed ideas of what things should cost and is the reason I started this thread to try to find out what other people like me are charging. I've scanned websites and other advertising but NOBODY lists their rates (except me). I don't want to call and talk to people and have them call my number back.

Guys like me also live in fear of this great internet thing we're on here. One dissatisfied customer can spend a morning spreading bad reviews about me that will be around forever. I've never found anything like that yet, but then again I always stick to my estimates.

pds wrote:
I imagine in your business it's a lot of repeat or word of mouth customers. The last thing you need is to do a job for 25% of what you should have charged and have people get it in their mind that you'll always work for so little.


Exactly! The vast majority of my business is repeat/referral and I worry about this a lot. I just had a call from a referral that mentioned the great price their friend had gotten from me. Guess I undercharged that one too.

Madsci
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Re: Home repair costs

Postby Madsci » Thu Oct 27, 2011 6:51 am

In the past 2 years, I've paid $40/ hour for building jobs to $90/ hour for plumbing jobs. I thought both were more than fair costs for the labor done. They were with workers that I have used in the past. And I drive an average vehicle.


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