I collected a few comments on my last post that hinted at the perceived high cost of professional trades-people. In general, people hate paying other people to do things. Whether it’s the plumber or the electrician or the guy doing concrete work in your driveway, there’s always that twinge of sticker shock when they give you a quote. You can get a similar shock from quotes from creative professionals.
Whether it’s woodworking, construction, photography or baking a cheesecake, there’s more to see than the finished product. I’m not here to defend every fly-by-night operator, but people who work at any skilled labor or creative task have a lot of costs that you don’t see. Some of the things people forget include:
The countless hours of training and the materials bought and often discarded while learning one’s particular craft. I have sample doors, push sticks, boxes and a lot of kindling that are the result of teaching myself how new tools operate. We have boxes of artwork in our basement that Faith says we can throw away and I’ve eaten my share of cookies and loaves of bread that were declared not-ready-for-prime-time by my lovely wife.
Overhead. Those tools hanging off the electrician’s belt cost money, and they usually cost more than the home-owner variety you might buy at Home Depot before
darn-near electrocuting attempting the repair yourself. Those tools would last an electrician a few months before returning to the scrap metal from which they were forged. The truck he drove up in also cost money. Just like Faith’s camera and the baking pans in my wife’s cabinets. What, you don’t have a good springform pan? Join the club, most people don’t because you can buy a cheesecake for less than the cost of one of those puppies.
Otherhead. OK, that’s not a word but even the people that understood that I had to rent my cabinet shop, and that I had to buy tools and lumber seemed to forget that I had to feed my family and pay for insurance. Actually, it was the cost of insurance – so many types of insurance – that put us out of business. It took a lot of money just to have a shop to go to, tools to work with, power for the lights and insurance in case I spilled something on your carpet, set the building on fire and the off-chance that you would sue me after falling off a chair that I made while you were changing a light bulb.
That last example couldn’t happen, my insurance company wouldn’t let me make chairs because people stand on them to change light bulbs. If I wanted to make chairs, I would have had to put warning labels on them. I – kid – you – not. Oh, and I also needed health insurance for those trips to the ER.
My favorite example of sticker shock reality was when I gave a couple a quote on a kitchen remodel job. It was higher than they thought it would be. They asked if there was any way they could reduce the cost. I offered several suggestions:
Get a dumpster that I can use for all the debris.
Eliminate some of the requirements
Be here to help me when I need an extra set of hands.
Nope, nope and nope. The woman asked “what if we were to take down the bricks?”
The previous owner of this house had added a brick wall behind the stove to blend with a chimney. I told her that that would save “a couple of hundred bucks” considering that I still had to dispose of the bricks. She humphed and accepted the quote as written.
The first day on the job, my part-time helper and I fired up an air compressor and took a demolition hammer to those bricks. 10 minutes later, we were shoveling rubble into my pickup. The woman apologized for being indignant over the quote:
“I didn’t think it would be that easy. I can see why you wouldn’t lower the cost much. It was much harder when I tried removing the wall when we thought about doing this job ourselves.”
“How were you trying to remove the bricks?”
“I used the end of an old spoon to scrape out the mortar.”
“A spoon? Yeah, if you made me use a spoon, I would have charged a lot more.”
Having a portable compressor – $350. Having a helper – $10 per hour. Having a dumpster – $55 per ton of debris. Not having to use a spoon to tear down a brick wall – priceless.