Behind the Quoted Price

Boxes

In order to test a box-joint jig, I made a couple of small boxes. Fortunately, my wife and daughter like them.

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.

Falling hazard. Follow the written instructions for use of this chair.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.

About Dan Antion

Husband, father, woodworker, cyclist, photographer, geek - oh wait, I’m writing this like I only have 140 characters. I am all those things, and more, and all of these passions present me with opportunities to observe, and think about things that I can’t write about in other places. I have started this blog to catch the stuff that falls out, overflows and just plain doesn’t fit the other containers in my life.
This entry was posted in DIY, Perspective, Woodworking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

69 Responses to Behind the Quoted Price

  1. Charlotte McDonnell says:

    Thanks for sharing this. A very pertinent d discussion for us as we prep our house for selling it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Charlotte. Banks and inspectors do a disservice to folks at the point of buying/selling a house. Sellers are encouraged or required to make “repairs” that might be better left to the buyer. We negotiated the right to do that in one case, but I wish we had been able to prevent a series of “cover-up” repairs by the previous home owner.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Charlotte McDonnell says:

        My house was flipped, so we had to redo nearly everything. (Yellow flat paint everywhere, cheap cabinets, rooms shortened just because studs are sold in a standard length, upside down siding, etc!). My husband is a contractor, so can do most of the work himself, but it does make it hard to hire in people! I’ll be bringing up some of your points the next time we evaluate a quote. We aren’t doing a lot — we’re in a neighborhood that was destroyed by Sandy, but we didn’t flood, which has a bigger value than any home repair.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dan Antion says:

          It must be hard for a contractor to inherit poor workmanship and cost -cutting. I watched, as a house up the street from us was flipped and I was sad. They covered-up so many problems that it seemed criminal.

          Like

      • We just sold our house, and we were considering two different realtors. One of the realtors wanted us to do a lot of expensive work, the other had the attitude that the buyer would probably want to have more of that done themselves, to fit their own needs and their own taste. We went with the second realtor!

        Like

  2. When I had my own cabinet shop (see Dan and I always do things together!) I was asked to quote for a 40th Birthday Present – a long case clock. To do something different, I downloaded an image of an Arts and Crafts clock that only has a 3/4 view. I had to straighten it in Photoshop, redraw it in Illustrator, draw up full construction plans, make a pine prototype, make the real thing out of solid oak and source the clock mechanism (German) from the USA (I know but that was the only place that had one that fitted the image). Finally, I had a clocksmith come in and set the clock up for perfect time, etc. I quoted them £2,400 ($3,850) which is what I charged. I worked out afterwards that this just about covered all of my costs. To make a living I would have had to charge £4,500 ($7,200) but then they wouldn’t have done the deal – they could have bought something that ‘would have done’ for £3000 ($4800) in town. It was at that point that I decided that I would have to close the shop! I did get asked if I would sell the prototype but as I had skipped a few steps (it was only a prototype) and I didn’t have a mechanism, I had to pass on that one. One month later, I had sold all of my equipment and closed up. Back to programming!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      I have a similar story from 20 years earlier with a china cabinet. It’s sad, but at least I’ve been able to reacquire many of the tools and can now enjoy a hobby. Most people will not pay the real cost of custom made furniture. I remember that clock though, it was beautiful.

      Like

  3. Don says:

    The perceptions of people can be so shallow, especially when they perceive from a point of ignorance. I agree with you Dan, but I must also say there are those fly by nights that take chances. One can normally spot them though. My old Dad who was an artisan, a very good one, always used to say, you’ll know them by the tools they use. When he was hiring artisans, he was a foreman, he used to say to them, “Show me your tools.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bikerchick57 says:

    Since I’m an apartment dweller, I don’t have a need to call the plumber or electrician. My sticker shock recently came with a trip to Fed-Ex on Sunday. My friend wanted me to overnight a pair of gloves and some supplements and the FE clerk said, “Well, we don’t ship until Monday, so it won’t get there until Tuesday morning, and that would be $90.” Needless to say, after texting my friend and both of us having a stroke over the price, she landed on Wednesday noon for $24. I wonder what the overhead on Tuesday is compared to the overhead on Wednesday. ;-)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      I think that’s a case of “we charge this much, because we can” which only happens in the trades when demand is very high or supply very tight. I probably was only as “successful” as I was because the housing market was booming when I opened my shop. The high demand allowed me to get the kitchen job I mentioned because the established shops were over-charging at the time. I had hoped that would be enough for me to get established and then carry on based on a good reputation. I now work for an insurance company.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I read the Go Pro and this one back-to-back and I agree with you on both the posts. To be honest, earlier I used to believe that professionals charge too much for their services, but now with 6 years of professional writing experience, my thinking has changed. I don’t bargain much. I understand that ‘Quality Doesn’t Come Cheap’, but then I don’t expect low quality work or service.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Sharukh. I am planning to follow this up with a post on when the quality isn’t there and how to avoid dealing with those people.

      Like

      • Good. I will look forward to that post. By the way, someday I would love to see how your home looks like. I mean if that’s okay with you. The curiosity arises from the fact that you are so creative and gifted with these things, and you usually picture working outdoors, so do you also handle things indoor? Hope I am not getting too personal here.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dan Antion says:

          Maybe not too personal for me, but the Mrs and the pets might complain. I drip things in from time to time. I am working on a project right now that will give a small glimpse in the not-too-distant future.

          Like

  6. A spoon? Even I have my own pry bar. LOL I do hate to pay someone to do something I ‘can’ do but there are always specialists you need. My 2015 story is that when we first turned on the A/C it made this horrendous noise like the motor was going. So, we called the company for a service call. $175 to show up in the driveway. The young man looked around and said, nothing wrong, and if it isn’t broken we shouldn’t open it up. He did pick up a new filter my husband had sitting here and put it in. He was a really nice guy so he stood around and talked with my husband, and I even gave him some raspberry plants for his new garden. $175 for the service company and 0 for Judy. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Yikes! We had an appliance repairman who came, collected $75 and pronounced the washer dead. He too was a nice guy, but… Still, you don’t want to take chances with the AC.

      Like

  7. Almost Iowa says:

    Excellent point on the cost of the trades. It is hard for people to understand that the cost for downtime and travel also must be accounted for in the price.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      That’s true, particularly out there where you are, I remember going on an hour long round trip to get cedar decking to repair something at my borther’s house. There’s also licensees, taxes and permits (which I will speak of in the next post in this series).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. marianallen says:

    With. A. Spoon. Did you bite your tongue, or did you ask her how long she was in for and if her cell mate was nice?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      I wasn’t able to bite my tongue, I had to laugh. She said that she didn’t have anything else and wanted to see how hard it would be. It was a good thing, it was part of the reason they deiced not to do the job themselves.I like your line, that would have worked well :)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Norm 2.0 says:

    I met a fellow while I was in Vegas that had me thinking about your other post on this. This fellow who was running his own small custom woodworking/furniture making business, had on a t-shirt that said: “Yes I can build you one – just not for free”
    I laughed and told him I loved the t-shirt and we had a nice conversation on this very subject.
    It’s amazing how all those hidden costs are taken for granted by the uninitiated. It can be a very tough sell, especially when they start comparing prices to mass produced crap they see at Ikea.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      It’s so true Norm. It takes a long time and some tender loving care before you can get to a point where your furniture commands the price it should sell at. I had a family to feed. I enjoy woodworking as a hobby now and I laugh when people see something I made and say “you should do this for a living.” By the way, the current project is a set of doors – I wonder if they will find their way into a future post ;)

      Liked by 1 person

  10. jolynnpowers says:

    Ok you have made my day again… after 4 years of college and working for two companies that did interior design… I figured out that I did not want to start my own decorating business or reduce my life to selling blinds for a living. I am so impress that any of you took the risk of working for yourselves…. I discovered I could not work with the people who are able to afford custom work…. Some where along the way I just could not hear another person freak out that the the bed spread that coast 1200 to make was just all wrong and needed to be a size smaller or a blow up that the company did not have a board meeting on the price of all the blinds that we already ordered. The price was just too high,Yea well I get that $14,000.00 dollars worth of vertical blinds seemed high until you found out that was for over a 120 windows from floor to ceiling. So I decided to just get out of it all together. I have never found anything I like to do better then work on a homes decor and now finally I can work at home and on my home… wish it payed better but I am happy…. So glad you wrote about this. As we get ready to up grade our fuse box and have some one fix broken wiring to the garage… yea well their goes 1000 bucks but it may save our lives and finally my husband will have power back on in his “Man Cave”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Jolynn. It won’t surprise you to know that the hardest jobs I had were commercial and the hardest people I had to collect from were the people for whom it should have been easiest to write the check. When we bought our house, I talked the bank into not requiring the previous homeowner to upgrade the electrical because I knew he would hand it off to the cheapest guy out there. I wanted a 200 amp service and I wanted it done right. I had to sign a contract with an electrician before we were able to close, but I got that one thing done right.

      Like

  11. Steve Weissman says:

    So you’re saying you get what you pay for? Couldn’t agree more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Not always, Steve. You still have to find good people. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t expect those good people to be cheap. I mentioned on Facebook that this same logic holds for technical consultants, but I ran out of room. Someone else can tell that story.

      Like

  12. As usual most impressive. You sure you wouldn’t want to be adopted?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. joey says:

    I pay any ol person to come till a patch of land, but unless that person is licensed, bonded, insured, I’m not going to pay him to pull my shrubs out, away from the foundation of the house. I build my own back porch stoop, but I would only hire a professional to redo the front porch, with the demolition and all. If I call a professional, that means that’s his job. I’m expecting his fee to include everything. I don’t wanna learn about codes, go through inspection, jackhammer concrete, draw a schematic, uncover 100 years of God knows what. I want a pretty porch that lasts another 100 years, and I’ll pay to provide a livelihood for Mr. Porch Man.
    But the tree trimming people? I still think that’s a racket. LOL $33 a minute for my apple trees. No. So much no. When it comes time to cut my 200ft maple back, sure, but not those apple trees. Ladder, pruning saw. Psh. Takes me four times as long, but I’m worth it ;)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      I see that you are a complex and capable consumer. That’s the way it should be. Tree guys are crazy. I’ve heard about prices from $2,000 per tree to $2,000 for four trees. We love the guy that took down some nasty tall pine trees in our yard. We also get our firewood from him. He’s like family. Thanks for the support over here.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post, Dan. Resonates because it reminds me of the Info Gov Pros undervalued thing I wrote recently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      I almost included a reference to professional technical services, but I ran out of room. It is very similar Chris, there are costs, even if you’re working from home. I’ve never had a problem with consulting prices, because I think I understand what it’s like, but I know people who complain about billing rates.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And I’ve rarely had issues with prices trades-people charge. My brother-in-law did, many years ago. Decided to save $1600 and do it himself. Later spent $1800 on a plumber to fix it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dan Antion says:

          I love those stories. I fixed a few things that people had tried to do themselves. That almost always increased the price. It’s like the old joke about rates:
          LABOR RATES
          Normal……………$12.50

          If you wait………..$15.00 per hour

          If you watch……..$20.00 per hour

          If you help……….$30.00 per hour

          If you worked on it first…..$50.00 per hour

          Liked by 1 person

  15. My husband gets this sticker shock, big-time. He also tends to underestimate the amount of effort it takes to do something yourself. I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for helping a loved one move beyond this particular mindset.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      I also often underestimate the effort required to do something, but I’m getting better. If you think “this would take me two days” and it’s really a week’s worth of work for a pro, you’re going to have a problem with that quote. I remember explaining the steps involved in a project to people and getting blank stares. Sometimes I think they thought I had a Star Trek Replicator in my shop. All I can offer is that the more detailed a plan you write-up, the lore likely you are to understand how long it will take. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi Dan. I got on my soapbox and told you a little story of my own experience. Between WordPress and my employer (reading your blog as my lunchtime entertainment) — it was all lost… So to summarize (a lot) Great Post!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. My hub does mostly all of our building/repairs but sometimes we have to hire people like right now we’re getting estimates for a new roof and some tree removals. It’s tough to see the $$ go away haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Wendy Brydge says:

    This is so true, Dan. Working in the art field is very much the same thing. If I charged by the hour, no would buy anything. I could pour 100+ hours into a piece. At just $10 an hour, that’s a $1000 painting. And as you mention here, there’s more to cost than just the labour alone. There’s also different types of labour. Even when you’re done tearing out a wall, you still have to pick all that crap up and haul it away. More time, more effort. With a painting, there are hours of design work to be done. I wrote a series of blog posts a few years back in which I described the entire process of creating a painting from idea to finished product, stating that 50% of the work is done before brush ever meets canvas! So I completely sympathize with where you’re coming from. My only issue with hiring professionals is that today, many of them have a tendency to not show up when they’re supposed to, and they do a bad job, or leave things unfinished. I have no problem paying someone what they’re worth, but by golly, you’d better do the best damn job you can, especially if you’re charging top dollar.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      I am so in tune with you Wendy. I’ve spent hours designing furniture just to give someone a quote and have it be turned down. One of the things that I used to get complimented on was the fact that I cleaned-up at the end of the day – I swept the floor. I left homes looking like a construction site, but never a dump. We had a guy do some masonry work for us and he left this place an absolute mess. He did good work, but it took hours to clean up after him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wendy Brydge says:

        Oh, that really burns me — the people who don’t clean up before they leave. Seriously, just sweeping the floor and tidying up makes a BIG difference, especially when somebody is paying you to be on their property!

        Liked by 1 person

  19. bryantduhon says:

    We’re going through this with my new gig. Walked away from a deal with a guy in the ECM dealer space who wanted us to promise a half million in new revenue in the first six months AND didn’t want to pay full rate, but wanted to test.

    If anyone is promising that big of a revenue bump (not sure of the exact percentage, but that would have been a hefty bit of growth for two to three years, much less six months of work) from a marketing program; 1. They’re lying and 2. we look forward to fixing it for him when he realizes that next year :)

    As always, good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      This is the second major league outrageous request I’ve heard about in the past three weeks. What is wrong with people? This is like the people who say “I won’t pay you but it will be a chance to show of your work” Thanks, but if I’m going to starve, I’ll starve at the beach. Thanks for the support Bryant.

      Like

  20. reocochran says:

    I just am speechless, Dan. I expected great but not to the “umpth” degree! Anyway, this was a very informative post. I am like a few here, an apt dweller who calls the manager and he or wife will help or answer questions. I love the boxes, we look at furniture when we are considering buying new dressers for my grandkids, and always check the way the drawers are made. They are rather ‘tough’ on their furniture. My two grandsons are due for new or gently used ones very soon. Thanks for sharing and again, you did a magnificent and professional job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Robin. One of the jobs I had at my shop was to fix drawers on a cheap dresser that a kid had “worn out.” The dresser was bad, but it matched the bedroom set and the father didn’t want to replace everything. As with so many things, it was harder to fix than it would have been to build right in the first place. This piece was about why things cost more than we want to pay. I’m trying to write another on how to not get taken to the cleaners by a bad contractor. Maybe I’ll work on one on what to look for in furniture. People should also get appropriate value for their hard earned money.

      Like

  21. Nice, informative post here, Dan. Whenever someone comes to our home to do fix or install something, or perform a service, we always take into consideration that we are paying for his/her skills, time, labor, and expertise. We also give a tip for “wow” service. We offer refreshments even lunch/dinner. Mind you, I also often ask if this is the “best price” and on many occasions, I get a reduced quote :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Elaine. I loved working for customers like you! I may extend this series to include some of the best/worst customer stories I accumulated in the short time we had the shop. My best customers (three repeat jobs) took your approach.

      Like

  22. A spoon, wow! I understand people want to save money, but that sounds a bit too desperate. I would imagine that when folks think about such a serious remodeling job, they have a budget in mind, do their research. We painted our house and do a lot of things ourselves, but yes, there are some things better left to professionals, and in some cases that should be the only way.

    I think that’s the case in any profession. I work in a law office, where, of course, some people complaint about the legal fees. We had clients trying to file their own corporate documents and messed up so badly, it took a lot longer, and a lot more money to fix the whole thing when they came back explaining they don’t really know what they’re doing, so can we fix the mess now?

    Live and learn. Thank you for the post and the perspective here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      You’re right Silvia, sometimes it’s harder to fix a bad start than it would have been to do it right from the start. I don’t like paying lawyers, but I won;t try to do that myself.

      Like

  23. Sammy D. says:

    Great post! I expect to pay for quality work. My reluctance comes when I have no good referrals and have to go with an unknown to make a repair or construct something. Sounds like I need your sequel post 😀

    I also love the folks who want to nail the doctor, lawyer or taxman for advice in some social setting. “Say, Sammy, I wanted to ask you …” Is the dead giveaway opening line. Similar to not understanding the costs that go into your tools and years of practice, they don’t understand that advice is what the ‘expert’ makes her living selling. We aren’t handing it over free because we certainly didn’t acquire it without significant cost.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Sammy. I think advice is even more prone to being taken advantage of. I mean, your just talking, right… I also like “Hey, Sammy, I could put some of your artwork in my office and give you some exposure (but no money)” I had a guy invite me over for dinner with a “if you could come a little early and bring some tools, maybe you could help me…” Thanks, but I’ll go to a restaurant.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sammy D. says:

        Good examples 😀 it’s funny when we talk about it, but can be insulting and frustrating. We have two friends who are skilled in the same crafts you are. We hired one to remodel a couple rooms (I had to restrain Hub from ‘helping’ him) and happily paid him top dollar (which is what he charges everyone). Other than that, we are careful to ask only about their businesses and not for favors or free advice!!

        I keep asking Santa to send me the Property Brothers but so far Mrs. Claus must be keeping her claws on them 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  24. Dan Hen says:

    I’m kind of still at the spoon level .

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Timely post for me. I’ve been having repeated bouts of sticker shock since we began our remodel.
    The plumber, and framer bills were staggering. If nothing leaks, and the house stands it will be worth it.
    Thankfully all the different crews have been really good at cleaning up daily.

    Since purchasing our house back in 82 we’ve learned to do a lot of things ourselves, but rough plumbing, framing, tape, texturing, tiling walls aren’t within our scope of skills. It’s best to leave it to the pros. They’ve all worked really hard, and it’s been a long process. We hope it’s done by the end of Aug. Fingers crossed!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Pingback: Avoiding Fly-By-Night Contractors | No Facilities

  27. Paul says:

    Too bad she didn’t want you to use the spoon. What a lucrative job that would’ve been!

    Liked by 1 person

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