Customers are used to home contractors advertising FREE estimates, but how often is something of value FREE? The reality is everyone's time is valuable, and the time to provide an estimate isn't free as someone has to spend time doing the following:
- Driving to and from a customer's home.
- Discussing the requirements, reviewing the job site, taking measurements and considering choices like materials, i.e. replacing damaged deck boards (30%) or the entire deck with a composite material.
- Writing up the estimate including labor, materials, rental equipment and disposal.
When you're talking about an addition or finishing a basement which can takes weeks to months, an estimate makes sense as it allows the customer to modify their requirements to fit their budget. For small repair jobs that may run a few hours to a few days, it is hard to justify the cost.
Alternative to On-Site Estimate
It is not unusual to charge for on-site estimates and give a credit when the job is completed, to insure a customer is serious about getting the project done. An alternative approach that works well now that many phones include a camera, is to have customers send digital photos showing the work that needs to be done.
One of my customers sent me an email asking for a recommendation for “scraping and painting a deck” for a home about 2.5 hours from our office. I offered to check with several former technicians who live within an hour of the job, as we can't justify traveling 5 hours a day.
Here's our assessment and estimate working from these digital photos (we actually received another 3-4 photos, which helped insure we could see everything needed). You will notice that we didn't look at just the immediate work to be done. We also tried to identify all the potential reasons for the damage visible in the photos. When you are making repairs to your home, you first want to find and correct the problem to avoid doing the same repair over and over.
- Wood might not have been sufficiently dry when originally painted, i.e. you should wait 6 months after building a deck to let the pressure treated chemicals dry.
- Paint quality affects both the look of the paint and wearability. Painters recommend using a quality paint, purchased from a paint store versus box store brands.
- Direct sunlight and heat are beating down on this deck which means it will need more ongoing maintenance and is therefore a good candidate for a composite decking material.
- Moisture from the ground can seep up from the ground unless all 6 sides of the wood were sealed properly.
What Goes Into an Estimate
The estimate to scrape and paint this deck included the following steps. The work was estimated for the deck flooring, the stairs and the most costly part of the project, the railings as these require work on 4 sides and it is labor intensive to reach into all the spaces where the balusters attach to the upper and lower railing.
- Deck is approximately 8 x 16 ft (patio doors are most often 6 ft wide, stairs look to be 4 ft wide). There are 32 linear feet of handrails and 4 steps.
- Deck is painted which is never good, i.e. it peels where stain simply looses color as it wears. Pressure washing will be used to remove as much loose paint as possible.
- Prep work which in this case is primarily sanding with a hand held (power) sander.It's common to replace a few warped and or rotted boards during routine maintenance so an allowance for these repairs can be included so the customer isn't surprised.
- Primer coat to seal the deck and keep moisture out plus second coat of paint … or depending on how much of the paint comes off with the pressure washing and sanding, it is sometimes possible to switch to a stain in a matching color for better wear an maintenance in the future.
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