How much to charge?

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Forum topic by BobD posted 10-03-2011 10:48 PM 2830 views 0 times favorited 38 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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52 posts in 3610 days

10-03-2011 10:48 PM

I am a homeowner that has spent the last two years completely remodeling the inside and outside of my house. I have done most of the work, but have hired a professional to do such things as hang a brand new wooden front door, complicated electrical work, plumbing etc. My wife has helped me a great deal with staining, sanding, priming and applying finish, and a good deal of other stuff. My house stands out as one of the better looking houses in the neighborhood and my neighbors and even strangers driving by the house have commented on how great everything looks.

Now I’m getting people asking me to do some of the DIY projects, such as paint a room, install moulding, hang doors, install wains coating etc.

How much do I charge for my services? How does one price for projects like those above? I don’t have a contractors license (nor do I want one). I’ve been unemployed for 2 1/2 yrs due to the economy and at my age probably can’t get another full time job in my field of learning, I’m an accountant, who happens to love woodworking and DIY home projects. I have not done these kind of projects for anyone else so I need some advice and suggestions on how to make these projects profitable.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

-- Bob, San Diego

38 replies so far

View Bertha's profile


13551 posts in 2891 days

#1 posted 10-03-2011 10:51 PM

Wow, that’s a hard question to answer. Before painting my walls, I would have said a few hundred bucks for a room. After painting the ones in my new house, I’m not sure anyone could afford me;) 30+ foot ceilings with wallpaper removal, patching, sanding, 2 coats kilz and 3 coats oil paint. I wouldn’t do that again for a lot of money. I’m sure you’ll get some good advice here.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3266 days

#2 posted 10-03-2011 11:09 PM

Since you’re in San Diego, you’re within the jurisdiction of the CA Department of Consumer Affairs which handles contractor licensing. Although you said that you don’t want a contractors license, you’ll be breaking the law if you do more than $500 worth of work without one. And, breaking a $2,000 job into four $500 jobs doesn’t fly.

That said, there are tons of folks out there working without licenses so you might get away with it. If you do, at least tell your prospective customers that you aren’t licensed (which also means that you have no liability insurance or a bond) so they can decide if it’s worth it to them. You’ll also want to watch your back since the licensing board runs frequent sting operations.

I strongly recommend that you at least look at getting a license. It isn’t really that difficult and your experience with your own house will probably go a long way toward meeting the experience requirements.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View mpounders's profile


902 posts in 3093 days

#3 posted 10-03-2011 11:09 PM

Well, you can charge by the hour and figure out how much you would like to make per hour. But most customers will want a fixed price (because they will worry that you will pad the bill), so you need to be pretty accurate in estimating how many hours it will take you to do something. And you have to describe and get the customer to agree to exactly what you will be doing and what they will end up with for x amount of dollars. And whether materials will be included or not. You have to be careful of little changes or additions that can turn your fixed price into working for free.

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

View Richforever's profile


757 posts in 3918 days

#4 posted 10-03-2011 11:17 PM

Since you’re not doing this “as a business”, I’d break each project down into small parts; develop a rapport with the “customer”; schedule the work when convenient for both of you; and before doing the work, show the customer an estimate of what you think it will cost to make you both “feel good”. Because you don’t do this as a full time job, your price might be a little higher, but you can accommodate both you and the customer better.

As the project progresses, you can suggest improvements and be more flexible than others – and this will be appreciated by the client and worth more. In other words, “be nice and not inexpensive”.

Hope this helps,

-- Rich, Seattle, WA

View Don W's profile

Don W

19007 posts in 2765 days

#5 posted 10-03-2011 11:44 PM

Think of it from an accounting point of view. Set up an estimating spread sheet. Each task you need to perform gets at least one line on the sheet. Each task gets the amount of time you think it will take and the materials it will take to perform that task. At the end you add up your time, multiplied by your hourly rate, and materials, plus a reasonable mark up.

The further you break it down, the more accurate you will be. The disadvantage is its easy to drive labor time out of whack with task broken out to much. Make the time realistic, but add for the things you may not see.

How you figure your hourly rate can also be figured from an accounting standpoint. Take what you think your worth (or what you think the market can bear) and add your cost.

Make sure all of your cost, such as gas, saw blades, paint brushes, paint thinner, nails, paper towels, etc, everything you need is either in overhead or materials for the job.

tally up your spreadsheet and you’ve got the cost of the job. Some lumber yards will give average sq foot pricing for some stuff. I don’t recommend using it for pricing, but to start, you’ll know if your in the ball park.

Last, each job you do keep track of your estimate and correct your mistakes. You’ll find a lot of jobs are close to the same, and you’ll just re-use the old spreadsheets with the required changes. Painting a 14×14 foot room should be pretty close to the same the next time you do it.

I also agree with sawkerf, running without a license and insurance can be a risky business. I understand when your starting out its extra overhead, but at least see what it will cost. It makes you look more professional and does protect you in certain circumstances. Some municipalities charge pretty large fines for such things. Your best advertising is word of mouth and “perception beats reality” every time.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2831 posts in 3635 days

#6 posted 10-04-2011 12:19 AM

I’m a retired teacher who has done some whole house remodels. Everything, kitchens, stairs, bathrooms, floors, etc. I don’t tape sheetrock and don’t paint walls though. Too tedious. Anyway, I charge $30/hr. That’s in Maine. It might be different in other places. I do tell them though, and it makes the world of difference. I say… I’ll be here 5-6 days/week till it’s done and being older I’ll work about 6 hrs a day but not less. And if I rest to long at lunch I’ll deduct the time. And I won’t start another job while I’m on yours.

People get the runaround so much with this type of stuff it’s usually those statements that clinch the deal.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View joey bealis's profile

joey bealis

177 posts in 2704 days

#7 posted 10-04-2011 12:23 AM

I live in central Mississippi and we can do a 10,000 dollar job without a license. Even if you do a larger job we dont have any inspectors to worry about, that being said some banks require that you have a licensed contractor to get a loan to build a new house. But starting out on bidding your jobs figure the hourly you want and make a estimate of the hours you think the job will take and then add a few for safety. If it takes a few more hours so what, its better than sitting at home doing nothing. Try to do your jobs labor only but keep in mind that when you are picking up materials that it needs to be figured into your hourly rate. You can spend alot of time driving and walking around stores that you will need to get paid for. Now for the biggest piece of advice i can give you always do a written estimate and go into detail about what you are doing for what price. Even if you have known the people for your whole life you will be happier and they will be also. Last large job i did a few years ago was the daughter for a real good customer, i lost about 5,000 in labor because i didnt do a estimate sheet.


View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3266 days

#8 posted 10-04-2011 01:03 AM

Don & Bob -

Running without a license can also cause problems for the customer when they try to sell a house. In CA, one of the questions on a disclosure is if the HO knows of any unpermitted work on the house. If they lie, they can be held liable years later.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3266 days

#9 posted 10-05-2011 06:49 AM


-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View BobD's profile


52 posts in 3610 days

#10 posted 10-05-2011 08:04 AM

Well CessnaPilotBarry you shouldn’t be so shocked about what I do or do not know about reportable transactions with respect to filing a tax return!! That wasn’t the question. Your rambling response must be an answer to another question or maybe your just venting about a previous personal experience with the IRS or a competitor.

I realize and understand the implications of state licensing, bonding. insurance, consumer protection, etc. Since this anticipated work for a person in the neighborhood is more than likely a one time shot, and I don’t really expect it to grow into a full or part time business, my query was only about pricing the job.

Oh, BTW you guessed wrong. I am a CPA.

Some comments above recommend a job cost estimate using a spreadsheet which collects all the elements of cost of doing a job. Reviewing the estimate with the owner and getting acceptance and mutual agreement is a very good idea. Gathering cost data is relatively straightforward, it’s the time estimate for each phase of the job that will be the most difficult to estimate. The largest cost factor is the direct labor amount (based on a per hour dollar amount and estimated time for completion) that seems to be the toughest item. The per hour labor amount, given the current state of the economy, must be fair and reasonable, yet competitive and profitable.

-- Bob, San Diego

View casual1carpenter's profile


354 posts in 2673 days

#11 posted 10-05-2011 03:28 PM

BobD, I am confused. You say that you are not starting a business venture, yet you are proceeding as a business.

“The per hour labor amount, given the current state of the economy, must be fair and reasonable, yet competitive and profitable.”

I think that perhaps one would look at cost of materials ans supplies, with perhaps a mark-up for procurement. I would consider tool wear and tear. Then anything above that is a bonus, someone pays for my hobby.

Pro’s make money on their skill and ability levels and their quality production vs man-hours. Not to say you are not skilled, you might be very skilled, but business is about providing the level of standard the customer is willing to pay for, and at production levels that make it profitable.

Today was heavy trash day here, I put out a cast iron tub, nothing fancy mind you. Within one hour, the junk collector, not the trash guys, was straining his back loading it onto his truck. Now, I could have scraped the tub myself, and netted a few bucks, but I for one looked at diminishing returns, he was welcome to it.

View BobD's profile


52 posts in 3610 days

#12 posted 10-05-2011 03:55 PM

Casual1carpenter, perhaps you are right. I might be over thinking this whole thing. If I were pursuing this a full time venture, I would go about it in a totally different manner, meaning state licensing, insurance , bonding etc. Normally, I would just help someone with their minor home improvements and not expect to be compensated, but that can get out of hand very quickly. I want this to be viewed as “a neighbor helping a neighbor”.

-- Bob, San Diego

View agallant's profile


551 posts in 3084 days

#13 posted 10-05-2011 04:45 PM

I think you need to have various price models for different things. For example $15/hr may be reasonable for fixing squeaky doors and what not but i you charged $15/hr for painting a room that takes 8 hours you will spend an entire day painting for only $120. I have also noticed that people want to know what the cost if up front and if you run in to issues and have to go back to ask for more than the home owner tends to get pissed off about that. I find it best to build in as much ‘what if’ as I can to a quote.

View a1Jim's profile


117328 posts in 3775 days

#14 posted 10-05-2011 05:39 PM

As a contractor of 22 years I have lost potential customers due to the their neighbors and friends taking work from me many times. My advice is you don’t do contracting work and I won’t do accounting. :)) I’ve spent many years honing my craft and acquiring the correct tools and paying thousands for licences ,insurance and continuing education. One job might make you feel like you can do anything and may be you can but there are many liabilities involved in doing home repair and remodeling you could loose more than you gain through a law suite or unhappy friends and neighbors if things go awry. I know these are tough times and people need to do what they must to stay afloat but I would very careful dealing with the public regarding home repairs .The reason they want you to do the work is the expect you to charge far less than a contractor ,but they will expect your work to be as good or better than a contractor . I’ve also had a number of jobs that the customer has had a friend or neighbor do work for them and they have to pay me twice as much for me to fix what the friend or neighbor did for them. You can only guess what they have to say about the ex-friend after having to pay for a job twice.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 3048 days

#15 posted 10-05-2011 05:52 PM

Attempting to summarize from my biased point of view:

1. Wisdom suggests proper licensing and bonding.
(my editorial: It’s not a lifetime commitment. Try it for a year.)

2. Attempting to do professional work when you are not a professional and your customer is expecting professional work is a good way to lose friends and alienate neighbors.

People like to be fairly treated.

Jim and I have both been regularly harpooned by someone who has a Craftsman tablesaw in the garage and agrees to make a set of kitchen cabinets. That’s just the backstory. What happens next we can describe in vivid, compressed detail.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

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