Accurate estimating

tomstrees

Active Member
How do you accurately estimate jobs you are called out to? Does anyone actually charge for estimates, aren't most all estimates free these days?

I've been doing log splitting jobs. Worked with Harold Self back in the early 90s, had a business card with tune symbols on it, whistled and sang a little jingle on his jobs, everyone has to have an angle. At any rate he charged $65 an hour to split wood with his lickety splitter. For a dedicated hard working laborer doing 3 cords a day, isn't that a fair price?

What's the advantage of estimating by the job vs. by the hour?
 

skygear

Active Member
I give 2 prices lots of the time bigger jobs if asked for tree work. 4 guys $2k a day or Whatever the bid job is. We stop for lightning and other weather issues. - so yeah, $2k ÷ 4 workers = $500 each ÷ 10hrs = $50/hr

So yes, the $65/hr is on par .
 
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I think there are a lot of variables that need to be considered that may not work nicely into an hourly rate. One example, technical work that requires specialized equipment (crane or GRCS) or knowledge (some historical neighborhoods require work to be done by a certified arborist). If you’re bringing specialty gear or knowledge you should get paid more that Joe Somebody who has a pickup truck and a chainsaw. Just my 2 cents.
 

skygear

Active Member
Quick side note here. - When we do removals, we take care of and cleanup each individual tree before moving on to the next one instead of leaving all the downed trees and mess for cleanup if its multi day job. I have had 2 instances in the past where the client asked for everything to be dropped and then fired us after day 1. Not because we did anything bad, but because they were cheap and hired on some day laborers to do all the cleanup instead $2k day for us. Bid was ~$9500 and it was legitimately a 3-4 day job. When asked the daily rate, we gave it to him. Thats when he asked for all the dropping to be done in one day and hauling another. Yeah, he cashed us out that evening, then thanked us and told us not to come back. Followed up the next morning, and he had a bunch of Spanish day laborers already there.

second time happened, similar situation and it was a couple months later. So we cleanup our big stuff one tree at a time now no exceptions.
 
Quick side note here. - When we do removals, we take care of and cleanup each individual tree before moving on to the next one instead of leaving all the downed trees and mess for cleanup if its multi day job. I have had 2 instances in the past where the client asked for everything to be dropped and then fired us after day 1. Not because we did anything bad, but because they were cheap and hired on some day laborers to do all the cleanup instead $2k day for us. Bid was ~$9500 and it was legitimately a 3-4 day job. When asked the daily rate, we gave it to him. Thats when he asked for all the dropping to be done in one day and hauling another. Yeah, he cashed us out that evening, then thanked us and told us not to come back. Followed up the next morning, and he had a bunch of Spanish day laborers already there.

second time happened, similar situation and it was a couple months later. So we cleanup our big stuff one tree at a time now no exceptions.
Wow, some clients are just the worst...
 

evo

Well-Known Member
I do it all sorts of ways. I charge for the “I want a Arborist to come tell me what I need” that’s a consultation.
I bid most jobs
I charge for a estimate if outside my service area and refund the cost if accepted
Sometimes charge a day rate, plus specialty equipment fees
Sometimes it’s a hourly rate, but that’s reserved for hazardous or jobs I cannot bid (steep angle bluff/cliff work)
Sometimes I charge a minimum for half day or less
Sometimes I discount my work if I grossly over estimate
 

tomstrees

Active Member
Another question; what changes the estimate? The customer wants more work, unforeseen circumstances develop? The 15% add on I heard about, not sure what is accepted in contract law.
 

Jehinten

Well-Known Member
Another question; what changes the estimate? The customer wants more work, unforeseen circumstances develop? The 15% add on I heard about, not sure what is accepted in contract law.
the only two reasons I ever change an estimate are:
1. The homeowner ask for a change in the work to be done and we agree on a price. (sometimes this is added services, sometimes it is less such as a neighbor has offered to haul off the wood or firewood)
2. I've completed the work well ahead of schedule, I will sometimes adjust the price lower. This often is based off of many factors, and is up to my discretion.
 
Another question; what changes the estimate? The customer wants more work, unforeseen circumstances develop? The 15% add on I heard about, not sure what is accepted in contract law.
The brief contracts we have for proposals clearly outlines that additional work will affect the price. For many of my customers this is enough and they know if they ask for additional work they trust I will be honest with the final bill. With others they need me to come out and re-estimate the work. And then there's that small percentage who will try the "since you're here" line. And then the very very small percentage who will try to take advantage of my crews once I'm offsite and convince them to do more work. For the latter, I bill them a fair price for the additional work. If they refuse to pay the extra money, I smile, break the ice a little bit, laugh, and then kill their pockets on the repeat work.
 

tomstrees

Active Member
I had a home improvement contractor that wanted a log splitting job done the same week, involving a lot of big wood, hovered over me for a while as I started the work and ask me if I could stack the 2-3 cords of split wood at the same $225 price? He caught me off guard, and when I had finished the job which was hard to estimate in the first place because the wood was under a tarp, was partly below level ground, that also involved sawing up a number of logs that were 2-3X oversize, I left. Later I emailed him the bill saying I did not have time to stack the wood. I was through and done with the @$$hole with all his bright vehicles on a higher end property. He did not respect labor, and I had no interest in respecting him. Patience and keeping your cool may be virtues but there is reasonable and not, and I see no need to cater to customers who use and abuse workers. I don't think I have ever gotten a referral through log splitting so what's the issue?
 
I had a home improvement contractor that wanted a log splitting job done the same week, involving a lot of big wood, hovered over me for a while as I started the work and ask me if I could stack the 2-3 cords of split wood at the same $225 price? He caught me off guard, and when I had finished the job which was hard to estimate in the first place because the wood was under a tarp, was partly below level ground, that also involved sawing up a number of logs that were 2-3X oversize, I left. Later I emailed him the bill saying I did not have time to stack the wood. I was through and done with the @$$hole with all his bright vehicles on a higher end property. He did not respect labor, and I had no interest in respecting him. Patience and keeping your cool may be virtues but there is reasonable and not, and I see no need to cater to customers who use and abuse workers. I don't think I have ever gotten a referral through log splitting so what's the issue?
No issue that I see. But if they contract you to split wood next year be sure to up your prices and tell them stacking is an additional charge.
 

Benjo75

Member
The way I see it an "estimate" is an estimation of what it will take to do the work agreed upon. In over 25 years I have never once charged more than is on my written estimate. However "while you're here work" is extra and never free as usually expected. I'm glad to work by hour but I have a minimum and will usually make more by the hour than with an estimate. Plus I will write on the estimate what by the hour work is expected that way we both hold up our end of the contract. I don't tell people my hourly figure I need to run my business as they sometimes don't think you deserve that much. And some just don't want you making more than they do. They can't understand why if they make $45 an hour sitting at a desk that you need $150 hr to work on their trees. I just bid jobs for what I need to run my business then move on. No haggling. If they are worried about the price then they will find it cheaper anyway. Tree work isn't like buying gas or milk. You actually do get what you pay for. If it's a $1,000 job and they find it for $250 then they will get a $250 job. And then usually call us back to finish it. I lost a job last year to an underbidder. They got the job then couldn't finish it as the tree was way too rotten to climb. They got it to a certain point and couldn't go any further. They called me to bring the 100 ft bucket out to get the top. No thanks. I already bid that tree and didn't get it. They ended up tearing down service lines and part of a shop getting it down.
 

tomstrees

Active Member
There is no doubt a lot of difference in efficiency in various tree companies. If you are paying for someone with late model trucks, chipper, bucket, lots of advertising, you are paying a lot more than you would with two or three energetic guys operating a plain Jane operation without all the show horse type equipment. Work horses and show horses are different breeds.
 

Jehinten

Well-Known Member
There is no doubt a lot of difference in efficiency in various tree companies. If you are paying for someone with late model trucks, chipper, bucket, lots of advertising, you are paying a lot more than you would with two or three energetic guys operating a plain Jane operation without all the show horse type equipment. Work horses and show horses are different breeds.
A lot more per hour perhaps, but its certainly possible for company A with a crane and a 20" chipper to bid the same price or lower than company B who has hard working but inefficient climbers and are hauling all of the debris from a big removal off on a trailer. (Not that all climbers are inefficient, but some [including myself :nocausagracia:] certainly are)
 
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evo

Well-Known Member
A lot more hour perhaps, but its certainly possible for company A with a crane and a 20" chipper to bid the same price or lower than company B who has hard working but inefficient climbers and are hauling all of the debris from a big removal off on a trailer. (Not that all climbers are inefficient, but some [including myself :nocausagracia:] certainly are)
Or some of he small timers get wise and charge ever so slightly under the big folks, have a higher profit margin with less payments and overhead
 

tomstrees

Active Member
The advantage of a smaller operation over the albatross companies with the huge new trucks with stacks of plywood so they can access backyard work, etc.; with a smaller 4 wheel drive truck, climber, etc. you should be way ahead here in NYC suburbia, unless the customer wants the big show, operates on big shot corporate manager's recommendation to hire Bartlett, Lewis, Davey, etc.. As usual customers should be getting several estimates to see what the real market is and compare operation #1 with #2.
 

Benjo75

Member
All good points. Location has a lot to do with how a business evolves. If it's like here in country Arkansas a lot of homeowners have tractors and saws. They can do cleanup their selves sometimes. Not as worried about lawns either. So there are lots of tree services with a climber and a pickup. Bigger cities, no access and expensive lawns is where a crane really shines. I've noticed wealthier neighborhoods don't really want someone working on the same tree for 8 days. They want you in and out. Sometimes they don't even want to see you. Especially if the neighbors all have pools. 10 cuts with crane is better that 700 cuts rigging. I don't have a crane and probably never will here. It's just not feasible for me. I've grown about as much as my area will let me. Any bigger and I'll work myself out of a job.
 
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