The overloaded orange hand truck was filled high with ceiling fans, light fixtures, door hardware and faux wood mini blinds. I made my way slowly from the Home Depot pro desk to the parking lot, careful not spill any of the precious cargo.Yes, I could have made two trips to the car with my stuff. But that’s not how I roll. I’m a guy and guys get it done in one trip, not two.
I loaded the items into my chariot, a 2004 Chevy Tahoe with the back seats folded down, like a master puzzle solver. Each box was arranged so that not a spare inch of space went unused. Just as I was about to put the last piece in place (the light bulbs because they are delicate), a man approached.
I wondered what anyone would wonder when a total stranger appears out of nowhere in an empty parking lot at 6:30am. Is this random person going to shoot me? Ask for money? Jumper cables? Directions to Lowes?
Instead he asked if I was going to install the ceiling fans, light fixtures, door hardware and faux wood mini blinds myself. The thought crossed my mind I said. The man told me he was an electrician and could do all of the work in 3-4 hours. Naturally, I asked what he would charge. Without hesitation this parking lot solicitor said “$400”.
Wow. $400. For 4 hours of work. I know doctors who don’t get paid that well. When I broke down the maths out loud the man quickly revised his quote. “I’ll do it for $150”, he said.
I learned valuable lesson in the Home Depot parking lot that day. While material costs (i.e. cabinets, countertops, windows, doors, ceiling fans, blinds, etc.) are pretty much fixed, labour costs are very negotiable. By asking the contractor for a price and estimated job completion time I quickly determined how much he was getting paid per hour. And $100 per hour was way too much to hang a few ceiling fans and window blinds.
These days I ask all new contractors “how much and how long?” If there are material costs included in their bid I ask for those to be separated from the labour costs. Then I know exactly how much I’m being charged per hour. For the typical handyman-type work $25-35 an hour is reasonable.
Of course, when dealing with licensed trades like roofers, electricians and plumbers, all bets are off. Most have set hourly rates. But, I’ve found even those can be negotiated. I’ve had success lowering my labour costs for HVAC and major appliance repair just by asking “how much and how long?”
When the laborer has to really think about what they are charging on a per hour basis their perspective may change a little – which puts a little extra change in my pocket.