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Consultation Fees - for the 1018th time!

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by DVS Hardscaper, Mar 1, 2011.

  1. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,417

    Who's charging a consultation fee for the initial visit and who's not?

    Prior to the recession hitting I was charging $30 for the initial visit with a client, refundable from the job cost if the propoal was accepted.

    Basically what this SMALL fee did was it told me these people ARE SERIOUS. It wasn't about recovering gas expenses. It was more of a way of qualifying prospective clients. Most folks had $30 cash in their wallets.

    In 2007 we had carpet installed in the house. Which I bought from Home Depot. Home Depot charged either $35 or $45 to come measure for the carpet. And it was NON-REFUNDABLE.

    Another home I had was in need of new countertops. The local counter top company charged $20 to come measure for new counter tops.

    We always hear / read where patio guys say "hey the plumbing industry charges for service calls and we should too". Yet when you mention charging a small consultation fee....it always seems that many paver guys are quick to shoot them down??

    When the recession hit, I had no choice but to stop charging consultation fees. I've been a pretty good sport about going out and consulting and measuring for free and I've maintained a very positive attitude.

    Well, something happened about 10 days ago where I'm starting to not be such a good sport. I had some people contact me about a patio. Found us online. I went to meet with them. Right off the bat they divuldged their budget without me having to ask them. The meeting went REALLY WELL. I had them smiling and joking and I know I gained their trust. I left their home with a real good feeling about the job. I did not waste any time, the next day I completed the design and I started pricing it. This was not a job where I would have been comfortable designing it and selling it at their dining room table, it had some logistics that I wanted to contend with at my own pace in my office.

    The estimate and the proposal was 99% complete. I just needed to know what style of paver they liked to wrap things up. When I met with them he liked Techo's Blu and she liked the Elena. So I told them to talk it over and get back with me.

    I called and got the voice mail. I left a friendly message more or less saying "hey I need to know what paver you want". No response.

    So I call the next day and I leave another friendly message. About 3 hrs later the Mrs calls. She says "well, as you know we got other estimates and we went with someone else whom we had a personal interest in, my husband is an artist and the other guy put an artsie twist to the design".

    This made my blood boil. It made me angry because I KNEW the guy is an artist, and I had done a design that I thought was of creativity and that fit into their budget. The design was not the typical "peanut" shape, and it was not a rectangle. I was (and still am) angry that they did not even give me the chance to show them the design. But hey...at least they called me back and told me!

    Here, I spent an hr in travel time (both ways). I spent about 1.25 hrs meeting with them. I spent about 3 hrs on their design. And about 35 minutes job costing and drafting the proposal. I met with them at 5:30 on a tuesday night and I had the design and proposal completed by 3 pm the next day.

    I'm starting to think it's time to go back to charging $30 consultation fees. Gas prices are rising. My time is valuable.

    Who's doing consultation fees and who isn't? Do you want to be compensated like plumbers and heating and air repair people or do you like chasing down work?


    Last edited: Mar 1, 2011
  2. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,417

    my apoligizies for the misspellings. I was typing fast and the phone rang before I proof read.
  3. Swampy

    Swampy LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,435

    I can see where you are coming from, but in the sea of free estimates I feel you wont even get that chance to show your design work. Even though your going to be "refunding" them people still would rather be a tight @zz with there money.
  4. tadpole

    tadpole LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,216


    Your initial post in this thread explains exactly why I charge a $75.00 initial consulting fee. In addition, I feel a fee is proper, not just for the usual reasons (time, gas, etc.), but I also feel it sets me apart from those that give free estimates by portraying my company as being a notch above the others.

    Even so, I still get 'Tire Kickers' only they are paying 'Tire Kickers'.
  5. SVA_Concrete

    SVA_Concrete LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 467

    I was thinking about this the other day. 90% of my work is referral and repeat, so i usually have a pretty good idea what i am getting into before hand, and will most often get that work.

    In continuing to grow the business, i am going to start a small bit of advertising this year and I am concerned how much time and money I am putting into estimates that don't pay off.

    I think that a consultation fee if very appropriate on a job with a good bit of design, a cut and dry sidewalk or even large remove and replace maybe not so appropriate for a fee.

    I posted photos of a design problem that i was having a while back, that job in particular i had worked with the folks for around a month, three meetings (45 minutes away) and hand drew a design. as well as priced 3 "options" have not heard a peep from the customer.

    I think the time to charge is when it requires a design, or when you are helping with design decisions. It is more than fair to charge 40 or 50 for what typically should be done by an architect.

    for example, this last job we just finished was a breeze, I showed up and the customer handed me a 24x36 arch drawing with details on what he wanted down to the clay paver and brick color. that took me only 15 minutes or so to price.
  6. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,417

    Here is another prospective.

    As stated the consultation fee isn't about making money. It's a tool to gauge their seriousness.

    Yet my house needs painting inside. I plan to do this myself.

    The money that I am spending in gas chasing dead end leads is money that could be used to not only buy the paint and supplies....but to pay a professional painter to do the whole thing!

    I spent 1 hr in travel time to those people's home. and 1 hr and 15 minutes meeting with them. I could have painted painted my kitchen ceiling with that time. And the money spent in gas would have paid for 1/2 a gallon of decent paint.

    Don't get me wrong, I realize you win some you lose some, thats the nature of the business. I'm not getting any younger, but as you get older you start to appreciate and value your time.

  7. 8inchBlock

    8inchBlock LawnSite Member
    Posts: 29

    so by the example, you would only charge 10 bucks an hour for design work?:dizzy: sounds like you were unable to prequalify the client correctly and should have charged a real rate for the design work sense thats what kind of service they really needed. if you had charged a legit rate they would have taken you serious rather than not even letting you come back
  8. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,417

    Mr. 8-incher,

    You're kinda spoutin off at the mouth there buddy!

    I was waiting for the "pre-qualification" responses to come.

    I'm very good at pre-qualifying. I believe my opening post has a statement or 2 that indicate these folks are qualified. The folks indeed bought a patio! That was never in question. They provided the correct answers on my contact form and they provided the correct information when I called and spoke with the gentleman.

    Pre-qualifying sounds like a real neat term. Especially for us lawn guys turned contractors! Here we are making fancy stripes one day and the next we're using cool sounding lingo!!! And it's even funner to sling these terms around online! But........that doesnt mean the work is going to be yours. That doesn't mean they will marry you. Many people wear wedding rings.....yet they still stray off. And thats what these people did, they shacked up before all the dates were over.

    Pre-qualifying and consultation fees are 2 different aspects of the beginning of a client / contractor relationship, 2 different subjects.

    Design fees? I don't do design fees for patios under $20k. The market here won't allow for this. Over 20K we use an architect. And design fees, again, totally different subject :)

    Last edited: Mar 1, 2011
  9. punt66

    punt66 LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 8,538

    I would never charge the fee nor would i ever pay it. Look at it from the home owners perspective. The home owner is also puting in their time and has no idea what kind of yahoo is coming to give them a price. For all they know its some hack collecting money for a chat.
  10. STL Ponds and Waterfalls

    STL Ponds and Waterfalls LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,177

    They should be prequalifying you as well, this way they are not paying for a chat.

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