Bid or Estimate?

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by MOturkey, May 28, 2011.

  1. MOturkey

    MOturkey LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,781

    Something happened this week that ticked me off a bit, but it was largely my fault, when I think about it, and proves the old adage that one is never too old to learn.

    A lady called Thursday. Told me her father had recently passed away, and that he owned 5 acres. The yard around the house had been kept mowed, but there was a large part that was too high for their mower. I asked if they needed regular service, or simply a one time mow. She told me it would only be the one time, they just needed to get it down to where they could maintain it.

    Now, I don't mind doing the single service gig occasionally. It is extra money, but like most of you, it isn't how I make a living. I explained to the lady that with the rainouts we've had this week, that it would more than likely be the first of next week before I could do it, which she said was fine, and asked if I could look at it and give her a price. I told her I would do so the first thing the next morning. She gave me directions and her phone number.

    Okay, so yesterday morning I wake up a bit early, leave my wife sleeping, and drive the 6 or so miles to the place. Nice home, and as the lady said, along the drive back to the house, and all around the home proper, the lawn was well maintained, but there was an area of almost 2 acres between the house and the highway that hadn't been mowed all year. It was tall fescue, which is already going to seed, but it was nothing but grass. One corner of this area had been mowed, perhaps a quarter acre or more, and it was obvious they had realized their mower wasn't up to the task.

    I know there are some on here who will argue, but my normal course of action for a one time, cleanup type job is to charge by the hour. I could have told her this in the first conversation, but wanted to look at the property first. If it had been a nightmare, or something that needed bush hogged, I would have passed. Charging hourly removes the guesswork, is fair to the customer, and removes the unknown element of exactly how long the job will take.

    I call the lady a couple of hours later, and tell her it is something we can easily handle and that I normally do this type of job for an hourly rate of $65, using the actual time on the equipment as this job required no trimming. I inquired as to how nice they wanted it to look, as in do you want it double cut, or just knocked down? She told me they just needed it knocked down to where there mower could handle it, and they would go back over it.

    I told her the area was probably a little over an acre and a half, and that I would estimate, with as high as the grass was, it would run somewhere between $100 and $150. I was getting ready to tell her that if the rain held off (which it didn't), we might even be able to do it that afternoon, or this morning, when she cut in and said she'd get back with me, as she had some other people coming to give her a bid. I just said "Thanks", and hung up.

    Now, I had assumed, incorrectly, that she wanted me to do the job, just wanted to know how much it would run. This was a one-time deal. Dear old dad had just passed, and I'm guessing they were cleaning the place up to put it on the market. If I had known it was a best price bidding war, I would have passed altogether, saved my time and a bit of gasoline and slept in another hour.

    In my mind, a one-time, cleanup type situation is similar to a repair service. When you take your car in for repairs, the mechanic will give you an estimate of about what it will cost, unless they run into an unseen issue. Same with this type of job. I've got burned a couple of times, so rather than give a ridiculously high bid to cover my azz in a worst case scenario, I try to be fair to myself and the customer by charging hourly. If it takes less time than I estimate, it costs them less. On this job, I figured an hour an acre to mow, given the height of the grass. As near as I could figure, the unmowed area was about an acre and a half, so about 1 1/2 hours @ $65.

    If I had just given a set bid, I would have bid at least $130, just in case it took me two full hours. Now, I'm guessing some guy hungry for business, and not realizing equipment costs, probably will end up mowing it for $60 or so. I learned a valuable lesson. Next time I get a call for a one-time cleanup or mow, I'm going to ask if they want me to do the job, as long as the price is reasonable, or are they looking for the cheapest bid. If they are getting multiple bids, I'll respectfully decline, and avoid wasting my time, because I more than likely won't be the cheapest.
  2. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    Yeah I could kind of see it coming early on but you did the right thing because you never can be too sure,
    what if you had jumped the gun and then it turns out different, when this happens I just close a blind eye to it
    and go on out and do what has to be done, granted the half the time sure enough they about faint when they
    hear the price but what can you do?

    Because there are times too, I get the job, you just never know.

    Normally however folks like these what happens is they have never hired a service provider in the Green Industry and
    the half of them haven't a clue as to our rates, now I can't say for sure but they're figuring how bad could it be, they
    don't want to do the work themselves so they're basically thinking it will be cheaper to offload it on one of them dudes
    in a pick up truck, you get the idea...
    They're probably thinking (or not thinking) that it's going to cost like 20, 30 bucks at the worst, pay this guy
    his 10 or 15 dollars an hour (that 15 is being generous) and be done, it happens to me all the time but you can't
    let it slow you down, just answer the phone, get their info, go give the estimate and keep on getting it.

    Maybe you could have skipped the part about the hourly rate, then again it may not have made any difference.
    Because again I repeat there are times too, I get the job, you just never know.

    Win some, lose some.
    Last edited: May 28, 2011
  3. JDiepstra

    JDiepstra LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,511

    I guess my only advice would also be to skip the hourly rate whenever possible. Many people don't understand that you are showing up with $40,000 worth of equipment that you paid for with your own money, and at $20 an hour (more than most make) you would never be able to pay for it all. Keep on trucking man.
  4. BestImpressions99

    BestImpressions99 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 491

    I understand wanting to make a bit of cash on the side but I think in a way you did the right thing in quoting exactly what you thought would make the most sense. I'm starting to bid on properties to hopefully expand to be Best Impressions of my city and have and incorporated feel to the business. But I'm not budging on my costs.

    I understand that alot of folks have to take the lumps and bumps to first start out. But if you don't NEED the extra work, don't kill yourself for a six pack of Coors and a Playboy.

    Something else to think about. Maybe approaching EVERYTHING thinking that it's going to be a bidding war might be a good thing. Businesses do bidding wars, people want the biggest bang for their buck. Not that we blame them, we want to be in and out with the most profit margin possible. Not that it's fair but... just my dos pesos.
  5. weeze

    weeze LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 12,375

    i've learned that when they say "I've got some more bids or estimates coming in" after you give them a price it means that they think your price is too high....i would think $100 would be a good price if it takes 1 1/2 hrs or so...but that would be making it look good as in no stragglers and cutting it to a 2" height (normal height here in the south) but not perfect since there would still be grass clippings all over it....maybe they just want you to set the height at 4-5" or something and just fly over it leaving stragglers? i that case i would charge $50-$75.

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