Determining how long tasks should take (carpentry, painting, etc.

6 Replies

I am one of those investors who absolutely hates to do anything DIY. I own a lawn care business and a small web design business where I put the bulk of my "manual labor" while I have an absolute Godsend working for me who handles all our carpentry, repairs, etc. The problem is, I have NO IDEA how long things SHOULD take (i.e. is he fast or slow and is there anything I can do about it to help him without offending him if he's slow). Our repairs expense is regularly in the 20-30% range vs. "nationally accepted" 5-10%. We don't do anything "luxury". In other words, our problem isn't that we're putting granite countertops in class C properties. We just like things done well, done nice. 2 Tone paint vs. "antique white" etc. It could be my "fussiness" that is contributing to his onerous bills. To be fair, he does save us some when he sneaks in and takes care of plumbing issues instead of our $88 per hour plumbing company. We also do have an occasional apartment (of 48) that has NEVER been remodeled. He takes 80-200 hours @ $30 per hour to renovate. I don't have a solid core question here other than, if I have NO IDEA how much time things take to do, is there any way for me to hold him accountable and help him set better goals? Is there a list somewhere that says, "putting a kitchen cabinet in should take x" etc. Of course, these are old buildings and there's 9 steps that no "estimating guide" includes, like sanding and putting poly on the floor under the cabinet you tear out to keep the cat urine odor in, etc. Anyway, I'd love to hear anyone's feedback and perspective on this. maybe my solution is to hire a general manager who is a "bad ***" with controlling expenses! 

That's a fair question to ask but one that's almost impossible to answer. There are so many variables, especially with older properties.

Workers who are honest, dependable, skillful, reasonably priced and personable are worth their weight in gold. We choose to work with people who don't smoke, drink (in excess), or use drugs. Our best workers become part of our "team" and we let them know we value them by speaking highly of them, complementing their work, and treating them to lunch, or tickets to a show, or even paying for a professional massage or trip to the dentist from time to time. We strive for more than a transactional relationship. We want workers who look after our best interest in addition to their own.  The win-win. The guy or gal who will go out of their way to help us in a pinch. Loyal. Respectful of our tenants too and know that what they do makes a positive difference in the lives of our tenants. It's never "just a rental"; it's someone's home. We look for workers who take pride in their work and demonstrate integrity. 

At one of my past jobs we had a saying "You see it, you own it!" Whereby if you see something that needs tending, you take care of it by either doing it yourself (such as picking up a piece of trash and putting it in the waste bin) or letting the right person know something is amiss so it gets addressed appropriately. Sounds like the guy who works for you understands the value of seeing something and proactively tending to it within the scope of his capability. That's great!

That said, what's a fair wage and what's an honest day's work? When we work side by side with tradespeople or others, what do we observe? Do they show up on time with the right tools? Do they know how to select the right materials? Are they focused? Are they working at a steady pace? Do they take safety measures and have the right PPE? Do they take breaks appropriately? Do they start with the end in mind? Are they able to complete the task in a reasonable amount of time? Are they saving us money in the long run or bleeding us dry? Do we get the results we want?

One of my strategies is to look at YouTube videos of tradespeople doing their work, especially the ones where they are teaching other tradespeople how to do the job. There's a difference in how a professional approaches a task and how an unskilled laborer approaches a task. As a worker becomes more skilled, their ability to pick up the pace increases too, as well as their critical thinking skills. There is value in that. 

Good workers can also slow down over time without even realizing it. Especially solo workers. But, when working side by side with others, there's a group energy bouying effect which leads to greater efficiency and camaraderie. The workers can be working on the same task or completely different things. Just the presence of others tending to improve accountability.

I wouldn't put pressure on a good worker by sending in a bean counter to reel in expenses. Instead, I would take the worker out to lunch and share with him my challenges and ask him for his thoughts. If I needed him to do something different, I would phrase it as... "What would it take to _______________." For example, "What would it take to complete this apartment rehab within $$ budget, or within XX time, or with QQ quality?" In the project management triangle, you are considering Scope - Cost - Schedule when aiming for a particular quality outcome. Others have put it simply..... Price, Quality or Time....  choose two."

Also, as emphasized in a recent version of "This Old House" fewer people are going into the trades. There is a real shortage on the horizon. Finding good tradespeople, who are interested and available to work on our investment properties will become more challenging. We'll need to provide incentive to keep the good ones servicing our older properties or we may lose them to new construction.

So I didn't really answer your question.... just gave you more to consider! :-)

Shop it, don't take all his work, but maybe something you question. Get a bid, keep it simple and get breakdown w/ est hours. Compare it to his quote, if it's different ask him to explain HOW he came up w/ his numbers.

Everyone fluffs their numbers because things come up and no one wants to lose money. But reasonable numbers have reasonable explanations....

@Kenneth LaVoie, @Marcia Maynard makes a great point about completing the task in a reasonable amount of time. Using a specialist can save you money in the long run, even though they may cost more. For exampIe, I work with cabinet installers that can install just about any kitchen in 2 days or less for $50-$75 an hour. So if it takes your contractor 5 days to install a kitchen, not only can you save a couple hundred dollars, you save the 3 days he didn't need install cabinets, plus he can be working elsewhere in the property while the cabinets are being installed, completing the unit faster and getting it back on the market quicker. This is just one example of using a specialist from my segment of the market. 

 @Marcia Maynard, brilliant reply! I just used the Henry Ford quote you paraphrased recently with my designers (I'm manager of a kitchen showroom).

Have you questioned any of his bills after a job was done? Meaning if he was to remove and replace a bathroom vanity and sends a bill for 16 hours... I would be on the phone with him the instant I saw that.

Hiring anyone hourly without knowing how any hours something takes and not being able to oversee the work can lead to someone fluffing their time.

@Colin O'Neill makes a good point, if your handyman is decent at a lot but not a specialists, it may take him longer to do something. I would be discussing what he sees his time on a scope to be and what your expectation are before he begins. If he tells you it will take him a week to install cabinets... that is too long and you could save money having a cabinet crew come in and get it done in a day or two.

I like the idea of doling out a few jobs here and there to others in the field to compare numbers. What makes discernment difficult is the age of our buildings (100+ years old with unusual building methods, etc.)

Thanks so very much for this advice. I'm sending this thread to my inbox for further dissection and consideration. 

@Kenneth LaVoie $35 an hour seems like a good deal.  Working on older properties has it's own set of issues.  I would find someone to quote and compare a job.  

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