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Construction Programs & Results Inc

We Like to See The Good Guys Win!

How Much Should a Contractor Charge?

by Michael Stone

We realize that many of our website visitors aren't contractors, they are the clients of a contractor. They are generally either looking for help with their Cost Plus project that's gone wrong, or they're trying to figure out if the price they were quoted (or charged) is reasonable.

They frequently confuse Markup with Profit, and we want to set the record straight. Markup isn't profit.

Markup is a general term that applies to the overhead and profit that any business needs to realize if the business wants to stay in business. It is the amount a business charges above their direct cost.

If your contractor has a 1.50 markup (which is reasonable for a remodeling contractor), that means that if the estimated cost for a job is $10,000, they'll multiply the $10,000 x 1.50 and arrive at a $15,000 sales price.

Now many people who know little about business and even less about the costs of running a business will say, "Oh, look at that crook. He is making $5,000 profit on my job." Nope, not true.

Your contractor gets $5,000 to pay their overhead expenses (which includes salary) and make a reasonable profit. I just heard those same people say, "But wait, contractors don't have any overhead!"

Guess again. They have overhead. Advertising, sales commission, job supervision (which isn't usually a job cost), office expenses (even if they work out of their home), insurance, accounting and legal fees, licenses, taxes, employee expenses, and their own salary are just a few of their overhead expenses. The typical remodeling contractor will have overhead expenses ranging from 25% to 54% of their revenue – that means every $15,000 job could have overhead expenses of $3,750 to $8,100.

Somewhere along the line, people started believing that a 10% overhead and 10% profit is the industry standard for construction jobs. Or that a 20% markup is all a contractor needs. Armed with that knowledge, owners try to get their contractor to reduce the price of the job they want done.

If you think it through, it's not a smart move. Would you ask your surgeon to reduce his price before doing open heart surgery? Would you ask your auto repair shop to reduce their price before rebuilding the engine on your car? Do you really want them to go cheap? For most homeowners, your home is your largest single investment. Why do you want to use a cut rate contractor to improve or repair your major investment?

Every business must make a profit or it will go away. It must price the work or services to include the cost of its goods or services as well as cover its overhead expenses and make a reasonable profit. It needs a reasonable profit to build and maintain the business, keeping it viable during the down times. Profit is what insures a business's longevity – if it doesn't make a profit, it might not be in business in six months. If it can't cover overhead expenses and make a reasonable profit, it might not even be in business long enough to finish your project.

The National Association of Home Builders published a report a few years ago that stated that their "best" remodeling contractors averaged something under 4% net profit. I can tell you that in my experience, too many contractors make no profit at all. That's why so many construction-related businesses fail.

So, if you're focused on finding the cheapest contractor to do your job, you have a very good chance of selecting a contractor who will go out of business while trying to build your job.

There's an old saying, "A fool and their money are soon parted." Any owner who selects a contractor based on their price has no one but themselves to blame when things go sideways. Markup isn't profit, it is the money needed to make sure the contractor can complete your job, pay his bills and if he's doing things right, make a profit on the job as well. Just like your doctor, your mechanic, your grocer and every other business.

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