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Jacob

Repair and restoration costs

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For those who do a good amount of repairs and restoration:

How do you determine the cost of a specific job?

I'm not looking for specific amounts. Rather, how do you weight the cost of a job according to:

Skill level required, and experience/track record;

Time spent;

Materials;

Specialist tools required.

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It is always tricky for large restoration jobs where there may be many problems with an instrument, such as one which has been sat on, or dropped for example.

A good way to make sense of it all is to try and break down the costs into individual jobs for your own reference. I make a list of all the damage I will need to restore, including materials, varnish work and set up, then try to assign a time to each one of them. A record of past jobs and the time taken is very helpful here. This is particularly useful when trying to estimate costs for multiple casts, forms, or where a one off jig may be needed to solve a tricky problem. Material costs are much easier to estimate.

You raise a good point about tools Jacob. This is something that I never consider, because we already have all the tools that we ever need (lucky!). For someone not equipped in specialist restoration, any tooling costs must of course be covered.

Time is the major factor in determining the overall price. It is easy to put hundreds of hours into a large scale restoration, especially when dealing with ragged old cracks that have been repaired badly in the past. We always discuss everything fully, and make a considered decision before committing to a price.

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Are you paying rent or working in the spare bedroom; big city rent will cost you $1 to $2 per sqft per month. Are you trying to make a living or just having fun? Are you doubling a rib or filling a nut. Are you using a $500 bass endpin reemer or your carving knife. No easy answer. My CPA charges $100 per hour and my lawyer $250 or more. I think the auto repair shop with the $75per hour declared rate is a good rate if you can get it. Teachers rates are another sourch of comparison. Computer repair people are way over $100 per hour. I keep detailed records of most jobs other than bridges and posts. I declare a plus or minus range of 5% to 20% depending on complexity on estimates. I do little work without a deposit up front, that way I don't acquire a lot of instruments accidentally. I write a detailed estimate and so far I have not charged for estimates but I think about it; I get at least 75% of the work I estimate. I have all the work I care to do and enjoy doing it most of the time. I spend 1 to 2 hours a week doing estimates. Most factory workers in the world make less than $1 per hour. Don't work for minimum wage!! Price for all this free adivce? Hope it's worth something.

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....break down the costs into individual jobs...

This is the main thing that I do. For example, if I were going to repair a rib I might break it down this way: remove top, remove lower block, remove rib, make rib counterpart, glue rib crack, double rib, reglue rib, fit new block, reglue top, touch up varnish, set up. Then I would estimate how long each step would take based on past experience and add the estimates of all the steps to arrive at a total estimated time. As I do the work, I keep track of the time spent on each step to see how good my estimates were.

I have set prices for standard operations (soundpost, bridge, pegs, new fingerboard, etc) which include the cost of the materials used.

If I am doing something that I have never done before, I try to estimate how long it should take me if I were familiar with the proceedure, knowing that it could take me considerably longer than that the first time I do it. I do this because I think that I should be the one paying for my education -- not the customer. The customer pays me because he or she assumes that I already know what I am doing.

My price for the entire job is based almost entirely on the time estimate. If the job required a high skill level, that would just translate into a longer time estimate. I don't make any adjustments to account for my experience or my tools, since I already have them. Materials cost for most repairs are negligible because the materials that I use in repairs consists mostly of tiny bits of wood, glue, pigments and varnish. (Of course, if I were putting on new strings, cello endpin, etc., I would charge for that.)

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I agree with most of the posts. I have spent years doing other types of repairs. Guitar repair/restoration and alot of years doing band instrument repairs. With guitar and Violin work, I base it all on time, because material and tool costs are minimal (other than initial tooling). In band instrument repair (and some in guitar thanks to Dan Erliwine), there are tools/equip you can purchase the make the job MUCH faster. When my repair guys come to me to discuss the purchase, I relate it to time. If it's a machine that cuts the time in half for a certain repair, and it costs, maybe, $2000, then I instruct them to not pass that savings of time on to the customer. I instruct them to basically charge what they normally would for the repair without the tool. If I invest in expensive equipment, then I should be the recipient of my investment, not the customer. Now, if all other shops have this tooling and the time for the job starts to come in line with the tooling savings, then we lighten up and move in the direction of it being at the normal hourly rate. I also push the hourly rate a little higher for more advanced work, I classify this as restoration work, rather than repair work. Most probably won't make that distinction, and I may not down the road, but it helps me currently. I agree with Brad about not chargeing on the timing of something I'm learning, basically charge for what it should take. jeff

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1) Skill level required, and experience/track record;

2) Time spent;

3) Materials;

4) Specialist tools required.

I suppose there are variants that some shops might need to factor if they work on a tiered system (student instruments, intermediate, etc.), but I don't... so:

1) Experience, reputation, track record, etc. is what is factored into I charge for my time. Already set. I have one charge for labor/repair/restoration and another for consultation/appraisal.

2) I estimate the time I expect to spend as closely as possible. For a some specific tasks (dressing a board, bridge, post) I have set charges based on averages. If there is an unknown, I give the client a range for that particular portion of the project, explain what factors might cause that portion of the job to take more, or less, time, and keep them informed.

3) Some material costs are factored in, others (with clear costs and/or cost that fluxuate) are charged for and itemized.

4) If special single use, or limited use, jigs/collets/counter-forms/etc are required, an estimate for time & material is included within the estimate. If one has made an investment in very expensive piece of equipment for multiple uses, it may require some additional income to pay for the equipment and upkeep... but in the end I have seen few real time advantages in this sort of machinery... and certainly optical aids (like a microscope) may INCREASE the time spent on cleaning a crack or fault rather than decrease it. Personally, I'd factor (and do) the cost f such equipment into the hourly rate as overhead.

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What I'd like to know, is how to charge for touch up. This is an operation that seems to take me a few minutes a multitude of times and seems impossible to keep track of. Does anyone have an approximation of time on touch up work, I know, I know, every one is different, but you still have to estimate it. Any help or ideas with this?

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As a client of repairs, not as the repairer, I'd like to add the following consideration:

I've been somewhat disappointed to find out, when picking a repaired instrument up, that the final charge was higher than the original quote, something I didn't know until picking up the instrument. The repairer will justify the added expense, and I, a bit annoyed, pay it.

For good customer relations, maybe a repairer should stick with whatever the original quote is and chalk up a low quote as a learning experience.

The problem might be in the literal meanings of "quote" vs "estimate." By those meanings, a repairer ought to be able to exceed an "estimate" and still remain within the area of good faith. But an "estimate" in most other products and services I've bought -- eg, roofing, drive way paving, auto repair -- is a fixed price which won't be exceeded. So, I think a violin repairer who regards an "estimate" as a flexible number which can be exceeded might be out of step with the rest of service providers.

Maybe the solution for a repairer is to offer an estimate on the high side, one which the repairer knows they won't exceed, and then lower the final price when that's justified. For client-shop relations, surprises in the client's favor are better than surprises which work against the client.

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As a client of repairs, not as the repairer, I'd like to add the following consideration:

I've been somewhat disappointed to find out, when picking a repaired instrument up, that the final charge was higher than the original quote, something I didn't know until picking up the instrument. The repairer will justify the added expense, and I, a bit annoyed, pay it.

For good customer relations, maybe a repairer should stick with whatever the original quote is and chalk up a low quote as a learning experience.

The problem might be in the literal meanings of "quote" vs "estimate." By those meanings, a repairer ought to be able to exceed an "estimate" and still remain within the area of good faith. But an "estimate" in most other products and services I've bought -- eg, roofing, drive way paving, auto repair -- is a fixed price which won't be exceeded. So, I think a violin repairer who regards an "estimate" as a flexible number which can be exceeded might be out of step with the rest of service providers.

Maybe the solution for a repairer is to offer an estimate on the high side, one which the repairer knows they won't exceed, and then lower the final price when that's justified. For client-shop relations, surprises in the client's favor are better than surprises which work against the client.

Couldn't agree more. It doesn't take much to make a call and that is HUGE when it comes to a surprise. Far underestimated by repairmen IMHO. jeff

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I have set charges for certain repairs that I do on a regular basis: bridge, post, bass bar, pegs, bushings, ect.

Now, I have a friend who used to work for a prominent, large volume shop. He works on his own now, and does restoration for shops in addition to new building. His process has caused me to pay more attention to mine, and it has been enlightening.

I get the instrument/part back with a stack of post-it notes. They each have a date, time parameters and what he did. LIke: 8:21-8:37-glue top crack, 8:40-8:53 gluing top crack w/counter parts, 8:10-8:28 back off and neck out (all different days). At the end, he adds up all of the post-it notes, and gives me a bill.

The hardest part is getting a good estimate. Until you have done these things for years, you will have a difficult time coming up with a tight estimate. I will sometimes give a wider range and inform the customer that I will be able to give a better number after I've opened the instrument.

The two things that I have learned from my friend's process is: 1-I am slower than I thought at many things, 2-I don't keep good enough track of actual time spent with the instrument.

And always, if I find something that I didn't expect that is going to increase the cost of the repair, I take pictures, call the client, and explain.

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If the idea might be helpful to anyone, one thing I tried when doing repairs was to have an electronic "stopwatch" on the bench. They're cheap enough now that one could have one for every job, labeled for each job. Just punch the start button when you start working on the project, and the stop button when you move to something else. You get accumulated time for each project, unless you hit the "reset" button by mistake. :blink:

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1) For good customer relations, maybe a repairer should stick with whatever the original quote is and chalk up a low quote as a learning experience.

2) The problem might be in the literal meanings of "quote" vs "estimate." By those meanings, a repairer ought to be able to exceed an "estimate" and still remain within the area of good faith. But an "estimate" in most other products and services I've bought -- eg, roofing, drive way paving, auto repair -- is a fixed price which won't be exceeded. So, I think a violin repairer who regards an "estimate" as a flexible number which can be exceeded might be out of step with the rest of service providers.

3) Maybe the solution for a repairer is to offer an estimate on the high side, one which the repairer knows they won't exceed, and then lower the final price when that's justified. For client-shop relations, surprises in the client's favor are better than surprises which work against the client.

Hi Ski;

I think it's important that players voice their thoughts. We need to hear them and there are certain aspects of your post I very much agree with (especially about a surprise bill upon pick-up!)... but:

1) If there is an error on the part of the estimator, that may be one thing... but if I open up your nice old Italian and find a previous unseen and possibly disguised unreliable repair, I'd be calling you... and I don't feel I'd even consider writing the resulting procedure off to a learning experience. :)

Please note I said: "I estimate the time I expect to spend as closely as possible. For a some specific tasks (dressing a board, bridge, post) I have set charges based on averages. If there is an unknown, I give the client a range for that particular portion of the project, explain what factors might cause that portion of the job to take more, or less, time, and keep them informed."

Keeping the client informed is key. Approval for exceeding the estimate s vital.

2) For sake of argument, a reasonable definition: Estimation is the process of finding an estimate, or approximation, which is a value that is usable for some purpose even if input data may be incomplete, uncertain, or unstable.

While some portions of an estimate may be reliably known, when working with instruments some may not be. I can't tell if that previously repaired worm track on the inside of the back is really stable until I poke at it. This is specially true when working with older instruments, but some newer ones have structural difficulties, the cause of which is not always completely apparent. Same could be said for structural rehab of a building, or machinery.

Again, in my opinion, one should not exceed the estimate without contacting the client. (Maybe with exception. I do have clients who tell me "just do whatever it needs. I completely trust you." Even then, if something ended up going well outside the "plan", I'd call them. Maybe that's part of the reason they completely trust me.)

3) While I certainly try my best not to underestimate, I use my experience to calculate as accurate as possible a number for the client, and to inform the client of the possible unsure/unknown conditions which may be initially estimated by a range of cost.

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If the idea might be helpful to anyone, one thing I tried when doing repairs was to have an electronic "stopwatch" on the bench.

Very helpful. While multiple watches would probably drive me crazy, I still use the one on my iphone for single jobs. :)

I think there are probably some productivity aps that offer the capacity for multiple project time keeping that would work well for this application. Haven't tried any but looked at a few at the ap store.

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Hi Ski;

I think it's important that players voice their thoughts. We need to hear them and there are certain aspects of your post I very much agree with (especially about a surprise bill upon pick-up!)... but:

1) If there is an error on the part of the estimator, that may be one thing... but if I open up your nice old Italian and find a previous unseen and possibly disguised unreliable repair, I'd be calling you... and I don't feel I'd even consider writing the resulting procedure off to a learning experience. :)

Please note I said: "I estimate the time I expect to spend as closely as possible. For a some specific tasks (dressing a board, bridge, post) I have set charges based on averages. If there is an unknown, I give the client a range for that particular portion of the project, explain what factors might cause that portion of the job to take more, or less, time, and keep them informed."

Keeping the client informed is key. Approval for exceeding the estimate s vital.

2) For sake of argument, a reasonable definition: Estimation is the process of finding an estimate, or approximation, which is a value that is usable for some purpose even if input data may be incomplete, uncertain, or unstable.

While some portions of an estimate may be reliably known, when working with instruments some may not be. I can't tell if that previously repaired worm track on the inside of the back is really stable until I poke at it. This is specially true when working with older instruments, but some newer ones have structural difficulties, the cause of which is not always completely apparent. Same could be said for structural rehab of a building, or machinery.

Again, in my opinion, one should not exceed the estimate without contacting the client. (Maybe with exception. I do have clients who tell me "just do whatever it needs. I completely trust you." Even then, if something ended up going well outside the "plan", I'd call them. Maybe that's part of the reason they completely trust me.)

3) While I certainly try my best not to underestimate, I use my experience to calculate as accurate as possible a number for the client, and to inform the client of the possible unsure/unknown conditions which may be initially estimated by a range of cost.

Jeffrey,

There's nothing in your post I, as a client, would disagree with.

My point is a simple one: The client needs to know what the number or number range means which the repairer, in an estimate, offers a client. Is it a fixed price? A minimum? A maximum? A typical price? A typical price range? A price or price range which could change upon closer inspection? Surely the repairer has some kind of conscious policy about what the number or number range offered in an estimate means, and how the repairer will deal with as yet unforeseen issues. I, as a client, would appreciate knowing what that policy is, up front, rather than getting details of that policy only after the repairer has started working on the instrument.

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My point is a simple one: The client needs to know what the number or number range means which the repairer, in an estimate, offers a client.

I think I covered that, as far as what I do goes, right?

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Yes.

Cool.

BTW: We've had two of the guest instructors at two different Oberlin Workshop sessions cover ethics, budget, planning and estimates. John Becker & Jean-Jacques Fasnacht). In John Becker's session, he actually went through a mock planning/estimate session with Chris Reuning using a violin Chris brought to the event. It is an important procedure.

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Only a few times and just recently I told a client I would have to remove the top to give him a good estimate and quoted him a resonable price to remove the top. The neck was loose, open seam in the back at the button, ribs hanging out, etc. When I got the top off a host of surprises presented themselves along with some previous repairs and construction techniques I was not familiar with; all the lineing, top and back was loose. The estimate was substantial and he requested time to save up. Another situation was with a loose bass neck; I decline to estimate until the neck out and once again the owner declined the repairs as well as the neck removal. I think that had I winged it with a best guess there would have been surprises and problems.

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Is anyone using a USB endoscope as part of their estimating process? Seems like it might help to avoid some surprises...

Having time to study the instrument before giving an estimate I find to be very useful as well. Perspective gained by a few days of mentally going through a restoration and problem solving before even mentioning a price helps (for me at least) a lot.

Cool.

BTW: We've had two of the guest instructors at two different Oberlin Workshop sessions cover ethics, budget, planning and estimates. John Becker & Jean-Jacques Fasnacht). In John Becker's session, he actually went through a mock planning/estimate session with Chris Reuning using a violin Chris brought to the event. It is an important procedure.

Those were two of my favorite parts of the last two Oberlin sessions. They certainly have changed the way I have approached estimating and documenting projects.

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whenever a repair involves removing the top I always inform the customer that there are likely to be surprises and not usually good ones.

A USB endoscope seems like a good idea. Can you point one out?

Although no endoscope will show purfling that has been cut through the top-a known nightmare. Or overly aggressive glue last used on the top which makes removal a pain.

&etc.

Oded

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Very helpful. While multiple watches would probably drive me crazy, I still use the one on my iphone for single jobs. :)

I think there are probably some productivity aps that offer the capacity for multiple project time keeping that would work well for this application. Haven't tried any but looked at a few at the ap store.

As an "oild school" guy, I was thinking that multiple labeled timers, mounted on a wall, would be easier and less problematic than going through a series of menus to find the right timer.

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As an "oild school" guy, I was thinking that multiple labeled timers, mounted on a wall, would be easier and less problematic than going through a series of menus to find the right timer.

You could be very correct about that David!!

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whenever a repair involves removing the top I always inform the customer that there are likely to be surprises and not usually good ones.

A USB endoscope seems like a good idea. Can you point one out?

Although no endoscope will show purfling that has been cut through the top-a known nightmare. Or overly aggressive glue last used on the top which makes removal a pain.

&etc.

Oded

I don't know of a good model that doesn't cost a small fortune - and you're right, it certainly won't show you everything.

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http://www.garrettwade.com/product.asp?pn=14N10.01&sid=WA601000&eid=WA601000&utm_source=mb-email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mb-email-1

Here is a scope that is certainly not an arm or a leg. You can find more in the auto world. Milwaukee makes one that you can take photos with and record video and has a scope/ camera diameter of 5mm. That one is around $550.

I will post it when I have time to find it again.

Merry Christmas To All!!

David

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The problem might be in the literal meanings of "quote" vs "estimate." By those meanings, a repairer ought to be able to exceed an "estimate" and still remain within the area of good faith. But an "estimate" in most other products and services I've bought -- eg, roofing, drive way paving, auto repair -- is a fixed price which won't be exceeded. So, I think a violin repairer who regards an "estimate" as a flexible number which can be exceeded might be out of step with the rest of service providers.

Most of the contractors and such I deal with do NOT provide a firm estimate. Instead, they say that if it looks like the bill will be more than a certain percentage over the estimate -- usually 10% -- they will call to get the additional amount approved.

Of course, you're usually over sort of a barrel by that time. When my car mechanic has done exactly this, there HAVE been times I have said "I can't afford to fix that now. I know it will cost more to do it later, but I'll just have to do it at another time". But most of the time, it's something that has to be done right then, and calling for approval is really just calling to notify me.

I don't think this is a matter of the repairers sticking to an estimate - it's more a matter of making sure the customer understands the difference between an estimate and a quote. In my experience, most tradesmen make it clear. It may be different where you are.

BTW, I also find it very helpful to refer to local car repair shops; when you can show customers that you are not charging any more than the local auto shop does, they tend to be a bit more accepting.

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