When Is The Supply Too Demanding?

Just before leaving on vacation, I ran into an interesting situation that has ramifications for tutoring seniors in computer literacy. The issue is why should seniors trust a tutor? Why should they trust anyone? How does a senior untrained in a discipline know if the fee is fair?

A neighbor woman who lives by herself had a flood in her kitchen due to a faulty connector from the hot water to her dishwasher. She shut off the water under the sink and called an unnamed plumbing service. Shortly she had the problem fixed. I got involved when she asked me to help her fix the stains on her baseboard along the cabinet front and under the sink. I had to move the dishwasher to get to the baseboard and redo the veneer. When I removed the panels at the bottom, she pointed to the connector that had been replaced.

Time passed, and I finished my part of the job. Before leaving, I asked what the plumber charged this single senior woman. The bill listed $75 for parts and $75 for labor. The part he replaced, I think, is identical to the one I can buy at Home Depot for less than $5.00. I estimate that changing out the connector takes someone who is familiar with the process about 20 minutes including removing the front panels, seeing the problem, walking out to the truck to get a standard part, walk back and swap the parts, and replace the panels.

Was that a fair price? Was she well served? One could argue that she had a problem that she had no way of solving by herself, and the plumber solved it for her in a timely fashion. Therefore is was fair.

How does that relate to computer tutoring and/or repair? I don’t know about the other tutors or computer repair people, but I would like to get $150 for removing a faulty blank DVD from a senior’s PC and then rebooting. Actually, I wouldn’t like it at all. In such a case I would decline (and have declined) any fee for such a simple service. The people I serve will call me back. That’s good, but in addition, I feel good about what I do.

Why are my services not considered by my clients, by me (!), or by plumbers to be at least as valuable as a plumber’s? One could argue that what I sell is not as important as what a plumber sells and therefore not as valuable. My clients can easily survive and lead a good life without a working computer or a working knowledge of how to use it. They would not want to live very long without water or with puddles on the floor.

The bottom line here is that I think the plumber charged way too much, but have no way to determine what a fair price is for various services. If the issue stopped there, I would not have a column to write. But the fact is that the woman obviously feels that she was gouged because she is a single woman who doesn’t know the first thing about fixing the problem herself. She just sort of sighs and shrugs her shoulders. She had probably been through the same thing with car mechanics and repair people of all ilks. For that reason, she seemed doubly grateful for my services.

Much of my tutoring is pure volunteering. Some of it is for a fee. Minor software and hardware maintenance are part of the package. I would like to write a piece about the ways other people tutor seniors. Let me know how you do it and what your tradeoffs are and I will try to assemble a composite picture.

This column is being posted while I’m on vacation in a riverboat going down the Danube. Responding to email is not high on my priority list until I am home again.

In response to the interest my original tutorial generated, I have completely rewritten and expanded it. Check out the tutorial availability through Lockergnome. The new version is over 100 pages long with chapters that alternate between discussion of the theoretical aspects and puzzles just for the fun of it. Puzzle lovers will be glad to know that I included an answers section that includes discussions as to why the answer is correct and how it was obtained. Most of the material has appeared in these columns, but some is new. Most of the discussions are expanded compared to what they were in the original column format.

[tags]price gouge, plumber, tutor, senior learning, senior computing, computer education, fair price, mechanic[/tags]

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  • http://www.the-web-doctor.com Lane P. Lester

    Sherman, I recently tried giving home consulting a shot, but it didn’t work out. And that’s OK; it was worth a try. I wrote articles for a local newspaper for several months as a way of promoting the business. I didn’t think an expensive advertising campaign was justified.

    I first started charging a flat fee of $50, and based on the few customers I had, that seemed to be appropriate. I picked the number because it was the smallest amount that seemed worthwhile for me.

    But from phone calls from people I didn’t get to serve, I changed to a “triage” approach which I described in a newspaper article:
    1. If I can’t help you, it’s only 50 cents/mile round trip.
    2. If I can give you some good advice, $25.
    3. If I fix the problem, $50.

    I’ve had no customers since that article, and I’ve moved on to other things.


  • RW Driskill

    My sister’s neighbor’s husband died earlier this year. She needed some help with repairs around her house to get it into condition to sell. I did the labor for her. She had a 5 x 10 utility trailer that she was going to sell, but it also needed repairs, replace the flooring, scape it, paint it, re-wire it, and put tires on it, to name a few. I traded her my labor for the trailer. She was tickled pink about it, no cash out of pocket and one less item for her to have to deal with. I came out ahead in the deal also, even though I still had to do the repairs. Sometimes it not about the money, it’s really “helping” and this helped both of us.

  • KD Dogg

    That part may be $5 at Home Depot but what about the time to go there? And the cost of the vehicle? As a former employee of a former telecommunications monopoly, we were always reminded of our “loaded” cost (more than twice our salary). So that $150 includes the plumber, the part, the truck full of parts, the time to drive to the job, the dispatcher, etc., etc. Still seems like a lot, though. Around here, the plumbers carry a price book so when you complain, the plumber blames the book.

    Geek Squad’s website shows a $100 difference between in store and on site services. They do have those cute cars, though.

  • Larry

    You are right and you are wrong. Was she billed too much? Maybe.

    Having my own service business for the past 30 years has taught me a lot. I would bet you do not have the overhead as the plumbing company does . Let’s take a look.

    Things a plumbing or business must have.

    Liability in insurance is VERY expensive. The possibility of damage being done to someone’s house or business is great. If they can even find coverage for “Black Mold” you better be sitting down. They will be sued over mold. I was and I had nothing to even do with it. I just owned the place at one time. 5K retainer to get me out of that case.

    Commercial auto insurance.

    Workers comp. insurance. Plumbing and all the trades is very high. They look at the exposure to lead, asbestos in there work.

    Health insurance. I pay from $1000 to $2000 per month for my employees.

    Federal taxes

    State taxes

    Corporate franchise tax

    City taxes

    County taxes

    FUTA tax

    SUTA tax

    Social security tax

    City, county, state licenses and bonds.

    Having a legitimate office in properly zones building.

    Having a non income producing office person to handle the phones, book keeping.

    Parts and inventory.

    Tools, equipment

    Company cars or trucks.

    Employee wages

    Profit for the business

    This list can go on and on. If the company charges $175 to everyone for a simple repair then the bill is very fare. If they jacked up the price because she was old and had no idea. Then they are stealing from her and should be shot.

    Looking at the costs to run a business legitimately we have no choice, but to bill high. Cut the taxes, insurances, legal BS and other government crap you would see prices be what they should.

    Sad to be a business owner in this day and age.