Folk economics: The Junkbusters

When we moved to the Boston area, we bought a nice old farmhouse near the center of Wilmington, a small town just north of Route 128. Most of the farm had been long sold, of course, but the house sat on the remaining one-half acre, with a carriage house that had been converted into a garage. The back yard was large, but graced with what to us was a useless eyesore, namely a cheap aboveground pool. We looked at that pool for about a year, then decided to have it hauled away.

Somehow or other we ended up in touch with a couple of enterprising guys who very proudly called themselves The Junkbusters (it wasn’t too long ago that Ghostbusters had come out). They had their work gloves and their old, beat-up pickup truck and they were eager to make a living hauling junk to the dump for folks. We showed them the pool, agreed on a price ($150, as I recall), and let them get to work.

Tearing down the pool and hauling it away was no problem for them. But what none of us had fully appreciated was that the pool had been sitting on top of concrete paving stones—a lot of heavy concrete paving stones. The Junkbusters spent a lot of time prying up those stones and putting them into their truck, and making many trips to the dump because they could only handle so much weight at a time. And each trip to the dump incurred a fee, and the fee was based on weight.

Debbie was chatting with them during one of their breaks, and one of them mentioned offhandedly that they were chalking this job up to experience, since the extra time required and especially the dumping fees meant they would have little or nothing to show for their work at the end. She mentioned this to me, and we decided that it wasn’t right for us to take advantage of the low estimate that had resulted from their inexperience. So we told them that if they would also haul away some minor piece of junk in our basement we would pay them an extra $75. I have no idea if that was a just price for the work they did, but they were pleasantly surprised that someone would unilaterally change the agreed-upon price in their favor, and they were plenty happy as they finished up and left.

I don’t tell that story to illustrate our generosity. Regardless of the fact that we had agreed upon a price, that price wasn’t fair for the work The Junkbusters actually had to do to complete the job. And if The Junkbusters had been experienced enough to properly assess the work of disposing of those stones, we would have certainly agreed to the higher estimate that resulted. In fact, I think they should have been able to revise that estimate in mid-job and ask us to pay the higher price out of fairness. But I’m guessing that given current economic sentiments their initial reaction was correct—might as well chalk it up to experience, because the customer will almost surely insist that we honor the original estimate.

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2 thoughts on “Folk economics: The Junkbusters

  1. I also often pay more than the bill, or give larger tips than people expect (especially in restaurants where I eat frequently and where I notice that they notice I eat there a lot). This is a corollary of paying more to shop in a mom and pop store than in a chain, etc., where you are paying for something on top of what is actually being exchanged in the transaction. Only: I only have done this since I have had a little more money. In your account, you actually had more money to give the Junkbusters. It is almost as if it is a luxury that I am affording. Where I am living now doctors still make housecalls. When I got the bill for the last housecall I was astounded at how low it was and paid more and told him to apply to it to the bill of someone whom he had served with a house call who could not pay. But it would be different if I did not have that surplus.

  2. I always try to discern a difference between an estimate and a bid. When I give a bid for a project, I always honor the price I quote as I would consider failing to do so as something less than giving my word. Of course, those hard learned lessons have provided some knowledge along the way, so some projects come with a disclaimer to cover possible problems that cannot be predicted until the work has begun.

    I have had a few occasions in which a customer has paid me more than I billed. It is always refreshing to find that there are some who are thoughtful about your own needs. Of course, the laborer should also consider the effect of a low estimate to a customer. Even when giving a loose estimate, I try to make sure to quote a price that sufficiently covers the cost of the work to be performed. Many folks can barely afford to maintain their property and to give a very low guess as a ploy to get their work might really put folks in a bind when they find the job costs much more than they were anticipating.

    The older I become, the more grateful I am for my father’s example of “folk economics” as he ran his carpentry business. He was successful in that he was able to pay his bills, remain in business for decades, and is spoken of highly by those who hired him. He has never become wealthy, so perhaps the more economically minded would deem his ventures a failure. When I was a very intelligent lad, well schooled in the principles of accounting, I was critical of everything he did and couldn’t wait to take the bull by the horns. Now that I am older, I find my own principles are very much like his own. In fact, I just completed a job for some folks who remarked while scratching out a check, “Why, you’re a chip off the old block.” While such a remark might have agitated me 20 years ago, I couldn’t help but to have been encouraged by what I deemed as high praise.

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