When I think of cool stuff for free, I might consider finger handcuffs or a card trick from a magician! OK OK... never mind on that last one...
When it comes to building, regardless if you are the owner or the builder, everything has a cost and a value. Before I dive into the topic from the perspective of both, I would like to share something that my business professor from college once told me. Kevin said, “if you don’t charge or pay for it.. It has no value.” Consider that statement for a minute….insert long dramatic pause… :) I submit that even severely discounted things lose value. Meaning they are only worth what you pay for them. Consider clothing, if I buy something on clearance at 50% off and I deem it a good value, then the price paid is the only value to me. If I see canned goods in the grocery store that cost $1.50 each or 5 for $5…guess what, they are only worth $1! I hate to break the obvious news to you but if you don’t charge or pay for what it's worth, then it is worth exactly what you charged or paid for…which more often than not is free.
Perspective time, first from the eyes of the builder. You have a skill and really want to show it off. I get it! Let's say you have an entryway that could use some pizazz so you offer to do some cool beams with a corbel detail on them and get that looking all jazzed up, then you suggest that an arched ceiling would really accentuate the entry. Certainly, all good points and you are truly a capable craftsman with skill. My thought on that… so what if you did not charge for it. You still would have provided a good looking entry with standard post and beam and a flat soffit, perhaps it even had tongue and groove on it. How much time did you spend? I would speculate an extra day or so creating the cool posts and at least a couple of days manufacturing and installing the arches. What about the material cost? How many man/hours were spent? What is the true value of that addition to the owners other than a comment? Here is an example I can validate from first hand experience. I have built many homes with curved staircases drawn, for those I always line itemed out the cost of that feature. I can say that in all of my years of building custom homes…I only built 1 curved staircase and the owners loved it and I am proud of it.
Now from the owner's perspective. Of course they will gladly take free upgrades, who wouldn’t? I truly believe that they are happy to make an informed decision on features and costs if they are spelled out in advance. Surprise bills after the fact are never a fun surprise even when backed by quality work and good intent. Statement pieces like arched entries or curved stairs are not for your average carpenter, they take real talent and skill. When owners are presented with highly skilled options with a value attached, there is more value to both parties. In addition to that I believe that there is respect for the time invested and the craftsmanship to the trade. I hate to break the obvious news to you but if you don’t charge or pay for what it's worth, then it is worth exactly what you charged or paid for…which more often than not is free.
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Travis Rohrer, C3 Project Pros