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On LawnSite.com, the online discussion forum, (and part of the Turf family) a participant asked last fall: “I’m looking for advice on hourly rates for fall clean ups. Also, do you charge more to take away the debris? I feel like when you give customers a price they are shocked and try to negotiate or complain my price went up from last year”

fall clean up

Here’s what respondents had to say (edited for content and clarity; location given when available):

“We start at $200 for clean ups. (Leaves only, but hauling included.) We cut people a little break if we can blow leaves to the back of the yard or if they have an area for them. Our labor rate is $120/hour; two guys at $60/hour each. These prices are subject to change if leaves are wet or there are other obstacles. I also like to put in an “annoyance fee.” It can range from $50 to $150—and no, that isn’t itemized into the quote. Let’s be honest, leaves are hard to quote sometimes. They can be really deceiving when packed down. Know your worth. Every time I quote leaves, people give me a weird look for the price. It’s either sticker shock, they have no idea how out of control leaves can get, or they were paying some weekend warrior $80 for all day. We run legitimate companies with overhead, labor, cost, materials, etc. I don’t even think twice about it anymore. My price is my price.” —NY

“I’m charging $62/hour with a one hour minimum. Dumping is included after $200. Otherwise, I charge a fee of at least $40 more. Most companies here charge a fixed rate, so they get a lot more leaf work than me. But they have two to four people coming out and doing the work in one to two hours for $125.” —MI

“I try to upsell taking the leaves away. It doesn’t mean I slash my price. I have a rate I stick to if I can knock it out. Every clean up is different for me. The small properties here are more time consuming. Larger ones have variations that are usually to my benefit. Having the right equipment really helps. My dump fees are low, so it doesn’t matter there… I use a leaf loader. Couldn’t be without it, and blowers.”—NJ

“I’ve complained about what our area bears as an hourly rate for leaf cleanup, and it’s low. But this year we are going from $35/hour to $39/hour. That’s still less than our per man hour general labor charge. We will keep our haul away fee the same at $15 per job. We are always 30 minutes max from our dump site and can get five to six normal size jobs in one load. With time and fees, we don’t make much on the dumps and I don’t try to. Ideally, the crew is working the next job while one guy goes to the dump. Anyone have a grandson that will rake and bag the leaves on a 1/3 acre lot for $5? I was told that last year after quoting a job. I asked if his grandson would like to work for me at that price. I didn’t get an answer. I quoted $200. I didn’t get the job.” —TN

“I’ve found leaf removal turns into: blow off the roof and gutters; pick up sticks; blow leaves; tarp leaves; load leaves; haul off; dump leaves…. a lot more than just blowing leaves.” —TN

“We aim for $75 per man hour, but it usually ends up over that. Sometimes it’s less, but not too often. I normally give customers a range. For example: $275 to $375. And if we have to haul away the leaves, it’s an additional $100 per trailer load, which is about 1.5 tons.” —MN

“Think about it…. You may get the actual job done quickly, but how long did it take to go to the dump, dump the leaves, and get to the next job? All of that is part of it. You may spend just 30 minutes blowing leaves, but another hour loading and dumping. So you charge for a 30 minute job, but it takes an hour and a half out of your day.” —MO

“By myself it’s $75/hour. Customers usually want their gutters cleaned so I bill that separately by size.  Everything gets blown and mulched. If that’s not possible, I will haul it away. But I won’t be happy about it.”

Another question: “Do you haul away branches/sticks on the lawn with leaf clean ups? Or do you make a pile and leave them? Or is there an extra price for that?”

“On property that needs debris hauled away, yes, sticks etc. all get cleaned up. And yes, the price for fall cleanups includes sticks. Always quote more than you think it will take because it will.” —MNfall clean ups

“I used to do it for $90 on small yards and quickly learned last year—when I spent three to four hours doing what I thought would be an easy job—it was actually a nightmare. This year it’s $125 to $150 minimum, depending on pruning. Then for every hour, another $35 per man is added. Also $3.50 is charged for each 90 gallon trash bag hauled away.” —MI

“Until you get really good at estimating leaf jobs, charge by the actual time it takes to do the job. When I got started, I lost more money on leaf jobs than any others. It’s easy to roll up on a yard, see leaves on the ground, and make assumptions. Many times there would be three years of decaying leaves under the present year’s leaves, which took two to three times as long. I charged $60 an hour per employee, plus an equipment fee (to pay for the leaf vac) and a dump fee. Therefore, a normal leaf job might be $ $240 for labor, $60 for an equipment fee + 75 for a dump fee ($375 total).” —VA

“I used to charge $50 more to haul the leaves and dump them. Big mistake on my part. I definitely learned my lesson. Now we are currently at a bigger property and I can bring the leaves to our property and burn them. This year I will charge $60 for every eight 50-gallon bags.” —TN

“Fall cleanups differ from place to place so it’s hard to say what is right. Where we worked, many of our locations allowed us to dispose leaves and other yard waste in the woods. We would haul leaves at $60 to $100 per load per yard, part or full load. We charged a minimum $250, and our average was $450. I have done it enough to realize how long it should take with two to four people. We also charge for a final mowing on top of that. I don’t quote by the hour because there is always someone watching you and they will question the charges. Quote a single price and make it simple to you and your customer.”

“Past customers know we charge by man hour, how wet the leaves are, and how many leaves there are. They know the price will differ from year to year. If the trees had a good growth season due to rain I swear there could be 50% more leaves… I can’t prove it, but sure seems that way. New customers are given our per man hour labor rate, our haul away charge, and then a price range, such as from X to Y, but not more than Y. We cap the high end. And every once in a while I get burned a little because it takes longer than the high end price. But that doesn’t happen very often. It’s about a 30% range.” —TN

“I bid $65 per man hour, minimum two hours, plus haul away fee. The haul away fee is what I’m trying to figure out. I just worked out a deal with another company to haul away all my leaf piles, and they charge $35 per cubic yard. Anyone know if that’s a good price or not? How do you pass that on to the client? They all want a fixed number for haul away, but I’ve been saying $75 for the haul away and an additional $35 per cubic yard over three cubic yards. Any thoughts?” —MN

“Heck, we buy leaf mulch for $15 a cubic yard here (wholesale). We charge a $15 haul away for everyone regardless of size. We used to try to gauge it per job, but it was too hard to explain. Never had a complainer with this method. We can fit five to six regular size jobs in the trailer. So I’m getting up to $90 towards the haul away and dump per load. That covers all my cost on average. Sometimes I come out ahead, others I lose a tad, but it averages out.” —TN

“Bidding on leaf removal is very risky. There are variables such as wind, rain, snow, ice, ground saturation, grass height, and date of last cleanup. Your price may be fine when you bid, but by the time you get the go ahead, it could take 30% longer. Most guys probably go high (or should). Also consider: will you have time to finish your regular customers? The area I service has municipal vacuums so if I don’t get customers’ leaves to the curb before the City arrives, I can expect phone calls. This is my first season working solo (scaled back from six employees) so I’m confident that with my equipment, my 32 years of experience, and zero wasted time, I can charge $90 to $100 per hour and still offer customers great value. I use Redmax bp blowers, X3 and a custom leaf pusher. As for vac loading, you need to do a time study to determine charges. You can’t just pick an arbitrary number. The correct price for me was $3.25 per minute for one man loading and my normal hourly rate for anyone else helping. A five minute job = $16 for one man. A 30 minute job = $100. I’ve had jobs that took well over an hour to vacuum up. You may not be able to do this with new customers, but it’s the fairest and most accurate way for your regular customers.” —NY

“$60/hour with a $100 minimum for labor. $100 if I’m hauling off leaves. If I’m not hauling away leaves, I charge $1 per bag. All my lawns are about the same size and take about two hours for a very detailed job. I usually make about $250 per clean up. I schedule two per day. Except yesterday. Yesterday I did four.” —MI

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