Customer Questionnaire


I have an interesting dilemma sitting in front of me regarding an estimate. I guess the best way to describe it is to describe the events that have led up to me writing this.

I just finished putting the final touches on my first Blog post ( sent it out to the world. I grabbed a stack of paperwork and the first note I read is “Customer wants budget proposal”. Background: We performed a septic inspection of this property last week (40-year-old house and system) and found 2 systems. One system has a tank and small “drain field” (really it’s a couple of laterals). The other “system” has a grease trap and a cesspool for gray water (kitchen sink, dishwasher and laundry discharge). The buyers really want the property and the seller is “motivated to sell” (I’m not 100% sure what that means but I’ll play along).

This property, because of the cesspool rule in the septic code, will need a new system designed and installed. There are no records on file with the Health Department so we have no accurate soils information on hand. The engineer has already given us an idea of what we may be facing using the NJ Soils Survey but this is a borderline soils property. The Seasonally High Water Table (SHWT) is about 4’ deep. The soils themselves are a terrible mix of clay, loam and sand (in that order). The house is sitting on a crawl space with sewer lines on each side of the house that will need to be combined into one line, if possible. The only logical place to put a new system is in the back yard because the well is located in the front yard and the house has both cable and gas running underground through the front yard as well. The back yard is fenced and riddled with trees of various sizes (10 – 15 trees in the general vicinity of the construction area). Access to the back yard can only be accomplished by removing a few sections of the fence.

Here’s where my dilemma comes into play. There’s obviously going to be some negotiating taking place here between the buyer and seller (more correctly between the buyers and sellers Agents). This is a VERY complicated site. The engineer will have several options regarding the system design: Conventional system with septic tank and properly sized drain field (not promising because of the SHWT and bad soils), Mounded system with a septic tank, pump station and a mounded drain field or an Advanced Treatment System with a drain field (maybe mounded with a pump station or maybe at ground level). We won’t know anything, for sure, until the engineering design is completed. However (HERE IT COMES), we have been asked to submit a “Budget Proposal” to the buyer to include the engineering, soils testing, Health Department permit fees, site work, plumbing changes, proper abandonment of the existing septic system(s) and the installation of a not yet designed septic system (which may or may not need electrical work).

Ok. Logically speaking I can do one of 3 things: Firstly, I can give the customer a fully bloated “worst case scenario” proposal which would have to border on the children’s book character Chicken Little. I wonder what the seller (and more importantly the sellers Agent) is going to say about this proposal… (Actually, I can already hear it, “you guys are too expensive”, “we’re going to get more proposals”, “Are you f*#^ing crazy”, etc). Secondly, I can do my due diligence and use my experience to get this as close as humanly possible to reality and do it RIGHT (Which is my preferred way of going about it but will still possibly not capture all of the correct pricing. Again there are many MANY unknowns here). Lastly, I can underbid (under-estimate) this job to get the contract signed and get a deposit and then hit the customer over the head with the real bill once the Health Department has approved the design and I realize how much is really involved with this installation (Or take as many shortcuts as possible, trying to not get caught, to get the system installed close to my low ball estimate). In this case, the seller would probably make out better at closing, the buyer probably wouldn’t realize they have a “cheated” system for a few years until it starts acting up, and the installer would be moving on to their next customer, continuing a culture of unethical behavior which has run rampant through the industry for decades. (This is NOT our method of behavior!)

Obviously, I have thrown my own opinions into this narrative but I put it to you. Please answer honestly! The comments section below is public but the answers to the question are anonymous.

I look forward to your comments and the results of the survey!

Until next time,

Joe Garner
General Manager – English Sewage Disposal, Inc.

2 thoughts on “Customer Questionnaire

  1. WasteWater Education

    Your dilemma perfectly illustrates the reason we exist Joe. There can be no more urgently needed purpose than educating the general public, the realtor and everyone involved with property ownership – that they need to be as diligent and concerned for their wastewater infrastructure as they are when choosing their new kitchen cabinets! That this is a skilled profession, and if you chose the low bidder in any of life’s necessities then you get what you pay for and have no one to blame but yourself if it doesn’t quite turn out to be a good choice later?

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