Developing a List of Suspects
Before you begin inspecting, you should have a good idea of what kinds of animals are native to your part of the country. Develop a list. Certainly, you don’t want a list of every wild animal in your area. That would be too cumbersome and, fortunately, unnecessary. After all, who ever heard of a house being attacked by salamanders? Obviously, you want to focus your attention on animals that damage people’s property. Once your list is compiled, consult your state’s division of Fisheries and Wildlife and see if there are any animals you might have overlooked. Your local cooperative extension service should also be able to help.
Animal populations are always in flux but generally speaking, biologists have a good idea of what animals live in their states. The key here is just like on an exam, you don’t want to study about an animal that doesn’t live in your part of the country. This business is too time consuming to bother with that kind of miscellaneous information. Don’t just think that because your state won’t allow you to control certain species that you shouldn’t learn about them. You may find that such an animal is the culprit in certain, usually rare, situations. Your knowledge will, however, help to exclude them as possible culprits. Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage is the Bible of Animal Damage Control in the continental U.S. Although the current version was written in 1994, it is a standard work and worth visiting. It’s free. Be aware that some methods such as toxicants, repellants, or even trapping registrations, regulations, and methodologies may have changed, so check local and state requirements.
The first rule in animal damage inspections, as mentioned earlier, is to know what species exist in your part of the country. Obviously, an animal that doesn’t live in your region couldn’t cause the damage. I would caution you however, that with people owning and releasing exotic pets (like snakes, lizards etc.) you must always keep them in the back of your mind. This rule is more important for those of you who live in a warmer climate, for the warmer temperature increases the chances that the animal could survive the winter. One exotic animal you should start thinking about is the ferret. As they become more popular as pets, we will start seeing more escapes and owners who eventually abandon them. Time will tell if you will need to add this animal to your list of potential animal damaging suspects. Here is a list of animals that most people in the US will need to consider for their list.
- Rodents: chipmunks, mice, rats, beaver, woodchucks (a.k.a. groundhogs), voles etc.
- Birds: pigeons (Rock Dove), house sparrows, starlings, woodpeckers, crows, raptors etc.
- Larger Mammals: raccoons, skunks, opossums, deer, house cats, dogs, coyotes, foxes (both red and gray), and feral pigs.
- Miscellaneous: moles, shrews.
One of the most difficult tasks for animal damage controllers is setting prices that will both provide a working wage and yet still entice a customer to hire you rather than do it themselves. Obviously, if you’re only part-time or a recreational Animal Damage Control (ADC) agent, this issue isn’t as critical. But if you plan on taking the full-time plunge then this issue should be a top priority. Of course, if you already do home inspections, you would just improve the quality of your service. But if you are thinking of going into the field of animal damage control, charging for inspections is a must. By the way, even if you never get into the field of animal damage inspection, reading this chapter will help you understand what goes into the price.
The first step in setting prices is determining how many hours it takes to do a typical inspection job in your area. Consider the size of houses. Obviously, if the predominant number of homes in your market area (market area is defined as 30 minutes travel time of your main location) are one-floor ranch houses, you should charge less than if they are all three floor multi-families. Remember to include travel time when calculating the total hours for a task. Your pay should start the moment you pick up the phone. Get an average of the time needed to reach the areas in your market area. Don’t forget to average all driving conditions, rush hour etc. That will give you a pretty good idea of the time needed to serve the customers in your working area. If you are new to the business, drive around to the area towns during rush hour to determine what your travel time will be.
The next step is to set an hourly rate. Before you price yourself too low, consider that at least 35-50% of your wage will be consumed by expenses and taxes. So when you feel rich after getting paid, remember that your net earnings are maximally sixty-five percent of the check’s face value.
Third, you need to factor in the relative risk of personal injury to inspect the job. Climbing ladders, walking on pitched roofs, etc., are all dangerous activities. If you don’t already have it, look into obtaining Worker’s Comprehensive insurance (contact the Labor department of your state or country to learn more about it). This insurance will provide income if you are injured on the job. Smart customers require all workmen to have it and are willing to pay more per hour to hire someone with it. I would also recommend that you purchase liability protection insurance. This insurance protects your customer in case you damage something during your work. The final step in price setting is how you will charge your customer. Your cost structure should have two major parts. The first part is what you decide to charge for one-stop/emergency work. This will be the job that you return to day after day removing an animal infestation.
Setting Prices The important thing is to keep your pricing structure simple enough for your client to understand, effective enough to pay you a wage and fair enough to draw business. Just remember, don’t work for free. It’s not worth the risk of being sued for a job that you don’t earn any money. You should also have liability insurance if you plan on working for others. Liability insurance protects your assets in case you are sued by a client. Finally, you must contact a business lawyer to ensure that you have established your business properly and responsibly. Yes, they are expensive, but the cost will be minimal compared to unnecessary litigation. Below is an inspection worksheet (PDF) that you can modify for your purposes. The worksheet will help you write up your findings and make recommendations for securing a building.
©2005 Stephen M. Vantassel