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Surviving as a trim sub...

Spencer L's picture

Surviving as a trim sub... (post #208507)

I was considering pursuing a living as a trim sub. It appealed to me because the price is generally set, therefore the harder/faster/more efficient you are the more money you will make. I thought I had finally found my niche until......I struck up a conversation with the local hillbilly that trims out most of the new homes around here. A guy with no tools, no money, and no motivation. Yet somehow he is the go to guy for the GC's around here.

I wanted to know how he charged. By the sq ft or by the opening/linear ft. I know him well and he wasn't lying to me, but he proceeded to tell me what he gets paid and how its impossible to make ends meet.

He starts out at 42 cents sq ft for basic trim (3-1/4 base, split jambs) and adds on from there. 5 cents/sq ft for taller base, $1.00/ft for crown, $50/pocket door, $15 ft for stair skirt + railing, $15/pc for stool/apron.

Starting out at that base price I don't see how you could make a living. Of course I asked hime why he doesn't raise his rates. His reply, "They would kick me to the curb and find someone else. This is all I got. I'm to old to do something else"

So, is there any money in trim subcontracting anywhere. Around here there is very little demand in NC for superb quality. All that matters is that it is "perfectly acceptable"....if that.

I've changed gears and am looking more into remodeling. I was hoping I could make a go of it starting out as a trim sub because of the lower overhead vs that of a remodeler who needs tools for multiple trades (I have a lot, but you know how it is, could use a lot more).

What are your thoughts....

Spencer (post #208507, reply #1 of 3)

Depending upon your area-


I've been in the trade a little over 40 years-new home construction, commercial, union, and remodeling-in partnership, working for contractors, and the last 20 some yrs on my own.

The only answer I can give you is-best of luck.

Money runs alot of things and there's usually not enough of it.


On your own means more than just earning more than you did in the employ of someone else.  You need to get a handle on the cost of doing business.  That's tools and transportation for one.  Sure, you have tools and a truck, but what about their cost bringing them with you into business?  Replacement-pretty much guaranteed to happen.  Add that to administrative costs, insurance,  health and welfare, vacation?, and that much aligned area-Profit, and you find out fast that you need to bill out at much more than a living wage.

To do work on an existing margin for this other guy in order to compete, might just put you in the poor house-even if you could do it faster, cheaper and better.

So, trimming houses out is a crap shoot-how many can you get?  At a small profit margin and limited expenses, would it provide a living wage in reality.


Remodeling might be a better choice-I'd think if like our area-there's more available work (they too don't want to pay too much, but).  You can set yourself up as a remodeling contractor-sub out those jobs you aren't licensed in and / or lack the talent and equipment to make it pay.  Find good subs and treat them well and your reputation could soon rise to one of the best in the area.   It could also take time.

You'll need to make money off those subs remember.  They'll eat up your time, and in the end-you'll get the call if something is outta whack.

Where in NC?

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


Thanks for the response (post #208507, reply #2 of 3)

Thanks for the response Calvin. I'm new to this forum but I'm not new to the trades/business side of things. I've been doing my due diligence for about 8 years, pushing toward self employment. I spend a lot of time on contractortalk and have studied the business side of it extensively. Just dont' want you to think I'm some guy that decided last week he wants to be a contractor. 

I'm 25 now. Its been my dream since I started in carpentry when I was 16. I run a millroom at a yard and remodel on the side. I invest the money I make in more tools.

From the guys on CT I have pretty much got the advice to stay away from NC unless your going to GC. (I'm in Indiana to answer your question. Town of about 10,000)

I'm just curious if there is anyone on here who has been successful at it? Especially at the rates I mentioned above.

Spencer (post #208507, reply #3 of 3)

I'm sorry-I took NC to mean North Carolina..............expect you meant New Construction.


A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.