…or plumber, or handyman… You know the drill, it’s 10:30 at night, you are scraping the last dish into the disposal when kerplunk! It makes an awful noise then grinds to a halt. Or worse, something comes the wrong way from a drain. Never pleasant, and never at a convenient time. Though it may seem expedient to call the first 4½ star rated company you find online, this may not be the best way to choose.
When something needs repaired, it seems like there is no time to make a considered decision, but being a wise consumer of services can save you headache, hassle, and possibly money down the line.
First Things First
Most of us have faith in the ‘word of mouth’ recommendation from someone we know. And this is a valid way to go about finding a workman or technician if you need help with a project. The next most common search method, “Google it” or, Yelp or other online search. Technology is great in helping you find lots of options. But then what?
Five is the Magic Number
Let’s say you are looking for a plumber and you do a quick Google search in your area. A list of plumbers will pop up, possibly with ratings, and certainly in alphabetical (sometimes geographical) order. Now that you have a list start calling. The optimal number of quotes you want to obtain is five, which we will explain later. But don’t just call the first five (now you know why there are so many businesses that start with A), mix it up, every third company, or only guys named Dave. Or close your eyes and point a finger at the screen. The idea is to get a random selection.
Once you have identified the five, be armed with a set of questions. This is a sample of some questions you will want to ask, but DO ask questions, lots of questions. If they balk you may want to knock them off your list right away. If they don’t like answering questions before they have your business, they really won’t like answering them later if you have an issue.
- Do you work in (your area)?
- Do you fix/repair/install (your particular need)?
- How much will it cost? (Quick note, if a contractor refuses to give you an estimate then move on. There is no reason they can’t give you an estimate for the job)
- What if you find something else, how do you charge? By the hour, by the hassle, by location…
- Who is in control of how much you will charge me?
- How long will it take you? And if it takes longer, what will happen then, will you charge more?
- What is your state contractor’s license? (BIG side note, anyone who does work for more than $500 for you should be licensed by the Contractors State License Board. If they are not, move on. Because if you have trouble down the road you will have no recourse if they are unlicensed. The contractor will be gone and you will be left with the problem.)
- Do you carry insurance?
- Who do I speak to if the problem/issue persists?
Now That You Have Your Five
All things being equal, take your list of five estimates and throw out the lowest and the highest. The lowball probably has hidden costs or hasn’t included everything in the estimate (remember, the cost of materials, labor, and living in your area is going to be about the same for all the companies you contact.) The highball offer, well they are either hoping you can afford it, won’t ask questions, or are willing to negotiate – but seriously, who has time to haggle.
Now that you have your three estimates, compare the tasks they will accomplish, the additional costs if something comes up, and how helpful/friendly they were in giving you an estimate. Now if all things are comparable, check on them. California’s Contractors State License Board has several tools, tips, and a look up for consumers. Make sure which ever one you hire has a valid, active license. You can also check the BBB in your location to see if there have been any complaints. If they have any customer reviews online, check those too – read a sampling of the good and bad reviews.
After you have done your legwork, time to decide. If a clear winner does not emerge from all your questioning then trust your gut. The company that gave you the most comfort and confidence in answering your questions is probably the right one for you.