“My fee for today is $250.”
“But Harry said it was going to be $110.”
“Oh no, Harry doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I did so much.”
This was an exchange I had with a handyman recently who came to work through our “punch list” of broken things in our new house.
Do you think I paid him that amount? Did I check his work before I paid him?
The porch railing he repaired was a complete mess. Our master bathroom faucet, perhaps the most pressing job, is still inoperable. Two days later the baby gate he installed had come off, and I ended up reinstalling it myself. And the scary part is: I did a better job.
I’m embarrassed to admit that yes, I did pay him his inflated fee. And no, I did not thoroughly check his work.
New Homeownership: Baptism by Fire
As you know, we’re new at this whole homeowner thing, and I’m really feeling my naiveté. This guy was sent by a contractor we trusted. Recommended by a real estate agent, he had spent almost a week at our house when we first moved in, repairing our gutters, replacing rotted eves, and reassembling IKEA furniture. We trusted the contractor to send a good handyman, even though the price seemed too good to be true ($110 for the whole day).
The contractor, who was apologetic and promised to reimburse us and repair the work, never showed up. So not only did we overpay, but we have to pay on top of it to redo the shoddy work.
In honor of Labor Day week, I want to talk about workers. I don’t think we’re alone in our struggle to find affordable yet honest workers. And I imagine others have our same limitations: little time to do the repairs ourselves, and little money to pay someone to do it.
So Who Do You Call?
When your washing machine or skylight is leaking, how do you know who to dial?
1. People recommended by real estate agents, neighbors, friends
This was how we got our first contractor, who ended up shafting us. Recommended by an acquaintance who flips houses. Yes, I need to keep costs low, but I also plan on living in this house for the next few decades.
So while this plan is better than no plan, it’s not foolproof.
2. Businesses who have been around for a long time
After getting dubious advice about heating and cooling our attic from a random contractor (recommended by our realtor), I’m thinking we need to up our standards.
Look in the yellow pages for companies that have been in business for a long time, my mom suggested. This is standard advice when looking for a reputable mover, and it makes good sense: someone who is in it for quick money is not going to last long.
3. Angie’s List
After my strike-outs, I turned to my neighborhood listservs to find recommendations from neighbors. I interviewed a carpenter/plumber I found this way, but just because one person recommended him doesn’t mean he’s good.
My sister came to my rescue yesterday by buying me a year’s subscription to Angie’s List. Thanks to her $35 gift, I have access to lots and lots of user ratings and reviews for everything from painters to roofers to car repairmen. Plus, exclusive discounts give me hope that I might be able to find help that is both good and affordable.
I’d love to hear from you: how do you find good workers that charge a fair price?
And then later, let’s talk about tipping.