Questions to Ask A Home Repair Contractor (Besides "How Much Do You Charge?")
Everyone in the service business cringes a little when people call and ask, "How much do you charge?" No, it's not because we charge too much. It's because, deep down, we know we cannot completely answer the question.
Most service firms will quote an hourly rate over the phone, but does that really tell you anything? What any home owner really wants to know is, "How much will it cost me to fix my problem?"
To answer that question, the service company needs to know 1. the exact nature of the problem, which cannot be described with certainty over the phone, and 2. how long it will take to fix it. Quoting an hourly rate might seem to provide a rough estimate. Yet how often have you seen home repair jobs drag on for hour after hour with "the meter running"? Too many variables come into play, including the exact nature of the problem and the skill of the service technician dispatched to your firm. Some are more experienced and work faster than others.
With this in mind, I would like to suggest some other questions that you as home owners might wish to ask of the people you call for home repairs and service who quote you hourly charges over the phone.
Can you guarantee a maximum price to do the job?
Expect to hear a lot of stuttering and stammering with this one. Some contractors will laugh out loud.
However, there are a few progressive contractors out there who do quote exact prices, guaranteed, once they perform a diagnosis. Usually they charge a modest upfront fee for the diagnosis, though many waive the charge if they get the job. Nonetheless, it does remove the guesswork.
Do you charge for time driving to and from a supply house?
Some jobs might require only 15 minutes of labor to perform, but you'll see the service technician disappear for an hour or more to go pick up parts not stocked in the truck. Supply houses are some of the favorite hangouts of many service techs. Many serve free coffee and snacks to their customers, and it's a great place to catch up on the latest industry gossip.
Who will be doing the work?
Sometimes it will be a master mechanic with many years of experience. At other times, though, it could be a youngster with less than a year under his belt - maybe even an apprentice filling in during an absence. Who does the work has a lot to do with how much you end up paying when rates are quoted on an hourly basis.
If the problem persists or reappears after your mechanic leaves, will you come back to fix it at no extra charge - immediately?
Most companies will answer yes to this questions, but watch out. Most labor guarantees extend only a month, which is not very long when you think about it. Also, call-backs tend to be the lowest priority when service firms get busy.
Can you show me proof of a license and insurance, both general liability and worker compensation?
This is a big one. Most people don't realize that if an uninsured worker gets injured while working in a home, the home owner can be held financially responsible.
On the flip side, in some states where licensing is required, a home owner is not obligated to pay for any work done by an unlicensed contractor.
What time will you show up?
Most service companies can't pinpoint their time of arrival closer than "morning or afternoon." This can get expensive if the home owner has to take off a full or half-day of work.
Progressive service companies can many times pinpoint within an hour or two when their service technician will be at the door. If he or she does get delayed, these companies will call with an updated time of arrival.
Another useful gauge of a service firm's value is if there is even anybody available to answer these questions. Many contractors try to do business using answering machines, promising to return calls at some undetermined time. This isn't much help to someone who needs an emergency repair right now.
Also, how many of you have had this experience - you call one contractor and leave a message on an answering machine. Then you call someone else to do the work who is available at the moment.
A day or two later, the contractor with an answering machine calls you back. You inform him that you had someone else do the job. Then he asks, "How much did he charge?" You tell him, and then the guy says, "You got ripped off. I would have done the job for half that price!"
Reminds me of the old story about the customer who goes into a store to buy a toaster. The owner rings up a $25 sale.
"That's outrageous!" the customer complains. "A store down the street sells the same toaster for $15."
"Well, why didn't you buy it there?" asked the owner.
"Because they're out of toasters."
"Heck," replied the owner, "when we run out of toasters, we only charge $10."
Let the buyer beware.
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