This is a question for my readers who are also homeowners. Help me out here. How do you find good contractors for home improvements and repairs?
I know the standard answer is "ask your friends and neighbors." But how do they know if someone is good? I’ve used a few different people for different things for my home but if someone asks me, I will have to say "I’m not sure" because I have no basis on which to evaluate their quality of work or whether their prices were reasonable. For each kind of work, there are perhaps hundreds of service people in my local area. For example my garage door opener broke a while ago. I found somebody on Yahoo! Local. He fixed it and charged me $120. It’s working now — that I can tell. But did he use a cheap part that’s likely to break again in a year or two? Could another person have fixed it for $60? I have no idea. Yes you can get estimates from a few people for comparison, but how do you know if the few people you get estimates from are not all well above average? To borrow an analogy from investing in mutual funds, if you only look at prices from Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney and Putnam, you may think you are paying a fair price. You will never know you should invest with Vanguard. And if materials are involved, how do you know if you are comparing apples to apples? How do you know if the low bidder is not short-changing you with shoddy materials? I feel like I’m totally in the dark when I hire service people for my home.
I know there are a few places people rate and post reviews on service providers. Angie’s List is one of them. Even there the providers typically don’t have many reviews. Should I hire someone based on only 10 reviews? I question whether the reviewers are qualified to give a review if they are in the dark just like I am. It’s like blind leading blind. I also have a problem with having to pay Angie’s List in order to read reviews. I’m so used to people sharing information for free. That’s what the Internet is about, right? That’s why I sometimes looks on Yahoo! Local and Yelp.
If you are a homeowner, how do you find good service people and how do you know if the price is fair?