I think women are sometimes hesitant to keep asking questions until they
understand what they're paying for. I was never totally knowledgeable about
everything I've paid for (major car repairs, furnace/AC, electrical), but
one of my criteria for hiring people has always been to insist on someone
who is willing and able to answer questions.
You can often stack the odds in your favor by getting referrals from other
people who've been happy with a particular contractor. If you can't find
friends who've used a certain type of service, do what someone did in a
large office where I used to work: She put notes on the mirrors in the men's
& women's bathrooms, saying she was looking for a good electrician. The
place was too big and too busy for her to walk around checking with
I remember asking specifically how long the job would take (electrical
svc panel) and he said "I don't know." He actually refused to give an
estimate on labor. We all know that this job should take 2-3 hrs. He
then said about the same as parts (labor).
That is $333 per hour.
Does it say stupid on my forehead? Don't pee on my leg and tell me
That's why it's good to get referrals. Sometimes, there really IS no way of
knowing how long something will take. But, at least you can know ahead of
time that the person you're hiring isn't an asshole. My ex-wife just had a
new wire run from the house to the free standing garage. Looks like it was
done beautifully, based on the parts that are visible. I asked her how much
it cost. She said she hadn't gotten the bill yet! I was only partially
surprised at the idea of working this way, but the electrician is a guy who
did some work for us in the past, and whose prices were VERY reasonable.
So....there's the other side.
There are a few contractors that you can trust to work like that. I happen
to have a plumber and an electrician that we use at work. I just tell them
what I want and they do the job at reasonable cost. I may ask for a number
for budgeting a big job, but it is never set in stone. These guys have been
working with us for about 15 years. I'd not do it with anyone I don't have
any experience with.
Send me the plumber! I thought I had a good one, but he's lost his mind
In my old house, the kitchen was right above the laundry room, and the old
iron pipes were set up like this:
They were constantly clogging, and some were installed low enough to kill
anyone taller than 5'10". The plumber was already at the house doing a
warranty repair on my water heater, so I asked him how much to replace all
the iron with PVC, and re-route a couple of them. He said something like
$450. I said "Wanna do it right now?" Two hours later, done.
Three years later, new (used) house: Same basic arrangement. I called the
same plumber, who lives 5 minutes away. He takes a look and says $1500 to
$1800! I said I understood that the job wasn't absolutely identical, but why
THAT much more? He says "I was already at your other house. No travel
charges. And, I don't recall doing it that cheap". I save bills. I went and
got it and showed it to him. Didn't matter. I said "No thanks".
Travel charges - I could charter a private jet cheaper for a short business
I have a general contractor/carpenter like that, although we do set up a
specific contract for big jobs. And have set aside certain jobs as cost plus,
where he and I anticipate possible issues on opening up. Right now he's setting
up some new windows - on the older addition we'll be looking for possible
carpenter ant damage, and will decide if some framing wood replacement will need
to happen or not. If not, the price is that already set. If so, it will be
more depending on what we find. There has to be some decent way to handle that
kind of thing, and it can't all be set before the walls are opened up.
I also have an electrician that I just tell him what I want. I even have to
chase him to bill me sometimes... he knows when he gets to me I'll pay. Found
him through that contractor.
After some time in this area, as a homeowner I've built up some experience, and
follow the gambler's creed - knowing when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em.
Keeping the good cards, so to speak.
The only plumber I've found so far that I really trust is a big outfit that is a
little pricey and gives written estimates before any work; so I'm doing that.
The work is always good though. Maybe down the road I'll find a different
arrangement and save some bucks.
So, just do the best you can do with what you find, and recognize and keep the
good cards. If you think they're all *bad*, that will never happen.
If I don't have somewhere to start on a big job, like when I had the house
painted, the driveway repaved, and some foundation work, I got several
estimates. It's not just to compare the prices (and you dont' necessarily want
the lowest! But the highest may be someone on the take or just trying to price
themselves out the of job), it's also to get a read on what kind of person this
is. Kind of like a job interview. If he (or she, had a married set of masons!)
seems on top of things, and communicates well answering questions and offers
reasonable opinions and ideas, doesn't push or try to "sell" me, it's probably a
good card. I've had pretty good luck with that approach.
What part do *I* do? I value my time, so I do the part that I like only, that I
need to do often enough to actually accumalate some skill and knowledge. That's
the painting/staining and prep and related stuff. Yes, even running a
paintbrush or roller up and down takes a feeling for the task and some skill. I
wouldn't do my own tiling, although I find the task attractive. I just don't do
it enough, and it's too permanent, for me not to want a pro to do it. Maybe
when I'm retired and have had a chance to do some standalone projects like table
tops or accent walls.
BTW, I'm also a single woman.
If you're anywhere near Rochester NY, I know an auto repair shop you'd love.
They used to be 10 minutes away, but they moved to be closer to where the 3
guys live. Now, they're 35 minutes away. They lost pretty much NO customers.
People drive that distance even just for an oil change.
AutoWorks of Mendon
Joe Ricci (service writer, customer harassment specialist, mechanic when the
phone's not distracting him)
Scot (with one "T") - mechanic
Bruce - mechanic
Believe me when I tell you it's worth the trip out there, especially if your
car's reaching the age when you're beginning to expect mysteries, and you
want someone who can spot problems ahead of time & help you budget for the
repairs. These guys have no problem with customers who want to be in the
work area so they can see what's being done. They're all good teachers.
You'll learn a lot about your car, if you're interested. They are all
comedians, and the customers are the unwitting straight men. It's something
you have to get used to.
Tell Joe you were recommended by the pain-in-the-ass customer with the black
Toyota pickup, formerly a white Taurus. He'll know who.
Take 104 to 590 south, get off the 2nd Monroe exit, and then a right turn on
Clover. I can't quite explain the rest - you'll need a map. From the
Monroe-Clover intersection, it's 10 minutes away if you don't run into too
many school buses or construction vehicles.
It can certainly take longer than 2-3 hours depending on the conditions
and whether it's one electrician working or two. That said I can't think
of many conditions that would make it impossible to give a reasonable
I know working by myself at a modest pace and periodically resting when
my carpal tunnel was making my hands numb, it took me about 6 hours to
complete my panel replacement under decent working conditions.
I can't tell about the forehead from here. Post a picture. ;)
The "we all know" part doesn't compute. Job conditions and electrician
speed vary greatly. If you take your car in for service they have a
sign that reads that they'll compute it hourly or by the book rate.
Service panel changes are close to a book rate around this area. If
your electrician knows that everybody and his brother electrician get
$1500 for a service panel (or whatever), then there's not a big
incentive for him to knock the price down. They're running a business,
Some contractor's are loathe to estimate hours on something they're
bidding as a lump sum because other people, you for example, might use
those numbers against them in an effort to chisel them down.
Find a contractor you can trust, try not to be too much of a pain in
the ass, and move on to the next windmill.
This is the A-number one thing that works for me - someone who I can communicate
with. Someone who has some enthusiasm about what he's doing is a plus.
"We all know" ...what?
Maybe he honestly didn't know - he may find he needs to add circuits, etc., if
he finds poor work there before him.
Or maybe he's a jerk.
Either way, thank him, jot some notes on the estimate and keep it with the
written estimate, then call two more electricians.
Maybe he's judged you as a PITA and has given the price he feels makes it
worthwhile. Or not. You might be the sweetest lady in the world.
You just have to do some groundwork when you hire someone. Just like any other
business or person that hires work out or obtains employees. Dunno how you
expect to get around that. Contractors are humans, not plug-compatible fixit
I've met a few carpenters who were great mathematicians. It irks me when I
hear people say "Some kids aren't college material - they end up in the
trades". Excuse me? Like being a master carpenter is 3 steps below a
My previous house was a perfect example of endless unknowns. The first
electrical mods I made were in the garage, where I found modern wire. So, I
figured "OK....next, put a dimmer in the dining room - 20 minutes". Not. The
rest of the house had this ancient wire whose insulation crumbled when it
was exposed the light of day after removing the switch covers. Dimmer: 2
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