I don’t care for the popular interpretation of the “Renaissance Man”. IE someone who attempts all jobs around the house. I’m a firm believer in deferring to professionals. If I need electrical work carried out, then I’ll happily hire an electrician. The same goes for plumbers, builders and decorators. I even employ a handyman for those niggling trivial jobs. There are several reasons why I take such an approach. First and foremost, I am fully aware of my limitations and what I can and cannot do. It’s a philosophy espoused by Harry Callahan, so who am I to contradict? If I want a job done, I want it done properly and not bodged. Secondly, if you formally employ someone to undertake a job that has been fully costed via bona fide quotation, then you have legal recourse should things go south. Thirdly, I do not care for manual labour. That is not to say I think it’s beneath me. Quite the opposite. I admire anyone who earns their crust through their physical toil. Nope, I just don’t like such work. I prefer using my mind not my back. Finally, I value my leisure time and do not want to see such a precious resource squandered. So, considering all these points, whenever certain jobs or chores arise, I pay others to do them.
Now I fully recognise that some people will undertake certain jobs around the home purely due to financial reasons. Hiring tradesmen to build or fix something is costly. This post is not intended to be critical of such individuals. I consider myself fortunate that my finances allow me to contract others. Furthermore, having worked in IT for nearly twenty-five years, often in a self-employed capacity, I understand the nature of market rates and the need to try balance your financial overheads with offering your client a competitive price. Therefore, I like to think that when I hire tradesmen myself, I am not a cheapskate. My own experiences over the years have lead me to conclude you get exactly what you pay for. So, considering all these points, I deem myself to be fairly well disposed toward tradesmen, at least in principle. By hiring them I am helping the wider economy, as well as myself.
Now that we have got all the measured prerequisites and caveats out of the way, in which I have hopefully established myself as a non-prejudicial, even hand and benevolent customer, let me now proceed to catalogue some of the problems I have had of late with tradesmen and the associated culture. My parents have not done any major home improvements since the late eighties. This means a lot of things are now breaking, failing and in need of replacement around their home. In the last few months, several electrical sockets have stopped working and some reading lights developed an intermittent fault. So, an electrician was required. Naturally my first port of call was to look online. I looked for those local to my parents and then once a short list was drawn up, I then tried to establish their reputations. There are many review sites around and although you can game the system, I think these sites can be broadly used as a benchmark.
Having found five electricians that met the criteria, I then proceeded to phone and discuss the work required. Let it suffice to say that four of those five, didn’t seemed especially enthusiastic about the work offered. To cut a long story short, I was brushed off with varying degrees of subtlety because the jobs were deemed to small and not generating sufficient revenue. Luckily the fifth was happy to do the work, which was carried out efficiently and to my complete satisfaction. Needless to say, this particular tradesman is now on my preferred list. Furthermore, I’ve discussed with him this concept of small jobs being trivial. He is aware that many of his colleagues take such a view but he personally takes a more pragmatic approach. I live in an area with a high percentage of elderly, retired homeowners. This means there is a substantial and reoccurring market for minor jobs. It’s a market that this particular individual is happy to serve. It yields as much, if not more revenue in the long run. Yet it is a market that is frequently ignored as tradesmen pursue the “big jobs”.
Another issue I’ve had of late is trying to ascertain what the current market rate is for certain types of work. My parents front garden is finally being turned in to a drive after fifty-seven years. This is mainly being done to accommodate the nurses and health visitors that care for my Dad and visit daily. Because this job is not classified as “trivial work”, I’ve not had problems finding companies willing to tender for it. However, I have had a very broad spectrum of quotes ranging from £4,000 to £10,000. I find this disparity, troubling. Someone is either quoting too cheap, which then infers substandard work. Or someone is charging too much which then makes me question their personal integrity and that of their business. Again, I have tried to do some research online to get a feel for current market rates but as this kind of work is out of my field of expertise, then it does feel like I’m making a calculated guess at times. Plus, the UK is a country that has major regional cost variations. Any service within Greater London, which is where my family live, is always more expensive.
In the immediate future, I have a gardener scheduled to do some clearance work in my parent’s garden. If their work is satisfactory, I’ll happily employ them myself to excuse me from mowing the lawn and pruning bushes. This particular tradesman was recommended to me by a colleague so I suspect that he will be sound. However, this nebulous referral system that so many people rely upon is far from bullet proof. What one person considers good work, may not be the same for another. Plus, not everyone has access to a network of friends and colleagues to make recommendations to begin with. Hence, we have seen an increase in review sites but as I mentioned early, these are not perfect. My concerns are not about dishonest reviews but simply that some trades and business types are represented. My son recently hired a plasterer. Tracking them down was an extremely difficult process. To cut a long story short, when asked why the he didn’t advertise, the plasterer replied he got sufficient work through word of mouth. Their work was so good that they always had another gig to go to. Such a business approach is fine for the tradesman but no so beneficial for potential customers out of the loop.
I believe that tradesmen should be free to find business in whatever fashion they see fit (with the usual caveats about working within the confines of the law). However, I do feel that the present process of finding and hiring them leaves a lot to be desired. I only say this anecdotally but during the course of my recent enquiries, I found that only half of those businesses I researched had an adequate online presence. Some only had a small website or Facebook page with contact details. Others had absolutely no online details apart from reviews written on third party sites. So far, those that I have employed have all had a solid online footprint, detailing professional credentials, prices and references. Furthermore, they have also used a lot of other technology for notifications and billing. So perhaps the change and gradual cultural shift from old school methods to modern practise is underway. Or at least I hope so. Because I need a gas fitter soon to replace an old boiler with a modern alternative and I don’t want to be chasing my own tail.