Whether you own or rent your home, there will come a time when you need to enlist some outside help. Maid service, landscaping, plumber, electrician, car repairs - all are services rather than products, and as such, can be more difficult to shop for.
When you’re shopping for a product, it’s very easy to decide which model you want by way of online reviews, consumer reports and recommendations from friends and family members. Then you can look around to see who has the lowest price, best warranty, and best selection. Once you buy the product, you can return it if something’s not right. If there are any problems, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company, stop payment on the check, and take advantage of several layers of consumer protection.
With services, it can be much more difficult to ensure that you get what you need at the fairest price. Payment is frequently up-front (or at least partial payment), and the concept of "unsatisfactory service" is frequently very subjective. Some companies won’t offer refunds unless there is something measurably wrong with the outcome of the service, and why would they? It would be too easy to scam them out of payment simply by complaining. With services, it all comes down to you and the person actually performing the service and whether or not they adhere to the company standards.
That said, there are several things you can look for to help ensure a positive outcome that leaves everyone satisfied.
☞ Licensed, Bonded, Insured
This is the absolute minimal amount of due diligence you must do before letting anyone perform any service in your home. Make sure the individual is licensed, bonded and insured to perform whatever service you are contracting them to do. Laws vary state by state, but most require home repair types to be licensed contractors, electricians, plumbers, painters, etc. Most states require hairdressers, personal trainers and massage therapists to carry a license, and some states require appliance repair licensing.
If you allow an unlicensed person to perform a service in your home and they cause damage, your insurance will probably not cover it. If they are not licensed, they cannot carry their own insurance, so you’re out of luck and out of pocket for the repairs. If they’re not licensed, they’re probably not bonded, so you had better follow them around like a hawk, or at least lock up the valuables lest something come up missing.
☞ Get References
Professionals who are on the up-and-up will not hesitate to provide professional references, and will not resent you for asking for them. They realize that inviting a stranger into your home is a big deal, and they want you to feel comfortable. Unfortunately, given references can be fake - ask your friends and family who they’ve used in the past, and go with that person. Or check Angie’s List, Yelp, Google, and other public reviews. It’s always a good idea to check the person/company out with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints lodged against them.
It’s about both personal and financial safety. If you’re using an established company, personal safety is usually not going to be an issue. But you still need to know if they honor their promises and take care of problems. A little research can save you big headaches.
☞ Free Estimates
Take advantage of free estimates. Not only does this give you an idea of what kind of bill to expect, it also gives you the chance to see how this person works with others, and how respectfully they treat your home. If you feel comfortable during the estimate, you’ll likely feel comfortable with that person working in your home.
The estimate also serves as the first step of a paper trail in case something goes wrong. The estimator will write out exactly what needs to be done and provide a price for each step. Of course, problems do arise - so the final price will often be more than the estimate, but not by too much - and they are supposed to get approval from you for anything above and beyond the estimated price. When the service is finished and you don’t feel it’s complete, you at least have a written plan to refer to when you call to complain, and there can be no question of misunderstanding.
☞ Shop Around
Even if you’ve followed all the other precautions, don’t automatically go with the first estimate, even if it seems good. Shop around. Someone else might be slightly more expensive, but use better parts or be more flexible in terms of working around your schedule. Price is a factor, but it’s not the only one, and you want to find the service that gives you what you need when you need it, at a fair price.