2007/02/27

I Hate Contractors - A Cautionary Tale

When the Frogette and I were engaged, my soon-to-be in-laws asked when we planned to buy our first house. We were living in an apartment in Minneapolis at the time and rather liked our situation. "Why would I want to do that?" I responded. "Well," they replied, "you need a garage for your tools...don-cha-know." "But..." I replied, "...I have a toolbox, and all my tools are in the toolbox." This was obviously not the right answer as I was informed that a "real man" simply could not live life without a jigsaw.

All of this is a round about way of saying that I'm not handy. When I need to get something involved done, I usually hire someone to do it, and right now I'm in dire need of an electrician. Why? Well this interesting little flat in which I live has in-wall electric heaters--funky little units that have a small fan for blowing heated air into a room, but we've got a problem. Our's are all recalled; I've got replacements from the manufacturer; And I need an electrician to install them. Now here's where things get interesting. It's taken me 2 months just to find 1 goddamned electrician willing to do the work.

Electrician #1 - Estimated the job, pestered me for a month while I tried to get the heaters, then wouldn't return phone calls when the heaters did finally come in
Electrician #2 - Didn't bother to call back for a week
Electrician #3 - Sent a unlicensed kid who'd never seen an in wall heater before, promised an estimate, then never called or emailed back
Electrician #4 - Refused to do an on-site estimate, tried to get me to accept a verbal estimate, and then insisted that I have the job done the next day
Electrician #5 - Estimated double the hours of any other outfit (training his partner?)
Electrician #6 - Gave me a two hour window to show up for the estimate, called 30 minutes after to say he'd be there in 30 minutes.
Electrician #7 - Never seen a in-wall heater, wouldn't give an estimate, argued about whether they wanted the job outside my window, then had a different firm (friends?) send an estimate 4 days later.
Electrician #8 - Will be here in about an hour.

So this is the "skilled labor" market? Bozos who seem to have forgotten who pays the bills. It's not like I don't waste time for each of these idiots who doesn't show up or who tries to rip me off. Is there so much work around that they can afford to blow off 6 hours of labor.

Damn I hope electrician #8 is able to get the job done.

28 Comments:

God Bless the free market, you even get a kiss afterwards, really, I mean, sometimes, well...
I've had some trouble in the past finding people as well.

However i've had a lot of good luck using a website called servicemagic dot com. You can put in basic info about the job etc, and then it will send your info to various contractors that they have vetted themselves, and a lot of them have reviews that you can read from other customers. They will also send you the names, and usually - you get called within a couple hours by at least one if not more. I've found a couple of my regular use people there and had good luck with them. . . Just a suggestion. :) (if #8 doesn't work out)
Fred... I settle for someone who shows up on time and can provide the estimate in 24 hours.

Ilanna... Unfortunately, electrician numbers 1, 4, and 5 were recommended by Service Magic, and in each case I had to call them. None called me after getting the job description. Maybe it's just where I live or perhaps the small size of the job.
The trouble is you're trying to do it the correct way with a licensed contractor & all. The short answer for those guys is Yes, there is so much work avail for them that they don't care about a half-day job, esp if they have to come out & estimate first.

I wonder if you're selling yourself short about being able to install the wall heater units yourself. If it was a recall, the mfr should be providing detailed installation instructions. If that's not feasible (I know I wouldn't want to mess with electrical and/or gas myself), does your bldg have a maint person who could recommend "an electrical friend"? You wouldn't believe the amt of work that these 2nd tier contractors do this way. Then, after it's done, call your power utility company & have them perform one of their N/C service checks (tell them you smell something funny if you can't get them out there otherwise). BTW, the last time I saw one of those wall heaters was when I lived coastal So Cal back in the 70's. I think they stopped using them due to fire hazard if furniture or drapes were too close. But assuming people use a modicum of intelligence, I found them to be much more energy efficient than central air units.

Oh, I also wonder if the mfr has a list of recommended installers in your area (since it was a recall)? And in your case, keep in mind it's the "no job too small" guys you want, plus make sure you are physically present while they're working. Watch everything, acting as if you know what you're looking at. It really does make them work cleaner & more accurately.

Good luck! ~~ D.K.
I represent two electrical contractors, unfortunately located here in Atlanta. I bet one of their tech's do it free for a free trip to San Diego in Februgly. Sorry for your troubles.
I feel your hurtin'. I waited since last November for a plumber - a lot of new construction is going on around here, and it's hell to find one to do minor stuff. But I got one. Said he'd be over within four hours.

That was two weeks ago.
D.K., you're right that I probably could do it myself. I just don't want to. The instructions are fairly clear, but if something does go wrong, I don't know enough to try and guess at a mistake...thus the desire for a professional.

But the happy ending to this story is that Electrician #8 got the job done: Courteous, professional, cost competitive, showed me everything he was doing, and was very patient with my desire to test everything before he finished up.

He definitely gets invited back for the bigger jobs we need done!
Dave... Ha, ha! Not a chance. Airplane tickets are just too damn expensive right now, but thanks.

TFWY... Good luck! I'm now in the same boat. The next job is to get a plumber in to deal with our downstairs bathroom.
We also have the program through our electric company - I call them and they send someone out at the going rate and they also guarantee the results. Without them, I have been ripped off so many times. The estimate didn't cover finishing the job.
Hooray for #8!!! Now that's what a contractor should be. Tell your friends. "Professional, Cost Competitive"? guess he won't be invited to do halliburton iraq work. ~~ D.K.
butbutbut! - that's not how it happens on the t.v.!!! you call someone, they come right over! installed in minutes! best rate going!

and i'm not buying it - your in-laws did not say don cha know. :)
It's hard to find someone to do the small jobs. My car needs the hood painted- nothing else, just the hood- and I can't find anyone willing to do a job so small.

Only one shop was willing to to it at all- and they quoted me a price of $3,500. Bah.
Scheise... I need to go to the Northern Sun website and get the t-shirt that shows the wholesome-looking 50's-type "Dad" smiling and saying "Don't Assume I Fix Things". (There is also one with a stereotype wholesome 50's-type woman saying "Don't Assume I Cook"!)
You have a point, frogdude. I had to make an appointment to get an electrician to liberal manor to install a simple 220 line for an electric dryer. The box is in the same room as the dryer. He showed up and hour late, the job took three hours, and I have dread the bill, because I am going to have to fight it. The guy scared me.
A 220 hookup isn't all that difficult to do, I've seen it done before in 20 minutes, but I had to please the liberalette, and get a licensed guy in here.
Peacechick... PG&E (our electric company) will do the inspection work, but that's about it. Independents are the only way to go out here for installation work.

D.K... "Hooray" indeed. Guess going through the first seven was worth it in the end.

Supergirlest... My in-laws sure-as-heck do say things like don-cha-know. I've even heard a "ya-sure" though never a "ya-sure-you-betcha".
Thomas... I had a very similar problem with a quarter-panel that had an argument with a concrete pole. Two shops recommended by my insurance company bid the job at $3K (about half what the car was worth), I eventually had to go to a less reputable shop to get a more reasonable quote. 'Course that was when I had a car.

Snave my man! What I really need is a t-shirt that says, "The only think I can fix is dinner!" The Frogette needs one that says, "What am I making for dinner? Reservations!"

UndeniableL... It is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast. Out here in Babylon by the Bay, when it comes to construction work if you tell a contractor that you want to 'pull permits' many will just refuse to work with you. For this little electrical job, I didn't need to do that...thank goodness.
I am not handy in the least. I like to work in the yard (but that's because the stuff you wreck will grow back). I just tell people I'd rather hire people to do my stuff because it creates jobs.
I feel for you, bud. When we were remodeling our basement, it was estimated to take about 2 months. It took 5.
this is why I live in an apartment (another reason is that there is no way in hell I could afford a home, but who wants to bring that up)
You should've called me. I'm an electrician and I would've done the job just for the opportunity to meet the most famous frog in the Bay Area.

My brother is a general contractor who does work in San Mateo County. Any time someone asks me if he can take a look at whatever they need looking at, I say, "No". I already know he's got so much high-dollar work being thrown at him that he can't be bothered with small jobs.
J. Marquis... I sort of like the job creation aspect myself. Leaves me time for the important things (well...important to me, at least) and keeps people who'd like doing skilled labor employed.

Lizzy... The last time we did any work that required a general contractor, the first one we hired had a fit and abandoned the job on the first day, in the middle of tearing down a ceiling.
Graeme... I used to be of that opinion myself, but over the years the desire to own something of my own prevailed. Now...I love paying my mortgage, and the taking care of the place part is just what balances that out.

PT...if only I'd known! So, could your brother come and take a look at this small job I've got? ;-)
don-cha-know??

You brought back some great memories for me of a family friend who always said don-cha-know. And here I always thought it was a midwestern thing.
As a confirmed do it your selfer (I learned to sweat copper when I saw how easy it was for the plumbers to install a hot water heater, and the installation cost more than the heater), I have hired contractors many times but no longer do so for smaller jobs. Sure, we had a crew in to replace our windows and to build the deck (I was NOT going to spend fifteen months doing it myself--I don't have the time cycles for a big project like a deck), but the smaller jobs, bathroom remodels and electric (especially electric, which is easy), I do myself.

Electric is easy. You need to know three things: hot, neutral, ground. Plumbing, now that's hard. When I tighten a screw on electric, I tighten it down until it hits bottom. When I do it on plumbing, I have to be careful not too tighten it all the way a lot of the time.
Kathy...could be, but I never heard "don-cha-know" or "ya sure" until I moved to Minnesota.

DBK... It's not just lack of will but lack of time--got too many other projects that take up my time.
"Electric is easy. You need to know three things: hot, neutral, ground. Plumbing, now that's hard. When I tighten a screw on electric, I tighten it down until it hits bottom. When I do it on plumbing, I have to be careful not too tighten it all the way a lot of the time"

DBK: I think that you are being quite overly simplistic. I'll admit that most electrical work is not par with astrophysics, but there are more than three things you need to know. Our code book alone is almost 800 pages long. This is just the code, not the physical installation methods, that takes years to master. Your ignorance about the complexities and danger of electricity may be bliss in your mind, but how about the person that purchases your fire trap when you sell it. Although plumbing has it's own set of problems if done improperly, I can assure you that I have never heard of someone drowning in the middle of the night because of DIY plumbing work. Many fires (and deaths) have occurred because of both DIY and improperly installed "professional" electrical work.

Stick to gardening!
Call
Cavanagh Electric Inc
In the New York area
1631-499-0186

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