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Beware the High Cost of the Low-Priced Handyman

There’s an old saying that maintains “The bitter taste of poor quality lingers far longer than the initial sweetness of a cheap price.” In the air conditioning business, it might be more accurate to pronounce “The bitter taste of poor quality, damaged property, stolen money, immense medical liability and ponderous inconvenience lingers far longer than the low cost of an unlicensed contractor.” Everybody wants a “good deal.” That’s why homeowners looking for a “good deal” on air conditioning repairs or replacement often turn to a local handyman or “moonlighting” service technician. They assume the handyman can do the same work that an established company does, and he won’t charge nearly as much. While that’s sometimes true, it can often be risky.

It’s not surprising that a handyman is able to offer his services for less than a legitimate service company. But it’s important to look beyond the initial price of the repair, and consider the total cost of the repair. There are other factors that come into play when one hires a “friend of a friend” or the guy that advertises in the free online classifieds. There are reasons a handyman can appear to offer his services for less. He’s probably cutting important corners and he’s likely to be unlicensed, untrained, uninsured, incompetent or even a criminal. Let the buyer beware!

Stories abound concerning unscrupulous or unqualified repair people. Search the Internet for “contractor sting” and you’ll find dozens of stories about local government efforts to weed out unlicensed contractors. They’re not conducting these stings just to collect fines; they’re doing it to protect the community. Homeowners are continuously being burned by these criminals. There are stories of homes being destroyed by incompetent workers, con men who took deposits and never returned, and handymen who got hurt on the job and actually sued the homeowner! Because these pseudo-contractors often have no training, no insurance, no license and no “real” company, it’s the homeowner who takes all the risk. Even if everything goes well with the initial job, when a faux-contractor does the work it’s not unusual to experience problems soon after. When that happens, the culprit is not very likely to come back and take care of the problem. Heck, he’s not even very likely to answer his phone!

While homeowners may not care what it costs to run a legitimate business (it’s expensive), they do care about what they pay. Since it’s virtually impossible for a licensed, insured contractor to compete with a fly-by-night operator on price alone, the fly-by-night might appear to be the better choice. However, homeowners need to consider the TOTAL cost, including problems created from a faulty repair (and some of these won’t show up for years), patching the symptoms of problems and not the real problem, cutting corners, voiding warranties, disappearing when it’s time to honor guarantees, and more. Saving a little upfront can become very expensive down the road. When consumers use a legitimate company, they are protected by the company’s licensing, insurance, permits, specialized tools, hiring expenses, training, uniforms, office staff, phones, vehicles, etc. Of course, these costs have to be passed along to the customer.

The good news is, when doing business with a company like this, customers receive something else of tremendous value in return; they receive quality assurance and peace of mind.

If your budget is strained, like so many are these days, you still have options. Any honest company can usually provide you with several cost-effective repair solutions. There are legitimate ways to lower your price, without reverting to shortcuts that are ineffective, unreliable or just plain dangerous. The next time you need a home repair, whether it’s on your air conditioning, plumbing, electrical system or anything else, don’t be enticed by the low price of the local “jack of all trades.” You could end up paying a whole lot more than you expected, and risk your home, health and safety at the same time.