Hiring Help With Confidence

The yellow pages are a great resource for finding services. However, if you don't know what you need or what you should expect to pay, you'll need more help.

Whether you're scrounging around for a cleaning service or plunking down $10,000 to build a porch, hiring someone means making a decision you have to live with - literally.

Hiring the people whose job it is to make your life easier can be difficult process. Kris Connell of Real Simple magazine tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen how to simplify the process. She offers tips on what you should know beforehand, as well as a list of the best resources for finding service people in your area.

First off, Connell recommends talking to friends and neighbors to find the names of people they trust. Nothing beats a personal recommendation. If you can't find someone through your own contacts, there are plenty of terrific umbrella organizations that will help you find the best service people in your hometown. The Internet is a great resource. Real Simple offers a list of the most helpful Web sites in their March issue.

Also, it's good to know a few clever questions to ask that will make even a smooth operator think twice about pulling a fast one. And always meet more than one person for a job - interview several people or compare more than one service.

Remember that if you're armed with crucial information and a detailed contract, signed in advance, you'll be protected against many potential horrors.

Here are general complaints people have when they hire someone without good references:

  • The person (or service) is not what he claims to be.
  • Paying too much because you don't know what a service should cost.
  • One problem leads to another.

The reality is that often times we reach out for a plumber or a locksmith when there's an emergency. So try to have plan.

Real Simple suggests the following tips:

  • Try to think ahead. Ask your friends and neighbors for people they've been happy with before you have a real need. Then you won't be caught without someone to call in the event of an emergency.
  • Ask people you trust. You don't want to hire someone just because you're in a bind and they're the first name you come across.

Here are five trades people you will have to hire at one point or another:

General tasks: fixes leaky pipes, clogged drains, installs pipes, fixtures for bathroom addition, replaces furnaces.

Typically charges: $60 to $75 an hour, or a flat fee. Many also charge an additional "trip" fee to pick up extra supplies. After-hours and holiday rates may also apply.

First: Ask your building super or the manager of your gym (remember they have all those showers and steam rooms) for a good recommendation. They'll have experience in this area.

Second: Know your fixtures' brand names, so the plumber will know what he's dealing with in advance. This will affect your bill because, obviously, vintage parts will cost more.

Third: Know where the job begins and ends. This is a common pitfall. If you're not familiar with general plumbing, as many of us aren't, ask people who know more about it so you're not in the dark. You need to know who is cleaning up and who is doing the repairs.

Web site: www.phccweb.org - This is the plumbing-heating-cooling-contractors national association. You can find someone near you on this site.

House Cleaner
General tasks: Cleans up your messes

Typically charges: $20 to $35 an hour

First: Meet candidates in person and take them on a tour of your home to gauge their enthusiasm and conscientiousness.

Second: Ask how long the job should take, what cleaning products they'll need and who will supply them. Make sure you approve of the supplies they use in your home. Find out in advance how much a full house cleaning costs and not just the hourly.

Third: Talk about flexibility and what you like/dislike. For example, if they're doing your laundry, would you rather they put your clothes away or leave them folded on your bed. This is a common pitfall. You don't want to rely solely on someone who has no flexibility or a big, impersonal company that sends you different crews each time.

Web site: www.cleaningassociation.com - Check out the National Association of Professional Cleaners for suggestions.

General tasks: Supervises home additions or renovations that may require the work of many different trades people. The cost is usually done per square footage of the project.

Typical fee: ranges from $150-$500 a square foot.

First: Visit homes where you can see the contractor's work.

Second: Ask references in-depth/tough questions about quality of work and promptness. Did he stick to the schedule or did the job take a lot longer than expected? And when considering bids, make sure everyone includes taxes so all bids are comparable. You'll also save yourself from invoice shock.

Third: Beware of picking the least expensive contractor and paying more in the long run when that person doesn't get the job done.

There are common pitfalls, such as slipshod work; disregard for scheduling; unforeseen cost hikes.

Web site: www.franklinreport.com - This is a membership site for contractors. You can find good suggestions here.

General tasks: Puts up shelves, screens, storm windows.

Generally charges: $30 to $50 an hour or by the job. May also charge additional "trip" fee to pick up extra supplies.

First: Check out his previous work. Ask for references and photos.

Second: Make sure he's licensed, certified and insured. This is important so that you're not liable if anyone gets hurt due to a repair or installation he is handling.

Third: Ask who is providing the materials.

A common pitfall is hiring a handyman to do a plumber's job.

Web site: www.angieslist.com - This is a good site to check out rates, read reviews of service providers across the country.

General tasks include: installs extra outlets, ceiling fans, fixtures

Typically charges: $35 to $70 an hour.

First: Find out which fixtures you want and how much they cost. Then give the bidder the specs.

Second: You should ask: What is your warranty on your work? The person you hire should provide a certificate of insurance.

Third: Ask around to find out reasonable fees for specific jobs. A common pitfall is being completely ignorant about what a reasonable fee is.

Web site: www.necaconnection.com is the National Electrical Contractors Association.