Saturday, September 19, 2009


An elderly customer called me a couple weeks ago. She wondered if I could be with her when she met with the representative of an electrical company who had done some work for her. She felt she was being taken advantage of. She also explained that the electrician told her that she needed new smoke alarms without ever looking at the ones she already had.

The company is called Mister Sparky Electric. It’s related to One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.

The issue that had her attention was that she was being told that it was now the law that she had to have a Carbon Monoxide Detector on her furnace. She put down a deposit on the unit that was going to cost around $500. After talking to her daughter and doing some research she found out that it was not the law and the units that Mister Sparky was selling were not even ready for sale yet. This made her angry and suspicious.

The three companies mentioned above are the type that advertises "No Surprise" Straightforward Pricing. What this means is a guy comes out, looks over the job and then gives a price. If you accept it then you sign a contract. It sounds good but what I keep coming across with many companies like this is the price they give seems excessively high. That’s not to say they don’t do good work, it just costs a LOT! A way the company drums up business is by offering “free” electrical inspections.

My customer cancelled the Carbon Monoxide Detector and said she would not be using this company any longer. She showed me the bill from the previous work and I was astonished at the charges. Here is what I saw: After doing an “inspection” the electrician determined she needed her whole house surge protector replaced. Contrary to the claim of pricing being up front, he replaced it and told her after. He also replaced three circuit breakers.

The cost for the whole house surge protector was $258. You can buy the surge protector for under $100 retail. That means the labor charge was over $150. The installation consists of disconnecting and reconnecting a few wires – maybe a ten minute job. The cost for the three circuit breakers was $251. The circuit breakers probably cost under $10 dollars each and about five minutes to replace. To me that is an excessive charge.

He also told her she needed a GFI on her kitchen outlets. He was going to charge $169. The parts would have cost $15 to $25 and maybe fifteen minutes to install. She was wise to turn down the job.

The truth is that most people have no idea how long these jobs should take or what the parts actually cost. They trust the company because the “troubleshooter” recommends them.

In my Handyman business I am fair and honest with my customers. If someone wants an upfront price I will take all possibilities into consideration when I give them the price but would consider it unethical to charge them two or three times what the job is worth.

The lesson is to look beyond shiny trucks, spiffy uniforms and well-known names. Find service people who do good work for a fair price. When you call The Handymen, I guarantee you will get both.


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