When I was a teenager and young adult, my dad took care of my car stuff. He helped me with house stuff, too, when I lived near him. Then I got a car that was too new for him to work on, but I worked at a car dealership, so I was pretty sure the folks I worked with would take good care of me. Plus, I had a good relationship with the manager, so if they didn’t, I had a path of recourse.
Recently, I became a homeowner. So I have had to have commerce with some contractors, and I also needed a mechanic. Having worked in the auto industry, I can say with authority that in many ways, it’s still the 60s in that world.
Too often, in the mechanic/contractor’s eyes, women are walking, drooling dollar signs.
Here are some tips to help you get a better deal, and to better the odds that you don’t hire a douche bag who thinks you’re stupid because you’re a girl, or to signal to potential douche bag contractors/mechanics that you’re confident, competent, and won’t stand for being taken advantage of.
Call for pricing
Search for the sort of contractor you need, and then call a whole bunch of them for quotes. You’ll get a better deal, and you can tell a lot about a contractor by the way he handles you on the phone.
When I was calling for prices on tires, I had a guy tell me he could only do an all wheel alignment on my two-wheel drive car, and that there’s no such thing as a tire with a 60K warranty.
He wanted me to pay him twice what other garages quoted for an alignment, and he wanted me to buy tires that were 33% more than the middle-of-the-road tires I wanted.
Even if you don’t really know anything about what you need to have fixed, you’ll catch inconsistencies that you wouldn’t if you just go with the first person you get from google.
Make sure they know
On the first call, only ask for pricing. Most mechanics and contractors are happy to provide estimates over the phone. If you engage in conversation, reference other prices (but not other companies). If you don’t, ask if they have a price-matching policy.
This will show that you’re being diligent and will signal the contractor or mechanic that you’re less likely to hold still for being screwed. I have, mistakenly, hired the first person I’ve called, thinking that the price variation would be negligible, and that the time I’d spend calling around would make up for any difference. Not only was I wrong, but that move put a big, shiny sign that said “sucker” on it right on my forehead.
Right guy or gal for the job
If you need body work, don’t call a mechanic, call a body shop. If you need a plumber, don’t call a general contractor.
People who have a specialty can offer better deals on the work because they have the stuff they need to do the job. Also, they’ve done it a million times, so they’re less likely to roger up your car, house, chimney, or porch.
If you know somebody who uses a mechanic or contractor you’re considering, ask them. If you have friends you trust, ask them who they use. I found a great mechanic this way once.
Go with someone you know
Personal relationships can get tricky with contractors, but use somebody you know if you can. It’s more likely that they’ll do a good job if there are personal or social stakes, too.
Once you find a contractor, plumber, HVAC guy, or mechanic you like, stick with him or her. S/he will get to know your car, house, yard, or pipes, and you’ll have a person you trust to ask for advice. Plus, good business people will love your referrals.