Becoming home-owners in Australia has not only exposed us to a new range of emotions but to a new set of challenges, the most testing of which has been the need to hire various tradesmen (or, tradies as they are known here) to help us get our house the way we want it. The results have been, shall we say, interesting.
Aussies love to rant about tradies who, if you believe what you hear, have a reputation for high quotes, poor appointment-keeping and often less than perfect work. Such criticism drew a sharp response from one tradie, quoted in the Canberra Times’ property section last week: “None of you have a clue, not a single clue about trade life… you all want us there five minutes ago, gone in 10 minutes and barely charged for the privilege.”
For the well-organised, sensibly-priced, professional tradie, such challenges to their reputation may be infuriating, but from a customer perspective, it seems those more reliable tradies are rarer than hens’ teeth.
For our move, we wanted to hire a local ‘man with a van’-type removals firm. We could do most of the small stuff, but needed help with the big stuff, such as beds, wardrobes and shelves. The first first we called blew out three appointments before we gave up and found the firm we actually used.
Once into the house, we needed a full range of trades to get us up and running: an electrician to fit a new oven and some TV points, a plumber to fit a gas hob, and a gardener to landscape a small patio area. As the singer Meat Loaf suggests, ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’, so I reckon we should be grateful that the gardener and plumber were brilliant, and their business cards will be treasured in case we need them again.
The first electrician we tried spent most of his visit telling us that what we wanted wasn’t what we actually wanted at all, and trying to get us to buy industrial-sized light fittings to replace the ones we have. We passed on him. The second electrician started off badly, telling us which of the jobs he didn’t want to do, and then drilling a TV aerial hole in the wrong wall, but by the end, even he seemed tolerable.
Our big challenge has proven to be a kitchen extractor, known as a rangehood over here. The electrician told us it was a plumber’s job on account of the ducting, the plumber said it was a cabinet-maker’s job on account of it needing to fit into a cupboard. The cabinet maker stayed for three minutes before telling us it was an electrician’s job on account of the wiring.
They say that job interviews are usually decided in the first 30 seconds and I think that’s also true of a customer/tradie relationship. You can usually tell fairly instantly if things are going to go well.
The cabinet-maker’s first comment on the rangehood job was: “It’s not going to be easy.” To which I replied: “Well, if it was easy, I’d probably be doing it myself.” It went downhill from there and we are back to square one with that particular job.
From our initial experience, it’s hard to take issue with the received wisdom on Canberra tradies and hiring them does seem to be a very hit and miss affair, with many seeming ill-equipped to deal with actual customers. On the other hand, for the few genuine professionals that we have encountered, such bad PR seems like an injustice.
What I have learnt though, is that a personal recommendation (rather than a recommendation from a fellow tradie) can be worth its weight in gold. Tradies seem to recommend their mates, regardless of their quality of work, whereas a former customer will only base their judgement on quality of work and value for money. Both seem desperately hard to come by.