When you've got a leaking pipe or a tree that needs trimming, finding a reliable professional to sort it out can be a shot in the dark. Until recent years, unless you had a list of plumber and sparkie contacts or friends with a good tool kit, your best option was to thumb through the Yellow Pages or ask around in the hope of landing a trustworthy tradie by luck.
Then along came the so-called ‘sharing economy’, and now the shoe’s on the other foot. Not only can we check a tradie’s reputation and credentials online, but we can also post call-outs on tasking websites and have the tradies contact us.
How does it work?
We looked at several sites, including Airtasker, Oneflare, ServiceSeeking and Hipages. They're all a little bit different, but the basic process is the same:
- You post your task on the site.
- Different tradies will pitch you quotes to do the job.
- You compare quotes, check out their profiles, read reviews from other customers, and ask questions if necessary.
- You choose a tradie to do the job.
How much does it cost?
For you – nothing. Posting a task is free and there's no obligation for you to hire anyone. It's actually the tradie or business that pays a fee each time they bid for a job, or they may pay a regular membership fee instead.
Why use tasking sites?
The main benefits are that you can check reviews from other customers and save yourself the hassle of ringing around for quotes. But bear in mind there are no guarantees that their work will be up to scratch, whether you found the tradie online or by word of mouth.
More than one million taskers are registered to this site. While there are plenty of qualified professionals, there are also regular people willing to do odd (and sometimes really odd) jobs. The most common categories are removals, cleaning and handy work.
Co-founder and CEO Tim Fung describes the site as "sort of like eBay" for services. "If you need help with something completely different – like making a party costume, reorganising your wardrobe or delivering a surprise gift to a friend – you can find people on Airtasker that can help with almost anything," he says.
Airtasker verifies the identities of all taskers, but not all will be qualified, registered or insured. Badges are added to workers' profiles once they meet certain requirements, such as digital ID checks, police and working with children checks. There are also special licence badges indicating industry qualifications for specific trades such as electrical, gas fitting, plumbing or asbestos removal. There's even an Ikea badge for people who can help with assembling furniture.
Worker profiles display a star rating from people who've hired them in the past, the number of tasks accepted and the task completion rate. So if a worker has a high number of tasks accepted and a 100% completion rate, they're likely to be very reliable indeed.
You pay the worker via Airtasker Pay. This lets both parties agree on a price before the task is finished and also allows the price to be raised – but only with your consent.
CHOICE tip: Check whether the quote includes a service fee, as this can add 10–20% to the task fee.
Airtasker has public liability insurance of up to $10 million for third-party property damage or personal injury claims, but this excludes some services so make sure you read the fine print. Note, too, that you're not covered for faulty work.
Airtasker's insurance only covers work that's completed and paid for via the Airtasker platform, so don't pay cash in hand or any other way. Keep records of your communication and payments to their website. The app will also generate an automatic record of what you and the worker agreed.
They weren't a qualified carpenter, so the job wasn't amazing. But it did the job and was super cheap! We would've definitely paid more than double if we'd booked through a tradie or a proper company.Katinka, who used Airtasker for a simple carpentry job
More than 100,000 businesses are registered to this site. The most frequently requested services are cleaning, removals, building, painting and accounting.
Businesses have a profile score, which goes up if they verify their ABN, licence number and contact details. A Oneflare spokesperson tells us, "We continuously monitor the customer reviews of each business. By doing so, we're able to quality check our businesses from real experiences, not just licences and qualifications." CEO of Oneflare Billy Tucker adds: "We also display feedback from prior Oneflare customers, feedback that's unfiltered but verified by us to ensure the comments come from real customers."
If a business has the 'Verified' badge, it means Oneflare has confirmed its public liability insurance and ABN. Businesses with the 'Home Care' guarantee badge are covered by Oneflare's limited insurance, offering up to $500 in repair work by another Oneflare business in the event of negligence or intentional damage. Businesses with the 'On-Time Guarantee' badge reimburse you $50 if they don't arrive for the job on time.
One CHOICE member who gave us online feedback about Oneflare writes: "The gates installation was very well done… I was very pleased with the results, however not all the quotes I received were suitable. The replies were very quick, within hours in one case, and they all turned up when they said they would. You just have to be clear and firm about what you want."
More than 197,000 businesses are registered to this site. ServiceSeeking is a marketplace for all sorts of professionals, from tradies to accountants to graphic designers. The most popular categories are cleaning, gardening, electrical work, handywork and removals.
All businesses on the site have completed an ID check, have a valid ABN, and have made an online declaration that they're licensed to do the work they're quoting on. To weed out poor service, says ServiceSeeking, it has a "two complaints and you're out" policy.
ServiceSeeking doesn't extend insurance to its users, so you should check the business you're hiring has the right insurance of its own.
CHOICE tip: Unlike some other services, there's no limit to the number of quotes you can get from businesses on ServiceSeeking. Once you have enough, you can hit the "Stop quotes" button to avoid being swamped.
More than 130,000 service-providers are registered to this site. Hipages has been around for more than a decade and is a hub for building, renovation, landscaping and cleaning jobs (the 'hi' stands for 'home improvement'). Popular categories are plumbers, cleaners, electricians, builders and gardeners.
CHOICE tip: Hipages tends to charge tradespeople higher fees than most other tasker sites (depending on the package they sign up for). This means you may not get the bargain basement price you were hoping for. But that's not necessarily a bad thing if you want quality work done by a qualified tradie – rather than by an odd-jobber looking to make some quick cash.
Hipages relies on a 'Trust and Quality' team to review and check the qualifications of all businesses and tradespeople registered to the site. The team screens them via a phone call and gives them a 'Verified' icon once it has checked a recommendation. The tradies' ratings take into account any negative scores. Hipages contacts tradespeople who have too many customer complaints for mediation.
Although tradies pledge "to act with the utmost professionalism" when they sign up, it's impossible for you to know whether they really will or not – especially as only positive reviews are published on Hipages profiles. This means you can't communicate directly with others about your experience of the service, nor hear about theirs, unless it was a good one.
Hipages doesn't extend insurance to its users, so you should check the business you're hiring has the right insurance of its own.
Very happy with the work of all concerned and will be using Hipages again for any future jobs. You do have to take responsibility though and, as we have learned, spend some time doing research [and] asking the right questions.CHOICE member
Beware of accepting the lowest quote – you may get what you pay for. "It's become an undercut-a-thon and the cheap and nasties are winning," warns one Sydney motor trimmer of the competition he faces on ServiceSeeking.
Choosing the lowest quote can also leave you less room to negotiate. Some people feel they were 'talked down' into accepting less than they'd wanted or expected. "I got the impression the plumber thought I wanted the cheapest job possible," writes one CHOICE member. "I was talked into [the plumber] doing less (i.e. a simpler job) than what I really wanted. While I wanted the taps replaced, they were reconditioned instead."
Although it's fair to expect quotes to be set, the worker often raises them if the job is different from what they expected, or if they have to deal with something they couldn't reasonably have predicted. "He did charge extra for unexpected excavation of many buried blocks, which was fair, but did not charge more for unanticipated problems digging out palm tree roots," another CHOICE member writes.
A tradie should never revise a quote on the grounds that it was only ever an estimate, without giving you reasons or the opportunity to negotiate. And once they're at your place, you have the right to change your mind and not hire them.
Provide as much detail as you can in your written description of a job. This will give you some protection against quote-creep, but be prepared to make your decision based on an on-site inspection quote and to negotiate if necessary.
When we first published this article, NSW Fair Trading told us they received more than 70 complaints between 2006 and 2016 about a number of tasking sites. However, the vast majority were from businesses disputing fees and directory listings, rather than from the end customers. NSW Fair Trading weren't able to give us updated figures for the past two years.
As for the customers themselves, they were more likely to have complained about the tradespeople than the website. One customer filed a complaint against a business that asked for money upfront to buy materials – then never returned to do the job.
Tasking sites act as a marketplace or agent connecting consumers and service providers – so if things go wrong, most will offer only limited help or compensation.
Research commissioned by NSW Fair Trading on these online marketplaces, including trading websites, found that "rights and obligations are being taken seriously generally by the different parties and there is a significant amount of goodwill. When things go well (and they generally do) most people are very happy using P2P (peer-to-peer) platforms, but there is a heavy trust and reliance on the rating systems to provide protection and there is a low understanding of rights and obligations".
The research also found that, "Many consumers are unclear about their rights and responsibilities with only 17% feeling 'very' or 'completely' confident in their understanding of their consumer rights when engaging with these platforms".
As with buying goods and services generally, NSW Fair Trading advises that when you hire people using trading websites, you have the right to certain expectations:
- Truthful and accurate representations, statements or claims about the goods or services.
- All the necessary and important information.
- Transparent disclosure of commercial relationships.
- Goods are of acceptable quality, safe, fit for purpose and match the advertised description.
- Services will be supplied with due care and skill, and within a reasonable time.
What to do if things go wrong
- Keep communicating and raise your concerns directly with the tradie or business. Follow up any agreements in writing using the website's messaging platforms, letter or email.
- If you can't reach a resolution, contact your state or territory consumer protection agency for support and lodge a written complaint.
- If they can't help you, or you're not satisfied with the outcome, you can take your complaint to the appropriate tribunal or court in your state or territory.
- If you've paid by credit or debit card, contact your credit provider and ask about applying for a credit card chargeback (there may be a time limit).
- Get fully up to speed with Australian Consumer Law and your rights by visiting the ACCC website or contacting the ACCC.
- Contact the tasking site and tell them about your experience – they may choose to take it up with the worker or strike them off their books.
- Leave a review to warn other customers.
Safety should always be a top priority, especially if you live alone or feel vulnerable. Reviews left by other customers on the website could help with your decision.
For instance, Lisa posted a job on Airtasker for a handyman to assemble her bedroom furniture. She wasn't concerned about qualifications, but because she lives alone she was understandably concerned about safety. After only receiving quotes from men, she says, "I hired the guy with the most reviews from women."
Do your homework
Be sure to check the credentials of the person or business you're hiring, even if their online profile says they're licensed.
Of course, you may be perfectly happy to hire an unqualified person to carry out simple tasks and fixes. But be aware that they may not have insurance or be covered by your own home insurance. This means that, if things go wrong and you get into a dispute, your state consumer protection body may not be able to help you.
By law, certain jobs require a licensed tradesperson or building practitioner. These include residential building work over $5000, as well as any electrical wiring, plumbing, air conditioning, refrigeration, draining and gasfitting jobs.
- Describe exactly what you want in detail, using photos if you can.
- Expect lots of return emails and phone calls in a short time.
- Take the ad down as soon as you have enough quotes.
- Check the licence or registration yourself through the appropriate authority in your state.
- Do a general internet search on the business name for customer reviews.
- Ask to see certificates of currency for public liability insurance.
- Don't automatically accept the price the worker quotes you – they have to give you a quote to get your contact details, but it could well be up for negotiation.
- Get three quotes and base your choice on what they offer, not just price.
- Arrange an on-site inspection so both parties know what the job involves.
- Communicate and pay through the website or app where possible.
- Get everything in writing. A major domestic building contract is generally required for work over $5000. But some consumer organisations, including Consumer Affairs Victoria, recommend a written contract for all renovation work.
- Always get a receipt for the work, whichever way you paid for it.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.