Then along came the internet, and now the shoe is on the other foot. Not only can we check out a service provider's reputation online, with tasking websites we can even skip the ring-around and have the tradies contact us.
How does it work?
CHOICE looked at several sites, including Airtasker, Oneflare, ServiceSeeking and hipages. They're all a little bit different, but the basic premise is the same.
- You post your task on the site.
- You then receive quotes from workers who are up for the job.
- You can check out their profiles, read reviews from other customers, and ask questions if necessary.
- You then choose a worker to do the job.
How much does it cost?
It's free to post a task and there's no obligation for you to hire anyone. Instead, the tradie or business pays a small fee each time they make a bid for a job, or they pay a regular membership fee.
Why use it?
Whether you find a tradie through the phone book, the internet or an ad on a telephone pole, there's always a risk that their work won't be up to the standard you want. But the benefit of using tasking sites is that you can check reviews from other customers and save yourself time ringing around for quotes.
More than 300,000 taskers are registered. While there are plenty of qualified professionals on the site, it's also used by regular people willing to do odd (sometimes really odd) jobs. 'Other' is the most commonly used category on Airtasker. "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," says co-founder and CEO Tim Fung, who describes the site as "sort of like eBay for services".
All taskers will have had their identification verified by Airtasker, but not all will be qualified, registered or insured. Workers with the Airtasker PRO badge have passed a higher level of verification, which includes an interview with an Airtasker community manager and a check of their personal ID, insurances and ABN.
Airtasker has public liability insurance of up to $20 million for third party property damage or personal injury claims, but this excludes services provided by security guards, child minders, builders, excavators, transporting/taxi services, driving instructors and currency conversion/money lending.
"They were not a qualified carpenter so the job wasn't amazing but it did the job and it was super cheap! We would have definitely paid more than double if we had booked through a tradie or proper company," says Katinka, a CHOICE staffer who used Airtasker for a simple carpentry job.
More than 60,000 businesses registered. The services most often requested on Oneflare are for cleaners, removalists, pet groomers, gardeners and electricians.
Businesses have a profile score, which increases if their ABN, license number and contact details are verified. A rep from Oneflare also told us, "We continuously monitor the customer reviews of each business. By doing so, we are able to quality check our businesses from real experiences, not just licenses and qualifications."
Businesses with the 'Verified' badge have had the validity of their public liability insurance and ABN confirmed. 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 case of negligence or intentional damage.
More than 115,000 businesses registered. ServiceSeeking is a marketplace for all sorts of professionals, from tradespeople to accountants to graphic designers.
All businesses on the site have completed an identification check, have a valid ABN and have completed an online declaration that they're licensed to do the work they are quoting on. Businesses marked as 'Certified' have completed a free online training course which teaches them how to quote, follow up and respond to customer needs. To weed out poor service, ServiceSeeking has a "two complaints and you're out" policy.
ServiceSeeking doesn't extend insurance to its users. You should check that the business you are hiring has the appropriate insurance.
Tip: Unlike some other services, there's no limit to the number of quotes you can receive from businesses via ServiceSeeking. To avoid being swamped, once you have enough quotes you can hit the "Stop quotes" button.
More than 78,000 service-providers registered. 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').
hipages reviews and checks the qualifications of all businesses and tradespeople registered on the site and screens them via a phone call. Tradespeople who have too many customer complaints are contacted by the hipages Trust and Quality team for mediation.
hipages doesn't extend insurance to its users. You should check that the service provider you are hiring has the appropriate insurance.
Tip: hipages tends to charge tradespeople higher fees than most other tasker sites (depending on the package they sign up for). For that reason, 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-job person looking to make some quick cash.
CHOICE staffer Christine used ServiceSeeking to line up a number of home improvement jobs including electrical work, timber staining and asbestos removal. She was happy with the work done, but offers this advice for using ServiceSeeking, and sites like it:
- Make the description of your job as clear as possible.
- Be prepared for lots of return emails and phone calls in a short time.
- Take the ad down as soon as you have enough quotes.
- Do not necessarily accept the price quoted – they have to quote a price to get your contact details, but it could be up for negotiation.
- Arrange an on-site inspection so both parties know what is needed.
Since 2005, NSW Fair Trading has received more than 70 complaints about a number of tasking sites; however, the vast majority were from businesses disputing fees and directory listings, rather than from customers.
Customers were more likely to have made complaints against the service provider, rather than the website. One customer filed a complaint against a service provider who asked for money upfront to purchase 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 only offer limited help or compensation.
What to do if your job goes wrong
- Raise your concerns directly with the service provider, and if you can't reach a resolution, contact your state or territory consumer protection agency.
- Contact the tasking site and tell them about your experience – they may choose to strike the worker off their books.
- Remember to leave a review so other customers are warned.
Lisa posted a job on Airtasker for a handyman to assemble her bedroom furniture. She wasn't concerned about qualifications, but she lives alone so she was concerned about safety. After only receiving quotes from men, she says, "I hired the guy with the most reviews from women."
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 feels he's up against on ServiceSeeking.
Do your homework
By law, certain jobs require a licensed tradesperson or building practitioner. This includes residential building work over $5000, as well as any electrical wiring, plumbing, air conditioning, refrigeration, draining, and gasfitting jobs.
It's important that you check the credentials of the person or business you're hiring, even if their online profile says that they're licensed.
You also 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, they may not be covered by your own home insurance, and if things go wrong your state consumer protection body may not be able to help you in a dispute.
Tips for hiring tradies through tasking sites
Consumer Affairs Victoria offers these tips:
- Know exactly what you want and describe it in detail, using photos if you can.
- Check the license or registration of the tradesperson through the appropriate authority in your state.
- Ask to see certificates of currency for public liability insurance.
- Get everything in writing. A major domestic building contract is generally required for work over $5000, but Consumer Affairs Victoria recommends a written contract for all renovation work.
- Get three quotes and choose based on what they offer, not just price.
- Always get a receipt for the work, particularly if you're paying in cash.
Ever hired a tradie from a find-a-tradie website?
Let us know in the comments!
Which site did you use?
Were you happy with the work?
Did you have any odd or dodgy experiences?