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Mr. Miser

Dodgy, but dirt cheap Add to ...

The two men I hired to clean my eaves the other day weren't exactly polished brand representatives. Both looked like they were coming off a long, hard bender. One had close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, bloodshot eyes and a T-shirt that read "Spring Break '84." At least he was wearing a shirt. His partner wore jean shorts and work boots. And that's it - unless you count the cigarette dangling from his lips.

I was expecting as much, however, considering their marketing tool of choice. I had seen a piece of paper taped to a pole in my neighbourhood promising "cheap eaves cleaning" in black felt marker.

In my experience, when you hire people who advertise their services exclusively on telephone poles, they can be a little rough around the edges. But I've also got a much better deal than I would have from a more professional company.

You just have to exercise a little caution, experts say.

Try to make sure they're not a fly-by-night operation, for one thing. "You want to make sure that they have a proper phone number and street address where you can track them down," says Doug Simpson, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus. "If problems happen, you want to be able to locate them."

The guys who cleaned my eaves didn't have an address - not one that I was aware of, anyway. Just a phone number on a sheet of paper. But the price was too good to worry much about details. When they arrived, the guy in the "Spring Break '84" shirt cast a bleary eye skyward by way of professional estimate, took a drag from his smoke and quoted $75, which would include patching up a few rough spots on my roof.

How could I say no? Two companies I found online gave me quotes of $124 and $169.95, not including any touch-ups to my shingles.

And however much they may have had the look of two guys who had got out of prison a week ago and been partying ever since, they were polite, hard workers who did their job well. The only time they stopped working, in fact, was when the ice cream truck drove down the street. They bought vanilla cones and ate them in the shade, then finished the job and left.

The guy who painted my daughter's room was even better. His flyer, taped to a pole just a few blocks from my house, promised that he would paint any room for $50. Most other quotes from "professional painters" were twice or three times as much. This guy arrived with a few days of stubble and stood with me where the crib would go, showing me his tattoos and explaining how back in university he used to be a "massive drug dealer" and was now getting his life together. He seemed like a good enough guy.





But as Mr. Simpson points out, whenever someone is in your house doing work, you want to make sure you're around to keep an eye on things - especially when the person doing the job has already admitted to having a criminal past.

"It hopefully will discourage them from doing something like lifting things and taking them with them," he says. I think sticking around is just common sense. Even assuming the people who come into your house are honest, you want to be there in case a problem arises that requires a decision about the work.

And while some people may be skeptical about hiring people who advertise on telephone poles, it's really no different than hiring other companies, so long as you do your homework, Mr. Simpson says.

"The concept of looking at hiring somebody who has put their name and number up on a telephone pole really isn't a whole lot different than looking at somebody who has left a flyer in your mailbox or called you up out of the blue over the telephone," he says.

Of course, there are different levels of concern for different jobs. I never thought to bother doing research about the painter or the eaves guys. But that would certainly not be true if I ever thought to call up one of the people who advertise child care on telephone poles or if I were looking to get a major house reno done.

I suppose, though, that most people want the security offered by a well-established company. They don't want two dudes in a beat-up truck with hangovers coming to the door. But I've found that it's nice, and much cheaper, to hire real people, warts and all.

Besides, you never know what you might get out of the deal. The eaves cleaners left their ladder and haven't come back for it since. The ladder retails for roughly $100. When I called to let them know, the guy said he'd come pick it up, but that was days ago and it's still in my backyard. I don't think I'll be seeing them again.

Now I have clean eaves and a new ladder. As far as I'm concerned, I actually made $25 off the deal.

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

 

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