Should you use online tradie sites?

A blocked loo or the washing machine suddenly going on the blink can be a right pain when you don’t have the tradie you need on speed dial. For many of us, the only option used to be phoning a friend for recommendations or trawling through ads in the local paper.

Now, Australia’s booming gig economy is changing all that. The launch of several online “task” platforms is making it easier than ever to hire the right person to get you out of a jam. Sites like ServiceSeeking.com.au, hipages, and Airtasker can save you time and money because there’s no ringing around; the tradies contact you with quotes or bids.

“The benefit of using online tasking sites is that you can check reviews rom other customers and save yourself time ringing around for quotes,” says a spokesperson for the Housing Industry Association (HIA).

“You can also hire someone locally to do the work so they’ll know the area, be able to come quickly, and may have some knowledge of the kind of building you’re asking them to deal with. If your area is characterised by a certain type of building or has heritage considerations, a local may be better placed for the work. You can also choose from a lot of quotes, so you can get something done for the best price.”

That said, it’s not a foolproof system and it’s crucial you do your due diligence before hiring anyone. “Peace of mind still comes from asking the right questions about licences, insurance, and equipment before you hire anyone,” according to the HIA spokesperson.

How to use an online tradie site
On most of these platforms, it’s free to request quotes and the process is very straightforward. On ServiceSeeking.com.au and hipages, you type in what you need (plumber, carpenter, electrician, etc.), add your postcode, and wait for the quotes to start rolling in. Hipages claims it verifies licenses and business registrations while ServiceSeeking.com.au does not — but these two are the best sites if you’re looking for professional tradespeople.

Airtasker is a little different. It has over 300,000 “taskers” and while some are qualified professionals, there are also heaps of regular people using the site as their "side hustle" to make a bit of extra cash. It’s a mix of all kinds of jobs — from furniture removal to delivering cupcakes or tweaking a Wordpress site. It’s a great bet if you’re just looking for someone to do odd jobs, such as a handyman.

Once you get the quotes, you can check out the profiles of workers who’ve responded. It’s a good idea to read the reviews and ratings, make a short list, and get in touch with the workers if you have any questions. After all that, you’re under no obligation to hire anyone, even if the site pushes you to do so.

Do your homework
Sure, sitting back and twiddling your thumbs while you wait for eager tradies to come to you sounds a bit like Christmas. But it’s important to remember that some of the tradies available on these platforms may not be qualified, registered, or insured.

“Do your homework, check with the State licensing agency, see if the tradie is a member of an industry association (like HIA), ask for references, and simply search for them on other sites to see if the person you’re hiring is the right person for the job,” advises HIA’s spokesperson.

“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 gas fitting jobs.”

While you may be perfectly happy to hire an unqualified person to carry out simple tasks to your home, be aware that it can all go to hell in a handbasket — especially if the tradie doesn’t have insurance. They might not be covered by your home insurance, and if things go wrong, your State consumer protection body may not be able to help you in a dispute. Always check them out on LicencedTrades.com.au before you commit.

And be aware that while some sites will partially cover you with insurance (AirTasker will for certain tasks), others like ServiceSeeking.com.au and hipages don’t extend insurance to users.

Are there better options?
Not a fan of going online? You’re not alone; some people still swear by the Yellow Pages (which only takes qualified tradies), or word of mouth from friends and family. And that’s understandable, says the HIA.

“There is really no way of verifying online reviews — if you get someone through word of mouth, the person referring the tradie has dealt with them, and understands your tastes and expectations.”

James from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, recently used tradie sites for help with renovating his apartment and says he hasn’t been too impressed with the task platforms.

“More than once, I’ve been won over by a professional, courteous quoter, only to have pretty much riff-raff show up to do the work — and often with these cheaper options, the quality isn’t always there, nor is the cleaning and follow-up. It’s just about doing as many jobs as you can and moving onto the next one,” he says.

“My wife and I have had better success tapping into smaller ex-pat communities [for tradespeople]. We now source all of our tradies from within those communities, and the level of service for the price has been exceptional.”

Have you used an online platform to hire a tradie? We’d love to hear your experiences!

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