Why you should shop around for an electrician

WASHINGTON — Prices charged by different D.C.-area electricians for identical work can vary wildly, according to undercover shoppers for a local consumers’ group.

“Sometimes, things don’t work and you don’t know why, so you need an electrician to visit to tell you why and then give you a price to fix it. It’s hard for them to give you a price in advance,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at Checkbook.org.

But, you can expect to be quoted prices in advance when it comes to something like installing a ceiling fan, flood light, wiring or a new circuit breaker box.

Checkbook got dramatically different price quotes to get a ceiling fan installed — between $150 and $525. Prices to replace six wall outlet receptacles and one light switch with new outlets and wall plates ranged between $125 and $729.

And, Brasler said paying more does not assure you’ll get higher quality work.

“That doesn’t hold true when it comes to home services. And especially doesn’t hold true when it comes to electricians,” Brasler said. “Often, the really high-priced companies do lousy work.”

Get as much as you can in writing

If, for example, the electrician is going to punch holes in the wall to run wiring, make sure the contract includes who’s going to patch and repaint the area. If it’s not specifically stated in the contract, Brasler said you could be on the hook for that.

Also, for repairs, Brasler said the electrician should quote you a price in writing for the work as soon as a diagnosis is made, not after the work is done.

Get specific about what you’ll get

Find out if the initial charge for an electrician to show up is just a flat fee or whether it includes a minimum amount of work such as for the first hour. Also, find out the hourly labor rate.

“It’s best to get a fixed price for any work they’re doing, but, at least if you know what the hourly labor rate is, you’ll know whether they’re really expensive or not,” Brasler said.

If you can, Brasler recommends withholding as much of the payment as possible until the work is done and pay by credit card in case you need to dispute the charge.

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, WTOP.com readers can see Checkbook ratings for electricians for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent, nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices for more than 40 years.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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