Calling a plumber for a minor repair job that can be handled in an hour can cost a Washington area home owner as little as $16 or as much as $44, a survey of local home repair, services revealed.
Taking down a dead tree in the yard can be a $325 job or a $765 one, depending on who does the work.
Fixing a roof that one repair man said required $925 worth of work turned out to be a $285 job when another roofer bid on it.
And the high'priced home repair companies didn't satisfy their customers any better than the cheap ones, the survey of local consumers showed.
The study was made by Washington Consumers Checkbook, a quarterly publication of the Washington Center for the Study of Services.
Launched with grants from foundations and the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs, Checkbook now has 23,000 subscribers, whose $14 a year largely supports the consumer research studies, said Robert Krughoff, president.
To assess the performance of home repair services, the organization sent 115,000 questionaires to its subscribers and those of Consumer Reports magazines in 1975 and 1976. From nearly 10,000 responses a year, a 128-page assessment was made of repair services and installation by heating and air conditioning contractors, carpet cleaners, plumbers, tree services, roofers and exterminators.
In addition to surveying consumers, Checkbook called hundreds of contractors to obtain quotations on labor rates, and volunteer home owners got contractors to bid on home improvement projects so prices could be compared.
"The most important finding is that there are enormou sprice differences," Krughoff said. That means consumers can save money by shopping around.
How much shopping around is needed depends on the job, he said. Generally the bigger and more unusual the job, the more estimates a consumer should get. If ther is wide variation between the first two or three prices quotes, get more estimates, Krughoff recommends. Do the same if the job mostly involves labor rather than parts and materials.
The study points out that 19 plumbers who were asked to bid on installing a new bathroom in a home asked prices ranging from $836 to 2,146. Even on a simple job of installin ga new water heater - of the same make and model number - plumbers quoted costs ranging from $217 to $324.
Another reason for shopping around for home mainenance services is that most firms got generally high ratings from their customers, Krughoff said "If most of the customers are satisfied, then the price becomes more important," he noted.
The amount of satisfied customers ranged from 78 per cent in the air conditioning repairs, to 91 per cent in tree services. In contrast, an earlier survey of auto repairs found only 65 per cent of the customers were satisfied with the quality of work they had received.
Krughoff said the survey "dispelled a lot of myths that home owners have" about repair services.
"We found the lare firms no more likely to satisfy customers than small ones nor to be any cheaper." Old, established companies didn't rank any better with consumers than new ones, and city and suburban repair firms came out about equal.
Consumers Checkbook "check rates" about 70 home improvement firms, recommending them for their prices or quality.
None of the tree services was singled out because nearly all of those surveyed were rated high by their customers. Only Bauman Tree Experts, with 67 per cent satisfied customers, fell well below the industry's 91 per cent satisfaction rate, the study said.
"Price is the key," the report recommends, noting that a home owner in the McLean area got bids ranging from $325 to $765 for removing the same large tree.
Tree service shopper should assure that tree removal includes hauling away al debris, and should get specific information on the amount and kinds of fertilizer and pesticides sprays to be used.
A volunteer who asked five local firms to bid on reroofing a Bethesda home with asphalt shingles got bids ranging from $1.60 form Shield Roofing Corp, to $1,775 from Hechinger's.
On repainting the metal roof of a District of Columbia house, the five bids ranged from only $285 from Hearn Insulation & Improvement Co. to $925 from Jones Roofing.
Consumer Checkbook warned that roof repairs was the only one of the services studied in which there were =substantial fraud problems.
"The worst problems arise when the customer makes a payment in advance" and the work is never done, the study said.
The biggest problem with roofers was getting them to do the work when needed and promised. Barely one-third of the consumers of some major firms said their work was done on time.
As with other major home improvements work, roofing jobs shouldn't be paid for until the work is done, Consumer's Checkbook recommends, noting that only three roofing companies studied - Samuel C. Boyd Co., A.B. Fitzpatrick Roofing and Central Roofing and Siding - ordinarily ask for any payment before the work is done.
Written contracts detailing the roofing work and written warranties backing up roofers' promises are important leves for consumers, the study said, recommending that the contract provide for arbitration in case there is a dispute over the job.
In heating and air conditioning, the consumer study found the highest labor rates, with some companies charging as much as $44 an hour.
As with plumbers, air conditioning repair rates are complicated because they can include both time on the job and time spent traveling. A cheaper repairman halfway across town may wind up charging more than a higher-priced one closer to home.
Comparing air conditioning repair charges on a hypothetical job involving an hour's work and 15 minutes travel time, Consumer's Checkbook found a low of $20 at Suburban Services and a high of $45 at Ayers-Williams Dodd and Home Air Conditioning.
Cautioning consumers to be sure they are getting price quotes for comparable services, the study said "the price for exactly the same carpet cleaning job is twice as high at some area firms as at others."
Kemper Carpet Care charged only 10 cents a square foot for regular steam cleaning, while Mr. Sunshine Carpet Care asked 13 cents. But when deodorizing and soil retardant treatments were added, Kemper's price jumped to 25 cents a foot, while Mr. Sunshine went up only to 19 cents.
The survey found a wide variation in customer satisfication from one carpet cleaner to the next. Andrews Rug Cleaner had 95 per cent satisfied customers, while the Hecht co's carpet cleaning was satisfactory to only 48 per cent of the customers surveyed, the study said.
In dealing with pest control companies, consumers should avoid buying more service than thhey need, Consumer's Checkbook recommends.
Termite treatments ought to last for several years, the study noted. And once cockroaches are cleared out of a single-family detached house, reepeat spraying rarely is needed.
Even for the same services, prices vary widely, from $70 to $270 for keeping a single-family home free of cockroaches for a year.