Let’s play a role-playing game. You own a sweet 15-person passenger van, and you have big summer plans: you’re going to live in this van, man! Perhaps by the beach, or by the river. You have your Doors tapestry picked out, the patchouli is tantalizingly propped on the dashboard, and you bought a lot of those pre-made, microwaveable Trader Joe’s Indian dishes. Just one problem: the loft from your apartment doesn’t fit in the van. This is critical, because man, once your loft is in the van, there is no stopping you.
You can go to Craigs List and look for help, but the prospect is shady; how can you gauge their reputation, prices, and previous work? Where is the EBay or Amazon analog for this? Well, just like your soul-mate in the adjacent cube, it’s been right under your nose all along, and it’s called Fixr.
Fixr is a simple, elegant site that places contractors with customers (or visa versa.) And while it’s current focus is on construction and remodeling gigs, any type of work is fair game. It makes a ton of sense for contractors, because they can easily access a large pool of would-be clients that they normally wouldn’t have access to. (I mean, if you’re a contractor in Sacramento, you’ll happily take a job in Oakland; but how would you find out about it otherwise?) And as the aforementioned role-playing game articulately indicated, it allows contractor-seekers to name their price: let them come to you. And it’s free.
First-time user will not be confused. Trust me. Fixr makes it simple:
1. Describe your project and post it for free
2. Get estimates from qualified professionals nearby, and
3. Pick the best based on quality, reputation, and price
Simple enough. So off we go. In the upper-right hand corner I entered my email, “job to be done,” and a “detailed description,” as I was err, y’know, just posing as someone – theoretically, mind you – who needs to repair his loft. I next chose the category, zip code, and my screen name. I could also say if I had a budget, attach images, and enter my phone number. Once I entered the information, I received an email. The email instructed me to click on a link to activate my job, and there you have it. Oh, and what was especially cool was that the email contained something you don’t see much of nowadays: a human’s name, with the human’s phone number! I could actually talk to a live human being if I had questions. I mean, what’s next, free kittens?
To bring the experience to life, here’s
an example of a project that was brokered through Fixr.
You’ll have to take my word for it, but the screen shot includes the kind of contractor wanted (structural engineer), the location, the end-time of the gig, a description, a picture, and most importantly, a budget; Fixr only posts estimates that have a dollar amount attached to it. To the right, we see the two contractors who have made bids so far, and their comments. This is really neat, because, almost like an auction site, it will force contractors to drop their prices accordingly. Now, of course, cheaper isn’t better, so you can click on each contractor to find out more, so choose wisely. Here’s
an example of the contractor overview page. We see reviews within the last 30 days, 90 days, and year, plus Past Jobs. The contractor review page, however, is gold. This is where user-generated content comes into play, and in a very useful way.
Folks in New England are particularly lucky; Fixr has many contractors in that area, specifically Massachusetts, and it’s not uncommon for a proposed job to receive five bids within 24 hours. This project in the Jerz’ (New Jersey), meanwhile, received multiple bids and a ton of comments on the bottom that reads like Soap Opera Digest. So the people have spoken, y’know? And why not? In addition to providing a useful service – particularly in these tough economic times – the site itself is clean and simple. No distracting bells or whistles.
The only functionality, nit-picky comment I have otherwise is this: though I realize talking on the phone with a contractor is critical, I would suggest not initially making phone number a required field for people looking for contractors. Just make it voluntary, but perhaps supplemented with some text explaining why it’s important. Worst case, folks will just enter a dummy number (which I did; 831-VAN-LIFE, btw.)
Fast-forward six months. Your van is epic. The loft is just low enough so when you lie on your back, you don’t feel like you’re buried alive. You’re now known as “The Van Guy” by the locals, and that fills you with pride, because you always an outsider. Little children run away from you and every now and then Bill the Sheriff pays a visit to see “what’s up.” You still have half-a-bottle of body wash left, you accidently married a Wiccan priestess, and you’re now an expert at making “Hobo Pizza.” You are living the dream, all thanks to Fixr. (Camera pans to your smiling, slightly-dazed face. You give the thumbs-up and say, “Thanks, Fixr!!” Fade to black.)