Criminal handymen…

The subject line actually refers to a Facebook thread that I started last week about plumbers and other handyman scum who try to rip you off in any way possible. Let me explain…

Our kitchen sink was clogged and no regular solution would work (plunger and special unclogging liquid), so I called a plumber. The price would be €138 all-in for 1 hour of work, including use of materials and possibly new pipes. A bit high if you’d ask me, but it was almost 18h00 and I had no time to call around. Besides this company had a nice looking website (as if that matters) and the guy sounded like a professional.

Two days later two incredibly muscled plumbers arrive. They quickly come to the conclusion that my pipes were blocked (I had not yet figured that one out myself!) and they had to use an iron spring machine to solve the problem.

This machine was basically a regular drill with a special part attached from which a long spiral cable would come out. Same thing as you may buy for €5-10 in the DIY-store but then professional quality and much longer. The machine broke initially down and they had to repair it which cost about 10 minutes. After that it was a piece of cake. Within 2-3 minutes the pipes were free again and water was streaming like it had never done before. Edgar and his wife happy! 

But then it was time to pay. Indeed, €138 was mentioned on their printed form, but on top of that I also had to pay €80 travel costs. For my business I really cannot claim more than €0,3363 per kilometer on my tax forms, and since they came from Brussels, I really don’t want to know what they are charging per kilometer (maybe €15-20?). Anyhow, we agreed on a fixed fee and this would also be included. But what’s even worse, they wanted to charge €275 for the 2-3 minute job to unblock the pipes. Whaaaat?

The total would then add up to almost €500 for a visit of maybe max 15 minutes (had the machine not broken down). Of course that amount was also excluding 21% VAT, so the total would come to a whopping €605. FYI, companies must show prices including VAT to private customers.

Here is my offer… If you can find a lawyer or a doctor or an accountant or any other professional in Brussels who officially charges that same amount for a 15 minute job (i.e. €2400 per hour), you win a free trip to the Champagne on Saturday. SERIOUSLY!

Long story short, I was anything but happy to say the least and told them to get out of my house immediately after I had paid them €140. I must say that it was anything but brave from me, but having an argument with two “gorillas” was not pleasant at all. It is fair to say they didn’t threaten me physically, but I wonder how many expats are too afraid to stand up against such closet-sized criminals. From some messages I got through Facebook I know that many people pay way too much and are simply ripped off time and time again for such simple jobs in and around their houses.


Although it is not only a problem for expats alone, but as Director of Expat Club I can reach out to thousands of international people in Brussels and also have some negotiation power with businesses.  Therefore I have decided to compile a list of trustworthy handyman partners, such as plumbers, carpenters, electricians, lock smiths, gardeners etc. If you have had a positive personal experience with such service providers in Brussels, please send me their contact details. I will create a list, hopefully with some key prices like basic charges, hourly fees, example problems like a clogged pipe or forgotten keys, and share that with our community.

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  1. Excellent idea Edgar.
    Rachel and myself are in the process of renovating a house so i have had a few professionals over. I ONLY go with people recommended by friends because the list of scamming is HUUUGEEE!
    So far i’ve been happy with my contacts.
    I have other contacts laying around but they havent yet worked in the house so i’ll send it over only when I am happy about their work.
    To be continued

    1. Thanks Nicolas. I’ve noted your contacts. If you have their email address / websites, please send them over too ( I’ve taken out their phone numbers from your message, but of course saved them myself so I can eventually included them! Thanks for sharing.

  2. The next move will be finding a decent electrician. Would you have someone trustworthy?

      1. Hi Edgar, we are looking for a carpenter in Brussels – so just want to check if the list you mentioned above is somewhere in the site that we can check?

  3. Hi Edgar, this problem with handymen charging way too much is a worldwide phenomenon. I have experienced the same in Australia, India and Europe.
    In India, they have some apps now that help you with handy-man services like plumber, carpenter, cleaner, etc., who are rated
    online and charge a flat fee per hour. As you know, the quality of labour is very poor in India – as most labourers are illiterate and unskilled,
    but apps like UrbanClap allow you to get professional, courteous handymen, who arrive on time and work for an hourly fee.
    Perhaps there is something similar in Belgium? If not – you should look at setting something like this up.

  4. Hello

    We had to engage a plumber recently but the price was agreed over the phone in advance before he even left his home. I thought it was quite high but I agreed.

    When the plumber arrived it took him a lot longer than he thought and he even had to return the following day but he stuck to his price and there were no extras.

    Best advice therefore is to agree to a price in advance and stick to it.

    The job was also well done.

    1. That’s great to hear Robert. I’m happy it worked out for you. For many other expats even agreeing on the price is not enough. Like for me… agreed 140 euro (really too high), but in the end it became 605 euro for 20 minutes in my home. I paid only the agreed amoutn of course 🙂 You can share the name if you like!