plumbing

I’m not a plumber. In fact, I’m not very handy around the house at all.

If I can’t fix something with a hammer or screwdriver I prefer to pay somebody else to do the work. That’s why I decided to get a professional to reroute and install new plumbing hardware during our kitchen remodel.

Of course, we needed estimates. After making a few calls to local plumbers, the Honeybee presented me with three estimates:

  • Plumber 1:   $450
  • Plumber 2: $485
  • Plumber 3: $1,085   (after an applied ten percent discount!)

The first question that crossed my mind was how on earth could the third plumber could be so much more expensive.

In fact, upon closer inspection, the third plumber’s estimate was even worse than I thought: The first two plumbers’ prices included new shut-off valves and some miscellaneous PVC piping required to finish the job — but his estimate didn’t!

The Honeybee asked why his prices were so high, but he swore his quoted prices were “the going rate.” And then, to drive home the point, he went out to his truck and retrieved the “official” price book to prove that his estimate was legitimate.

Legitimate or not, we ended up going with the first plumber.

Frankly, I found the wide price disparity to be rather odd, so I asked the plumber we hired if he would tell me how the plumbing industry works and — more importantly — how to avoid getting ripped off. Here’s what he told me:

Not All Plumbers Are Created Equally

There are basically two types of plumbing companies: small-scale family-owned operations, and larger-scale corporations.

As luck would have it, we got plumbing estimates from both. The two cheapest came from small-scale family-owned businesses that were sole-proprietorships; the most expensive came from a large corporation.

Corporate plumbing companies tend to be more expensive because their plumbers work on commission — and that encourages them to oversell you on goods and services. In essence, many corporate plumbers are salesmen whose first priority isn’t fixing your clogged drain for the lowest price possible — it’s improving their employer’s bottom line.

But, Len, you said the corporate plumber showed the price book!

Don’t be fooled. A plumber’s price book only tells you what his company charges; every company’s book is different.

Commission-based sales aren’t the only reason larger corporate plumbers are more expensive. They also have to deal with overhead issues that smaller family-run businesses don’t, like maintaining large truck fleets and paying for worker’s comp insurance.

The next time you’re looking to find the right plumber at the right price, be sure to follow these tips:

  1. When possible, get references. Nothing beats a word-of-mouth recommendation. Before getting any contractor estimates, make sure to ask your friends and neighbors if they have a preferred plumber.
  2. Get a minimum of three estimates. Knowledge is power, so always get at least three estimates before agreeing to have any work done. Otherwise, you may end up paying a lot more than you need to.
  3. Avoid plumbers who advertise on radio and television. Those ads cost big money. That means higher prices for you. Speaking of ads:
  4. Beware of misleading ads. Larger plumbing corporations often use website and phone book ads featuring a random family photo to give the impression that their company is a small family-owned business.
  5. Focus on small family-owned plumbing businesses. Smaller family-owned businesses have lower overhead, and they usually pass the savings on to their customers. They also don’t work on commission — so you’re less likely to be oversold on services you don’t need. Typically smaller advertising budgets also make self-employed plumbers more dependent on repeat business and word-of-mouth, so customer satisfaction is paramount.
  6. Ensure your plumber has a contractor’s license. Licensed contractors are required to complete work in compliance with state mandated procedures that are designed to protect us from shoddy workmanship and potential serious health issues resulting from improper plumbing practices. Check out your state contractor’s web site to verify the status of any licensed plumbing company, including any registered complaints and ownership details.
  7. Get an itemized parts estimate and then comparison shop. Plumbers usually get their parts from wholesale outlets not open to the general public. The parts are usually comparable in price — but sometimes they’re not.
  8. Coupons and discounts don’t guarantee competitive prices. Plumbers will often try to lure you in with coupons or the promise of a price discount. In our case, the corporate plumber was still more than twice as expensive as the others even after the discount.
  9. Schedule work on weekdays. Plumbers charge a premium for working weekends, holidays, and after hours, so avoid those times if you can. Just remember, no matter when you schedule your plumber, tell him to keep his price book in the truck.

Photo Credit: MoToMo

This article is by Len Penzo from lenpenzo.com.