How not to choose a plumber is as important as finding the one you want to hire.
But a quick Google search for “how to” or “how not to” choose a plumber yields 30 million pages of nearly identical “how to choose” results. No one talks about the dangers of getting it wrong.
This article shows how to avoid making a costly (and even risky) mistake when hiring a plumber.
The Full Price of Plumbers Who Advertise on TV
- TV is Expen$ive! – There are as many plumber jokes as lawyer jokes, but if you choose a plumber because you saw his ad on TV, the joke may be on you. It’s no secret television is the most expensive way to advertise. Effective TV advertising requires a constant presence on the screen, which requires spending millions of dollars for air time, plus production costs to create commercials.
- Who really pays for TV ads? – Who do you think ends up paying for the advertising? YOU do as a consumer, if you patronize these companies. The cost of advertising is built into the plumber’s rates, whether figured hourly or by the job. The part most customers never realize is that once a company starts advertising on TV it’s difficult to stop. That means that plumber’s rates are not about to be reduced.
- Know the full cost of service – Plumbers who advertise regularly on television have more than one way to add to your bill. In addition to the price of labor and materials, they also may charge a dispatch fee for sending a truck to your home and an estimate fee for figuring out the scope of the work. Check to see if the total price includes these fees.
Plumbers Who Use Digital Marketplaces (Third-Party Platforms)
Digital marketplace companies that offer to advise you about your home or provide a list of service providers can help you discover the names of service contractors and read some reviews. Most are free of charge for homeowners. You should not consider them a replacement for your own research, however. Here’s why.
- Service providers pay to be listed – The plumbing, HVAC, electrical and other service providers pay an annual membership fee and for each lead provided by the digital marketplace websites and apps. Many service contractors complain that the digital marketplaces sell the same leads to multiple contractors. Only one contractor gets paid, but the digital marketplace gets paid by several contractors for the same information. The better contractors don’t need the aggravation, so they stop using the digital marketplace sites.
- Your personal information is sold to multiple contractors – Be prepared to get phone calls, from several service providers lining up to do the work, usually within minutes of submitting your information. If you decide not to have the work done by any of the people who contact you, prepare to keep receiving calls. You may get calls from contractors not in your area, too.
- Contractor reviews are cherry-picked – the digital marketplaces carefully select the reviews to display; don’t count on all of them to be objective. You will are not likely to see reviews written by people who registered complaints.
- Service provider employees are not background checked – Some digital marketplaces run background and financial checks on the owners of member businesses, but that does not include those businesses’ employees. Some of those workers may not be employees at all, but subcontractors, so you will have no idea who may be coming to your home, nor if they have a criminal record or are drug users.
- Some contractors avoid background checks – Some service contractors change names because of complaints or legal actions filed against them. The digital marketplace company may or may not investigate the situation thoroughly enough to discover the change and may refer you to a disreputable operator. Some service providers reform their companies in the names of employees or family members but continue to operate the businesses.
- Low bar for membership – The job of the digital marketplace company is to sign up service providers as members. Many of them are newer companies that do not have established clienteles or employees. Unlicensed contractors and felons have been overlooked and granted memberships. Keep in mind that large numbers of contractors have had bad experiences with digital marketplace companies. The better contractors can afford to drop the service, but less stable ones cannot.
The author of this article talked with homeowners and contractors to provide more details on the pros and cons of some of the most popular third-party digital marketplace companies.
Plumbers Sent by Home Warranty Companies
Without a doubt, the concept of home warranties is appealing. It’s like having an insurance policy for unforeseen repairs on your home. The price of an annual premium may be substantially less than the price of replacing a covered appliance, which would make the purchase worthwhile if that is your objective. For maintenance and repair, it may be a different story.
- You are out-sourcing your home’s maintenance – When you purchase a home warranty, you effectively turn over control of your home maintenance to the warranty company. While many are responsive and helpful, others are not.
- You don’t get to say who does the work – When you need your air conditioning repaired or a plumbing problem fixed, however, you have little or no say in who will do the work. You give up flexibility, and sometimes quality, for the lower price. That lower price also means you may not get the best service technicians; you will be served by companies or individuals who will do the work for whatever amount the home warranty company is willing to pay – which is not top dollar.
- Some things are not covered – Some appliances and the air conditioning and plumbing systems in your home may have limited or no coverage at all. For example, some home warranty owners have been completely surprised to find as little as 25% of the repair cost covered on major systems. In the worst cases, home warranty companies may send a refund of the warranty purchase price and close the account. You will not learn precisely what your coverage is by reading only the company’s marketing materials – get a specimen copy of the actual product.
- Improper maintenance can invalidate home warranties – Most home warranties will not cover items that have not been maintained properly. This can be quite subjective, which is why the clause about proper maintenance is the most-often contested one in lawsuits against home warranty companies. What’s more, if the company judges that a previous owner of your home failed to maintain a system properly your warranty for that service will prove to have been worthless from the start.
In case you may think this is just talk, we assure you the problem is all too real, as this account from The Baltimore Sun illustrates. The home warranty company sent a disreputable plumber who was proven to have victimized thousands of homeowners.
“Don’t Waste Money on a Plumber – I Have a Friend Who Can Do That.”
This option seems so obviously misguided that no one would seriously consider it. But people do just that every day. States license plumbers to assure the public they are properly trained, tested and know building codes. There is nothing casual or amateurish about it.
- Your friend’s friend may be able to do some plumbing, but without a license there is no way of knowing his capabilities. A wrong move can cause far more damage than the original problem – which your insurance may not cover (and unlicensed plumbers do not get liability insurance). A broken pipe repaired improperly puts your home and your family’s health at risk. Is it worth that to save a few dollars?
This page provides additional information to consider regarding the risks of using a plumber without a license.
Knowing how not to choose a plumber is the first step toward knowing HOW to select a licensed plumber. Ways NOT to choose a plumber include:
- Choosing a plumber who advertises heavily on TV
- Depending on reviews and referrals by digital marketplace/review websites
- Counting on home warranty companies for routine or emergency plumbing help
- Hiring an unlicensed plumber to get a lower price.
It’s your home and your wallet: protect them with careful research before you choose a plumber.
How to Choose a Good Local Plumber
Now that you know how to avoid choosing the wrong plumber, here’s our advice on how to choose a good local plumber you can welcome into your home.