Overview of content:
How to Shop for Discounts & How to seek Ultimate Savings in Repairs
Be aware of who is offering a “Free Estimate”
Who is motivated to provide Discounts and why
Why you should ask for a quote before you hire someone
Why I don’t trust a tech who tells me that he ” can’t know what’s wrong with my device or machine (what-so-ever) until he sees it and that he is “unable to provide any sort of estimate in advance“. (One exception to the above stated distrust, would be if he is willing to give me a truly free-estimate).
A review of what motivates repair companies and individuals to provide discounts. These motivations can help assess the potential costs vs. benefits in the repair business.
Strategies & Advice to consumers on “How to” “comparison -shop” Avoid Paying too much for service.
I would be cautious with “low service charge rates” or a “Free -Estimate” offers. I would rather ask for a quote for the estimated total of repair + parts for very specific types of likely repairs. The reason is that if I get quotes for specific likely/common repair issues than I than have a tangeble measure of how a company charges at the end of the day. I then have specific measurable parameters with which I can compare relative rates between companies if they would be providing the same service.
Our experience has shown that often companies that have offers “too good to be true” such as “free estimate” or “no service charge” or provide a ‘free’ diagnostic rate may charge significantly more than companies that charge the typical average service rates. We We have determined that “free -estimates” or low cost estimate rates are weak predictors of the ultimate total cost of service. Companies that are up-front and above board find themselves out-bided by “Free Estimate” or similar offers which some competitors use as means to lower a customers defenses with a “foot in the door” technique that masks the undisclosed ultimate rate.
Instead we recommend that customers ask and compare quotes for the Total bill specific (or several) repair procedures (or installations):Parts+ labor + service rates+Travel fees…? Ask the service company for $rates for specific types of repairs! For example ask and compare rates for what would the typical cost to customers for replacing a __ motor (fill in the blank depending on the product you are calling about). “Or a quote for total Service-charge+labor+ parts+ refrigerant+travel…? fees forreplacing a compressor on a x brand. Please be prepared to provide a model number and even a serial number).
Note: It is possible to find “flat rate”quote for a total cost the entire job, rather than an hourly rate+ parts+…. I often feel more comfortable with a flat-rate quote rather than an hourly rate and unknown part and material fees that could add up. If flat rates are available from reputable providers for certain types of jobs, it might feel more predictable and give you peace of mind.
It just depends on the industry norms and the kind of repair/service/or installation performed. For example, I have seen flat rate quotes on compressor replacement, and HVAC & Heating installation and also automotive brake, engine and transmission replacements. Sometimes a moonlighting licensed technician (mentioned below) can save you money by having you purchase the materials directly from his supplier (if he can purchase them in discounted trade rates and some of these tech’s are willing to share the savings with you so that they don’t have to hold on to inventory. Then the tech charges for labor only!
When I have seen prices to be extremely lower than most providers, these may fall into one of the following categories:
It is important to determine if these have a solid infrastructure and or reputation. We have heard and seen several such cases with people who found technicians at online bulletin boards such as Craiglist. There is a risk, and sometimes with greater risk come greater savings too. But you could find highly qualified and established technicians at reasonable pricing too.
If you ask a company to provide you with an “estimate” over the phone, we often are told that most companies typically say that they “can not” diagnose over the phone. While this is true in certain respects, usually there are certain problems that occur in a greater frequency and there are therefore several likely reasons for any given problem. If there are 3 most frequent causes, than one should be able to state them and provide a price range for each of these three most likely causes. In our experience, it is often possible to provide an educated diagnosis and expected price range “estimate” over the phone for most given malfunctions.
Even if you turn out to not have these exact issues, if I (or you) had someone who took the time to talk to me (or you) and give us an honest appraisal of likely problems and the associated costs, I personally would trust, like and feel comfortable with this service person because of his/her honesty, openness, and personal time on the phone with me. I would much rather hire him for service more than that of his competitor who has evade my questions.
If you reach a receptionist when seeking a quote, I personally would ask to speak to the technician or service manager over the phone. There is a lot to be gained from speaking to the people who we might hire ahead of time.
For example if a refrigerator is running but not cooling, the technician should be asking you to check if the 2 fans are running, if they are, you need to figure out if the compressor is running (it could be determined by vibration and sound which might be more difficult to tell), and if the condenser is not hot.
If everything seems to be running it is frequently a “defrost” problem with the ice preventing the air flow from the refrigeration tubing. In such instances, when I spoke to customers over the phone, I would ask them to check for ice build-up inside the freezer. Indeed, 50% of the time they could see frost build-up showing against the back wall.
Defrost malfunction, or ice buildup are the most likely problems for a relatively new units between 1-5 years. Less likely would be an electrical problem or a sealed system leak.
(With GE however, there were frequent issues with the GE control boards around 2010 (I did not check if it this problem has been resolved in the past few years).
In this situation I could ask for quotes for a defrost heater replacement, and compressor relay replacement (if you are not sure if the compressor is running.
The point I am trying to make is that there is a step-by-step diagnostic process that a knowledgeable technician who is familiar with the product can follow. Of course nothing can be known with a 100% certainty, but given specific symptoms, the likely causes of the malfunction should normally be easy to estimate based on past experience. Certain issues have a higher probability of being the culprit based on the age (of the device or appliance), the brand and types of symptoms that are present. The idea is that the technician gets to talk to you and you can get a sense of him (or her) before you decide to have them hired.
Also, we are not asking for the tech to give you certainty of what is wrong, only to predict based on experience what are the most likely problems and what should be the associated costs of these 3 possible culprits (giving a price range between $150-$290 for example is also acceptable). With these quotes in hand you could then compare his rates with that of the other contractors you talk to.
To reiterate my point: I feel that it is possible and advisable to request and get an estimate over the phone in advance for the “several most likely repairs”. You see, if the person you call tells you that “he can’t know”, then you are at his mercy once they are inside your home where you have already agreed to pay the service call. Especially, if you waited all day for this person, you might be less in a bargaining position.
This is why I advocate asking for quotes before hiring someone and trying to find someone who is willing to discuss with you the realistic possibilities and their likely costs. This is what I would do.