With many homeowners in the Houston area experiencing water leaks from frozen and burst pipes, every plumbing company’s resources are being stretched beyond anything in memory. At Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning, we have been in an “all hands on deck” mode, with our fleet of trucks on the road for 16 – 20 hours every day. To say we’re swamped would be a gross understatement. Of course, we want to help every customer that calls, but we are finding ourselves having to book some appointments as far away as four weeks from now.
This past week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that the state would be issuing provisional permits to allow out-of-state plumbers to do business here. Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning is happy to have some assistance on the way to help get as many homeowners as possible back online with water and sewer service. Unfortunately, as we saw in Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath in 2017, where many of these out-of-state providers were accused of everything from shoddy workmanship to outright theft, these relaxed regulations can have unintended adverse effects.
Most of the out-of-state contractors will be reputable, providing the same exemplary service you are used to from local companies. Chances are, if a plumbing or HVAC company has a stellar reputation in their local area, they are going to extend that same level of service to everyone.
If you find yourself having to use out-of-state plumbing or HVAC contractor to make repairs at your home, behave as you would in hiring a local company. Do some research; the company website should be printed on the business card the contractor gave you, so look that up first. Please read the reviews on their website and check other sources like Angie’s List, Nextdoor, Facebook, and any available Google reviews.
As with any business transaction, performing a bit of due diligence will often go a long way to ensuring your satisfaction when the job is complete.
4 Things Unscrupulous Out-of-Area Contractors Can Do
Door to Door Sales: By opening our area to licensed out-of-state plumbing companies, many contractors without local connections and advertising are going to be out actively searching for available work. One way they accomplish this is by going door-to-door, hoping to find anyone that is either in need of, or can be convinced to have done, some form of plumbing repair.
Drumming up business in a market where your company is an unknown entity is a challenge for any contractor, local or otherwise. Door-to-door sales were a great way to increase business when peddling encyclopedias, magazine subscriptions, and vacuum cleaners. The idea of selling someone on thousands of dollars of repair work based on a single-front porch conversation is ludicrous. Regardless of their trade, any contractor that tries to pressure you into an on-the-spot decision probably doesn’t have their customer’s best interests at heart.
“Today Only” Pricing or Other Pressure Tactics: Reputable service companies would never take part in any sort of pressure tactics or coercion to get a homeowner to agree to a contract. Be wary of contractors going door-to-door offering “today only” or “one price for everything” repairs. Additionally, any contractor that guarantees to “beat any estimate” should also be avoided like Covid-19.
Any company with any integrity will not put any undue pressure on any customer to perform any repair work. Even if a company is offering huge discounts or any other incentive based on a time limit, they probably won’t be in town long enough to finish the job.
Insurance Scams: As of September 1st, 2019, it is illegal for any contractor in the state to offer a reduced price to help the homeowner offset their losses from a deductible. In other words, if a contractor offers to “pay” or “waive” your deductible, you should “wave” goodbye to them and close the door. Your insurance policy terms may require the homeowner to provide written proof of having paid their appropriate insurance deductible amount in the form of canceled checks or credit card receipts before releasing any funds for a claim.
While having a contractor offer to “pick up the tab” regarding your insurance deductible may seem like a nice thing to do, the motivation is never kindness. In most cases, the contractor will simply inflate the cost on the written estimate by the deductible amount, resulting in your insurance company paying for the repairs and the deductible.
And you wonder why it costs so much to insure your home.
Price Gouging: We’ve seen it everywhere, whether it’s a local convenience store charging $10 for a bottle of water or a contractor knowingly overcharging for parts or services. Price gouging is a reprehensible business practice in the best of times and genuinely evil when it occurs due to a natural disaster. When getting a written estimate for any home repairs, take note of any parts or appliances that appear and check for prices online.
3 Ways to Prevent Getting Scammed by Non-Local Contractors
Get Multiple Quotes: The best way to ensure you’re paying the right price for a home repair is by getting at least three quotes from different contractors. We understand that this is next to impossible right now, as many local plumbing companies are scheduling appointments for estimates far behind more immediate needs, like restoring water to homes. As a result, many folks will find themselves having to accept the first bid they get for emergencies like pipe repair and replacement, water heater repairs, and even structural repairs.
Get Plenty of References: Whether you hire a local plumbing company or an out-of-state contractor for any repairs to your home, you need to get references. Ask your contractor if they have done any other work in your neighborhood, and if they have, speak to that neighbor about them. If you’re their first job in the area, be sure to visit their business website, see the services they offer, and track down some online reviews.
Most reputable plumbing companies will have a strong online presence, with many reviews posted over a long time. Be wary of any contractor with zero online presence. No business wants to be “off the grid,” so if you can’t find a particular contractor or business online, they could be hiding their identity. Also, companies with only a handful of glowing, five-star reviews posted in the last two weeks are a glaring red flag.
Ask About Reciprocal Warranties: Will the out-of-area contractor arrange for a local company to assist with any warranty issues? Plumbing and HVAC repairs and installations require more than just pipes and fans to operate, so your contractor may need to replace pipes, parts, and other fittings to complete the work that may fail. It is crucial to work out the details of any warranty with the contractor and have that in writing when signing any agreement.
When hiring an out-of-area contractor, ask if they have a “reciprocal warranty” agreement with a local company. A reciprocal warranty allows the contractor to do your repair or installation work to assign any warranty work required to a local service provider.
Once again, I’d like to stress that this article is in no way suggesting that most out-of-area contractors are here to prey on homeowners that need repairs. The overall message here is to do your research, both about the company you may hire and the average cost of the work being done.
Here at Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning, we’re doing our best to get the Houston area back to normal. Give us a call for any plumbing, sewer, or HVAC services today. We’re on the way.