Nobody likes to think about plumbing repairs until they need them. Plumbing repairs are often costly, usually messy, and always inconvenient for the homeowner. If you were to discover a leaky pipe or a clogged sewer line in your home, how would you go about getting help for that problem?
Every homeowner should have a list of home services companies, much like you have a primary care doctor or an auto mechanic in your contact list. The worst time to start looking for a plumbing company is when you have a plumbing emergency, you should find one while everything is working correctly.
It’s easy to be fooled by a seemingly legitimate company that turns out to be a scam artist. With this blog, Nick’s Plumbing & Sewer Services wants to make you aware of some common plumbing scams and how to avoid being taken advantage of.
All Kinds of Scams Are on The Rise
If you follow the news, incidences of scams are present in every industry, especially among residential service companies. With people spending more time at home than ever, the venerable old door-to-door salesperson has enormously returned to prominence. These days, the cold-calling, dinner interrupting, barking dog-making hucksters aren’t peddling vacuums or encyclopedias; they’re selling services.
As they willfully ignore your “No Soliciting” sign and your “Go Away” doormat, these determined salespeople really need to tell you all about the benefits of their solar panels, air duct cleaning, pool maintenance, or drain cleaning services. That’s why they continue knocking long after you’ve made it evident that you’re not interested in coming to the door. Doesn’t matter. They know you’re at home. And since they’re probably working on a commission-only basis, they must get access to as many ears as possible.
Raise your hand if you like getting a good deal. Raise your other hand if you have ever been scammed by a “too good to be true” home services offer. Now put your hands down and scroll through this article and learn how to recognize and avoid common plumbing repair and service “deals.”
“Too Good to Be True” Plumbing Scams
Everyone likes to get a good deal, and as the price of just about everything continues to rise, there’s no shortage of shady companies looking to move as much money as possible from you to them. People spend more time in their homes, exposing HVAC systems, plumbing pipes, fixtures, and many appliances to nearly round-the-clock usage.
Scam #1: The $29 or $49 Drain Cleaning Special
As a content writer for a plumbing company, I pay attention to what other Houston area plumbers offer. This trick is one of the most common tactics used by new plumbing companies to drum up some quick cash. They’re not making any money on that $49 service charge, so these businesses use the “get a foot in the door” method of customer acquisition. Once they’ve “cleared” the kitchen or bathroom drain you called them about, you’re likely to hear about all the plumbing problems they’ve discovered around your home.
That clog in the drain they came over to fix for $49 may be clear, but they suspect you may have a severe blockage in your sewer line. For only $299, they can run a camera snake into your sewer line and will probably recommend replacing it or suggesting a whole-house re-pipe, starting at $1,500.
If you accept the “Drain Cleaning Special”, please remember that the point of the company’s visit is to get you to spend thousands of dollars on replacing something that may be working perfectly, or showing minimal wear. If a plumbing company that randomly shows up at your door just happens to discover a leaking pipe beneath your foundation and asks for thousands to repair it – get a second opinion. It’s somebody’s lucky day, and I can promise you it’s not the homeowner in our story.
Scam #2: Free Garbage Disposal
While this offer doesn’t come up often anymore, homeowners should be wary of the “free appliance with a full-price drain cleaning” offers. These days, the company may offer a free dishwasher or some other home appliance (furnace, air conditioner) that would typically set you back a few hundred dollars for the price of allowing them to perform a simple drain cleaning service.
How can a company make money by offering its customers free appliances?
They can’t. The free appliance is a secondary means by which a dishonest company can get that “foot in your door” and have access to discover problems with your plumbing.
This offer may seem like an opportunity to add some inexpensive convenience into your kitchen for homeowners not currently having a garbage disposal. While installing a garbage disposal in a sink that’s never had one is relatively easy, it’s still a job best left for a plumbing pro. Sloppy plumbing work performed by an unlicensed handyperson can create leaks that go unnoticed for weeks or even months.
“Free” appliances will never be more valuable than the standard-issue “builder’s grade” (low-end) of a product line. Most of the free garbage disposals these companies are installing have been sitting in warehouses for months or even years. We hear from many homeowners who have had these discounted appliances installed, and they’re always surprised to learn when the item breaks down after just a few months; it’s already been out of warranty for two or three years.
Anytime a home construction company finds themselves with a surplus of home appliances; they offer them to independent contractors (plumbing, HVAC companies) at a wholesale –or lower—rate, which makes installing one for free not much of a loss. Once the company has access to your entire plumbing system, chances are there’s going to a blocked sewer line or massive leak that needs to be addressed ASAP.
Never allow anyone that isn’t a licensed, experienced plumber to work on your home’s plumbing. It’s not only going to end badly; that free garbage disposal could cost you thousands of dollars in the long run after a disposal leak destroys your kitchen cabinet and the floor beneath it.
Scam #3: Door-to-Door Sales
When was the last time you bought something worthwhile from someone randomly knocking on every door in your neighborhood? Girl Scout cookies don’t count.
Door-to-door sales was an incredibly successful customer acquisition tool where bright-eyed salespeople carried everything from TV sets, vacuum cleaners, and radios to every appointment. These in-home product demonstration visits educated the potential customer on the benefits the item can offer and allowed them to enjoy it in their home environment, where we’re all the most comfortable.
With more folks working and schooling from home, businesses are taking advantage of a captive audience. As such, there’s been a noticeable uptick in the number of door-to-door flier peddlers offering discounts on everything from plumbing services to foundation leveling and anything in-between.
Scam #4: The National Chain Acting Local
At Nick’s, we have nothing against national companies who commit themselves to provide exemplary service to all their local customers. Roto-Rooter is a prime example of a national chain that ensures every customer, regardless of location, receives the same quality of service –and cost—compared to a locally owned and operated company. They hold their franchisees to an extremely high standard. The formula has worked out well for them, benefitting the customer, the local Roto-Rooter franchisee, and the corporation.
Some local plumbing companies aren’t exactly as they appear. While they may tout being “locally operated” or “family-owned,” many residential service companies doing business in Houston have out-of-state owners. Two of the most popular “local companies” in Houston list their headquarters in cities as far away as Memphis, TN, and Cincinnati, OH.
How Can Homeowners Protect Themselves from Plumbing Scams?
1. Do Online Research About Several Local Plumbing Companies
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but being inquisitive could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars when trying to find a plumber to take care of an emergency. Gone are the days when a plumber recommendation came from a neighbor or family member, and now your most incredible resource is right in the palm of your hand.
Internet searches of plumbing company reviews are a great place to start when considering any residential service business. There’s no shortage of plumbing companies in and around the greater Houston area, and picking your way through the good and the horrible will take a bit of research. Look for positive reviews, five-star ratings, and endorsements from the plumbing product manufacturers your potential company sells and installs for.
2. Don’t Fall for High-Pressure Scare Tactics
Contractors make homeowners nervous. There’s a good reason for that. Contractors rarely leave your home with a completed, professional job, and your savings account still having any commas left in it. Plumbing work is expensive.
There is no plumbing issue that has to be repaired immediately. You can turn off the water supply where it enters the home and start calling for multiple estimates. That leak will still be there tomorrow, so take some time to call more than one company to put in their bids.
We recommend that a homeowner get at least three estimates for any large-scale plumbing repair or plumbing installation at Nick’s. Thanks to the labor shortages all companies are experiencing, it’s getting harder to find a residential service company that still provides free estimates. Even so, I’d much rather spend $300 – $500 on estimates from several well-known, established plumbing companies and pick the most reasonable.
Any plumber that feels the need to pressure you into making an expensive repair is desperate for the work and may try and scare you into thinking the work is more critical than it is. Most big-ticket plumbing problems don’t just suddenly appear one day; we often get some warning from our plumbing of impending trouble, like leaks or gurgling pipes. A reputable plumbing company will never pressure you into deciding upon any repair or replacement issue. If a company seems “offended” that you want to field further offers, take that business off your list.
3. Get Several Estimates, Then Decide
Get more than one estimate. Nick’s Plumbing recommends three estimates for jobs stretching into thousands of dollars. Even if you have to pay for the estimates, the couple hundred dollars you invest in service calls can save you a lot of money in the long run.
4. Ask Lots of Questions
Make sure to follow the plumber doing the estimate around, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is the company’s opportunity to audition for you, not the other way around. Any reputable business is happy to answer questions about your upcoming work and provide accurate estimates without hidden surprises.
5. Ask About Their Plumbing License
In Texas, it is illegal to perform plumbing work in any home but your own without a state-issued license other than company-sponsored apprentices. Even then, any work the apprentice performs must be fully supervised and inspected by a licensed Journeyman plumber.
If you’re experiencing any plumbing issue and need the services of licensed, background checked, and experienced plumbers, call Nick’s to schedule an estimate. We’ve been servicing Houston and the surrounding area since 1979, and over the years, we’ve learned a little about the plumbing business, and we look forward to bringing that knowledge and experience to your plumbing job.
Call Nick’s today; We’re on the Way.