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Pipe Dreams, and Scams

Despite popular belief, there are ways around the high cost of plumbers. Sure most of them can afford better cars than the average attorney, but if you learn the tricks of the trade, you may be able to avoid being the latest customer to pay for the Benz.

Problem One: All plumbing issues require a house call. This means a higher labor fee just to drive to your home and look at the problem. Forget actually fixing it. Since each visit means a $50 to $75 "mobilization charge," which normally only covers the first hour, you may want to have the plumber look at more than one problem at a time. This may not be so easy if a burst pipe is flooding your house, but if the problem is more minor, see if he can look at a few other plumbing-related problems while he's there. It will save you money in the long run.

Problem Two: Getting an estimate for plumbing problems is not so easy. Be sure to explain the problem in as detailed a manner as possible. Ask how it will be fixed, how much it will cost and how long it will take. This will give you a rough estimate, at least.

Problem Three: Different rates for different customers. Whatever you do, don't give your phone number or address before you get your rough estimate. Some plumbers will automatically raise the prices if your number or address is in an affluent neighborhood. If you live in a ritzy area, you would do well to call plumbers in areas surrounding your neighborhood, but no inside it.

Problem Four: One bid is risky. Always call around. If your repair is going to be under $200, you can get your bids over the phone. There may be some variance when the plumber actually shows up on site, but you can get a ballpark figure. If, however, your job is a little more complicated, you may need to get onsite estimates. This is especially true in older homes where building codes may require more work than is immediately visible.

Problem Five: The invisible problem. You know you have water in your home and it's not where it's supposed to be. You need a plumber to find the problem. In this case, you may not be able to get a ballpark estimate. But don't let that situation push you into letting the plumber having free rein. Negotiate a flat rate to find out what the problem is first, then get an estimate to fix the actual problem. This is a much better way to keep an eye on your money.

Problem Six: The hidden costs. Make sure to find out if travel is included if you hire a plumber who charges a flat rate per hour. Some plumbers will charge you a fee for coming to your home, travel back to the office and any time spent in stores picking up parts. Problem Seven: Cheap parts. Make sure that your plumber isn't cutting corners by using -inch pipe instead of -inch. You will want K or L grade copper piping that can last 15 to 20 years, instead of the cheaper M grade that only lasts five to 10. Know what your plumber is using before he begins the job and insist on the best grade.

Problem Eight: Price gouging. If you suspect that you are being played like a sucker, check it out. You can easily find out prices of lavatories, commodes and other plumbing fixtures by visiting a bathroom showroom or contacting the manufacturer. Don't pay $400 for an $80 toilet. Check it out first.

Source: Based on information found in Smart Money

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