Most customers are price-conscious, meaning that they have an opinion of what the price for a plumbing job should be, and are reluctant to pay more than that. Plumbers know who these customers (or prospective customers) are: they ask for an “estimate” or a binding quote in advance of the work being performed; sometimes they insist on getting a price before the plumber even shows up at the job site.
Inquiring about pricing before committing to it is generally not unreasonable; indeed, it’s the prudent thing to do. People work hard for their money and it’s generally not wise to commit to pay a bill the amount of which they don’t yet know.
And yet for the trades industry in general and for the plumbing sector in particular this attitude could be a pain the butt. The problem is that each job is unique. There are hardly any two jobs that are exactly the same in terms of cost to the plumber (based on distance to job site, time spent, material used, special circumstances, etc.), and so any attempt to standardize prices as if a plumbing job were a commodity wounds up overcharging some people while undercharging others. That us neither fair, nor good business. And yet, the customer prods, while still on the phone, “but how much will it be? give me a ball park figure”.
The standard practice in the industry, including in the Tampa Bay area where our company, Zach’s Plumbing, is situated, is to not give prices over the phone, despite a customer’s pestering. Companies figure that they can only give an estimate (not a binding bid) based on a description or even a photo of the problem. If they lowball the estimate the customer will resist a “price increase” after the plumber arrives at the site. If they highball the phone estimate, the plumbing company fears that it may lose the business altogether; the prospective customer will hang up the phone and call someone else, or simply procrastinate.
There is no doubt a great deal of substance to this argument. It is indeed true that a certain number of prospective customers will either not patronize you if you give them a high estimate over the phone, while your competition who charges the same or more wins their business simply by not delivering the bad news of the high price until they “have a foot in the door”, literally. And some customers will become argumentative and give you a bad review if the actual price winds up being higher than the phone estimate.
However, plumbing companies are not innocent of blame here either. Not giving a price over the phone is a practice that can, and does, get easily abused by plumbing companies that overcharge. It is a fact of life that a prospective customer feels a great deal more pressure to consummate a transaction once the plumber is at your house. If a plumbing company knows what the price of a job will be, but is afraid that the prospect will balk at it, the company can withhold that information until the plumber shows up, at which time the plumber can cajole and pressure the prospect to agree to the ostensibly exorbitant price.
After much probing of plumbing price publication practices and their origins, from a consumer’s perspective, we have concluded that the prevailing standard in the industry of not publishing and not giving any pricing information whatsoever to a prospective customer in advance of the service call is unfair: Many of the plumbing jobs performed are in fact standard routines for which little if any further on-site input is utilized to determine the price. Take, for example, what is known in the industry as a “minor rebuild” of a standard residential tank-type toilet –a repair that fixes the most common flushing problems. There is virtually no variation between toilets as far a minor rebuild goes. It’s always going to take the same amount of time, the same material, and the price will always be the same. Why, then, should such a standard and common plumbing repair job not have a published price? When a prospective customer asks how much it’ll cost, an honest answer by the plumbing company should be “based on what you’re telling me that the toilet flushes on its own every ten minutes or so the repair price is such and such, assuming there are no other problems”.
The single most compelling reason for starting our company, Zach’s Plumbing, is to remedy this glaring fault in the residential service plumbing industry, namely what I call “price opaqueness”. This is also the feature that distinguishes us from our competition more than anything else: we strive to be as forthcoming and transparent about pricing as possible BEFORE we show up at your door. We understand that from a consumer’s standpoint consumers should not be subject to the pressure of agreeing to a high price that was deliberately withheld from them before the plumber showed up. A consumer should be able to learn about a company’s price (and comparison-shop if they so wish) at the comfort of their home, preferably not even having to make a phone call.
Price transparency at Zach’s Plumbing has two facets: the published price list, and the over-the-phone estimate.
Published Price List
The published price list is a compilation of many common plumbing jobs, the cost of which do not vary much based on any particular customer’s circumstances. Instead of making a case by case assessment as to how much to charge (or, worse yet, have a particular price in mind but deliberately hide it from customers), we attach a standard price for each of the listed jobs.
Note that a job’s being on the published price list does not guarantee that the customer will pay the published amount exactly; we always reserve the right to modify a price before beginning work based on particular conditions. But it does mean that we have enough experience with that job type and enough motivation to standardize prices that unless your job is markedly abnormal the published price list will apply. For example, if the published price list for a new water heater install is $778, we will honor that price for a range of job conditions (including whether the distribution pipe is copper or CPVC), but if the water heater is on a third floor with no elevator or in an attic, a surcharge will be applied.
Zach’s Plumbing’s published price list is maintained on this website, and is updated from time to time. The ZachsPlumbing.com web version of the price list supplants any other version (such as that on Google Maps or a printed copy). There is no need to contact us to confirm the price before requesting service so long as you are confident that your job is within the normal range of conditions. If your job has unusual conditions and you want to ascertain whether an increase (or decrease) of the published price will apply, it is best to utilize the second facet of “price transparency” –the over-the-phone estimate.
If the plumbing job you are requesting is not in our published price list, or if the job conditions are atypical and you are not sure whether the published price would apply, we urge you to request an estimate over the phone. Ideally, you would send us an SMS message, to 813-310-8018, with a photo of the job conditions as an attachment. For example, if you are experiencing a constantly dripping shower, send us a photo of the shower faucet. We will then respond with an estimate that should approximate, if not be, the price you will pay for the repair.
If you cannot give us an adequate description of the problem and/or send a clear photo of the job request, we can still give you an estimate, but it would more likely be a range, e.g. “to clear your drain stoppage we would charge anywhere from $88 to $238 depending on the conditions”. This information could be useful in atleast narrowing the possibilities so you have a better idea of the repair cost: you won’t be hit with sticker shock once the plumber arrives, nor will you have to continue price shopping if our range is below what you are expecting.
What if you are not price-shopping?
Some companies promise you that they will always give you the price upfront and obtain your approval before they perform the work. That’s a fair practice. But it is necessary only because they practice price opaqueness, i.e. they do not publish prices or give prices over the phone. Here at Zach’s Plumbing we publish prices, give prices freely when requested, and even itemize the different charges on the invoice. There is, therefore, less of a need for a customer to know the exact price upfront. Frankly, unless your job is in the published price list, giving you a price in advance is an exertion on our end and doesn’t usually save you money. Therefore, on non-published jobs we will not give you a price in advance if you do not request one and are committed to hiring us. Instead, you will be billed “time and material”, i.e. you will be charged for what you actually consumed. Our largest accounts are billed in this manner, and it actually saves the customer money in the long run.