17 Lies That Plumbers Tell to Drain Your Wallet

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It pays to be vigilant about whom we hire and how much we pay — and plumbing is a profession fraught with potential for deceit and ripoffs, since most consumers don't know much about the subject. It's crucial to find and develop relationships with a plumber you can trust, and information and reviews available online make it easier to research, compare quotes, and generally find safe and fully insured businesses with good service and reasonable, transparent pricing. Especially in the case of emergencies when you don't have a plumber on call, though, you need to watch out for a few red flags and lies to avoid getting ripped off — or worse. 

Related: How You’re Ruining Your Home and Don't Even Know It

free inspection

I Have a Free Inspection to Offer

Be especially wary of any plumber or tradesmen showing up at the front door uninvited to offer their services, starting with a free inspection. This could be a cover story for a credit fraudster or burglar casing the home — a problem best solved by requesting identification and conducting the appropriate research before letting anyone in. 

Related: Cheap Ways to Protect Yourself From Thieves

It’s Okay That I’m Unlicensed

It's Okay That I'm Unlicensed

Most cities, counties, and states demand that homeowners use licensed professionals for complex work. There may be some unlicensed plumbers and handymen out there offering lower prices — but watch out. "Sometimes they are not insured, the coverage might not be sufficient or included in the final quote price," says Stephany Smith of Fantastic Services, which operates in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and mainland Europe. If there's a problem, "there is nowhere to go if the plumbing job is done by an unlicensed tradesman." Don't hire unlicensed. Ask to see license identification and proof of insurance if a plumber doesn't volunteer them.

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I'm the Best

I'm the Best

When looking for a plumber, it's useful to get recommendations from family members, colleagues, and websites. Recommendations from the plumbers themselves are pretty much useless. Some companies use bold claims and non-descriptive language to compensate for a lack of actual information about their services, Smith says. "Such companies describe themselves as the best, amazing, awesome, stunning, or other superlatives without a meaningful connection with real services and benefits they deliver," she explains. "Don't count merely on their superior words. Instead, look for collected feedbacks, reviews, opinions of friends and neighbors, web search and many others."

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I Can Give You An Estimate Without Seeing The Job

I Can Give You an Estimate Without Seeing the Job

Beware any plumber or company quoting you a price before seeing the problem. Even clogged sinks and drains usually need to be inspected in person to get an accurate idea of the cost for repair, so premature estimates are a sign the plumber isn't concerned with communicating honestly about price, and may upcharge you once the job is finished. 

Related: 12 Steps to Hiring a Contractor for Less

This Offer Expires in Five Minutes

This Offer Expires in Five Minutes

A disreputable or greedy plumber doesn't want you taking the time to weigh options and consider alternatives, so they'll often pressure you into deciding right then and there. "Such behavior may aim to prevent asking questions," Smith says. "Organizations that do it right provide hassle-free support paving a way to an intelligent, smart, and conscious decision." Daniel Dicus of Ross Plumbing in Leesburg, Florida, describes one egregious tactic used to corner customers after taking apart their faucet to perform a diagnostic check: "They'll take the faucet apart, come up with a price to make the repair, and at the point the homeowner has a choice: Accept the given rate or reject it. If they reject it, the plumber will just hand you the faucet back with all the separate parts and say, 'Have a good day.' " 

Related: 20 Ways Companies Trick You Into Spending More Money

I Can Do the Job for Much Cheaper

I Can Do the Job for Much Cheaper

Always compare prices between multiple contractors. And remember that the price that seems too good to be true probably is. Your instinct may be to jump at any ludicrously low price a plumber quotes you compared with their competitors, but "the cheapest offers are the riskiest," Smith says. "A common plumbing trick is to give you a less expensive offer that doesn't include all services necessary to complete the project. [Afterwards], you have to pay additional unexpected labor or product costs." 

Related: This Spring Home Maintenance Checklist Could Save You Thousands

I Can Do the Job for Much Cheaper

Hey, That's Just What the Job Costs

In contrast, plumbers may also try to take advantage of a homeowner's perceived ignorance by inflating their estimate — in other words, giving a high price with lots of extra services and hoping the customer won't know to question it. Avoid falling for this by comparing statements between several providers, and remember that an ever-changing or inconsistent estimate usually points to foul play. 

Related: 20 Home Maintenance Mistakes You Need to Stop Making

Repairing a Leaky Faucet

Hey, It’s Your Call

Much as we value having choices in most situations, a plumber shouldn't foist too many options onto an inexperienced homeowner to the point that they feel lost or overwhelmed. Some might even try to abuse this sense of choice paralysis to get homeowners to accept recommendations without question and squeeze out payment for added services. "An experienced plumber will give you a reasonable solution to any specific problem trying to make things easy for both sides," Smith says. 

Related: If You Have These Problems With Your Home, You Must Live in the ...

You Need to Pay Everything in Advance

You Need to Pay Everything in Advance

Most plumbers are "just getting paid when finishing the work," Smith says. Some companies may ask for a down payment of up to half the estimated total, but it's unfair and a definite red flag for any plumber or company to request a homeowner pay the full charge before work is complete.

This Is A Three-Plumber Job

This Is a Three-Plumber Job

Similar to upselling, a plumber seeking to pad his pockets could bring in extra help to prolong and overcharge for a relatively simple task they could accomplish themselves. Of course, some jobs require multiple laborers, but the homeowner should have a clear idea of why and know about the additional help ahead of time. To avoid this, always make sure and ask if the plumber providing the quote will also be the one doing repairs. 

Related: Essential Tips for Selling, Buying, and Owning a Home

It Turned Out To Be A Much Harder Job Than I Thought

It Turned Out to Be a Much Harder Job Than I Thought

The underlying element to many of these shifty pricing tactics is a general lack of transparency and communication between homeowner and service provider. A reputable plumber should volunteer information on how their pricing works, starting with whether there's an initial diagnostic fee just to show up at your door, and the likely duration of repairs, then keep the homeowner updated as they progress and new charges arise. "Most work we do, we tell the homeowners right upfront, it's a time and material cost," Dicus says. "They don't know the material cost per se, but we try to give a close estimate to the approximate hours it'll take to do the job, so they don't get blindsided thinking we were gonna be there one hour and stay three."

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These Substitutions Are Just As Good

These Substitutions Are Just As Good

Homeowners who don't get a detailed receipt or understand the repairs upfront are more vulnerable to bait-and-switch tactics, when a plumber advertises one product and substitutes another, likely shoddier, version without saying so. To prevent this, ask for the make and model of all new or replacement parts in writing ahead of time to compare with the finished repairs. 

Related: How to Make Sure Your Appliances Don’t Fail When You Can’t Get Them Repaired

It Turns Out You Also Need All This Other Stuff

It Turns Out You Also Need All This Other Stuff

Another way homeowners get fleeced is through upselling — unnecessary add-ons beyond the specified work. Smith says to watch out for include supposedly money-saving "bundle offers," or such things as toilet replacements for minor issues such as a wobbly seat, leaky wax seal, or damaged flapper. Shady plumbers also recommend such things as putting water softeners on a home to extend the pipes' longevity, Dicus warns. Not all add-ons are scams, though. Replacing a rotted P-trap when unclogging a sink is "a form of upcharge at the time, but it saves that homeowner money in the long run," Dicus says.

I Just Round Up
NoSystem images/istockphoto

I Just Round Up

A standard pricing model for most plumbing companies is to charge by the hour plus material costs. Dicus says a reputable provider should volunteer to check on other parts of a home's plumbing if they finish before their hour's up. Watch out for plumbers trying to round up and charge you for hours they weren't working through — you can call their bluff by requesting they perform maintenance checks and other tasks to fill out the time you're being billed.

The Cash Discount Is Good for Everyone

The Cash Discount Is Good for Everyone

This isn't so much a lie as it is a subtle sign of foul play. If a plumber offers you a better price to pay in cash without any receipt or record of the transaction, it's likely they're trying to skimp on their taxes by not reporting certain gigs. It may be tempting to save yourself a few bucks, but keep in mind this kind of dishonesty hurts other taxpayers and could be a sign a plumber isn't trustworthy on other matters as well.

That's a Complete Receipt

That’s a Complete Receipt

Always push for a detailed receipt showing the parts and services your money's going toward. It's nice to take someone at their word, but don't — having a written record of a transaction will help protect you from being overcharged, or from a plumber undertaking repairs different from what's been discussed.

You Violated the Warranty

You Violated the Warranty

It's important to ask about warranties on fixtures or parts plumbers install, which is limited to one year for Ross Plumbing and many other companies. Some, however, may try and renege on repairs by alleging the homeowner somehow violated the warranty agreement in the interim. Dicus provides one example: "If a toilet's leaking around the base, they'll come in and ask the homeowner, did you use a plunger on this? Most homeowners will say yeah, and they'll use that as an excuse to not warranty the work, saying the homeowner blew out the wax ring on the bottom of the toilet — so they get paid again to do the job." 

Related: 11 Types of People Who Should Buy the Extended Warranty