Dealing with Contractors

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Atkins&Rebel
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As an independent contractor who has been hiring people come out to work on my property on various projects, I've been running into some guys that I just can't believe get any work. So I thought I'd share some of my own standards that I present to potential customers, some of the headaches I've had with customers asking too much and finish with a few of the things that made me completely reject contractors bidding on my projects.

Personally, it all starts at first contact with the estimate: I'm clean, have a shirt with my business on it, and show up when I say I'm going to. From there I answer all questions I can and give a clear price range that varies with material choices and final layout of the project. I do patios so everything related to the main area of the project is laid out. There can be 20-30 related small projects that I've encountered from grading, trimming, tractor work, mulching, edging, etc. as my work closely ties in with landscaping. But I make it very clear that my main focus is the project and everything else is extra based off an estimated hourly rate. (price is given and I don't change it unless requests change). I also make it clear that my insurance covers both myself and customer in a basic liability, but that they are responsible for their own safety and they should be careful if they're around the jobsite.

While working, I'm friendly and say hi to people walking by and usually advise neighbors if I'm about to use noisy equipment and see them outside. With that courtesy in mind, I don't play a radio on the job and I don't allow anyone to smoke if I have anyone work for me. Also once I start a job, I don't tend to do other work or stop work except for weather or emergencies/equipment breakdowns.

Some of the headaches customers can give contractors:
1. Asking for more than is on the contract. Some things I don't mind, especially for older customers or single moms. But one customer asked if I would give them $250 in materials and make a grilling area as a free 'throw in' when I was cleaning up to leave. He wasn't joking about it and got mad when I wouldn't do it for him (at least for free).
2. Having scheduling conflicts. As a one man business who does his best to show up when I say I'm going to, customers kill me when they call me and ask me to delay. This year a guy wanted a pergola with his patio and he was going to do the pergola himself. He filed for a permit and called me on Friday and said I was good to go. I show up and start digging Monday and the inspector pulls in threatening me with a stop work order.
3. Unrealistic expectations is another good one. There is only so much 'perfection' one can expect with materials variance, pattern layout, time deadlines, etc. I am a picky guy who makes sure all the little details hit a certain threshold. But in my contract, I make sure a 10'x10' patio says "roughly", or "close to" a 10x10 so if it's an inch off, there isn't any complaints. But that is also covered in the estimate: I ask if exact dimensions or the aesthetic look is more important then explain a 1 inch cut will look stupid down one side.
4. Not knowing what they want. Look, I'm not a mind reader and I don't know what you like. You need to be able to pick out what you like for materials and layout, and stick to it.
5. Being too helpful. I don't mind a customer who is willing to give regular input so they end up with exactly what they want. I work diligently to change things if a customer doesn't like what I'm doing. I hate a person who moves things around after I leave for the day, then decides it looked better the way I had it, and leaves it for me to redo.

Some of the things I rejected contractors over:
1. Not showing up on time to the estimate. I understand things come up, but you have to nail the first contact.
2. Lighting a cig on the estimate, then casually flicking the butt into my flower bed as we're going over the numbers. Told the guy he has 5 seconds to get it and get off my property. That small casual disregard is one of my biggest pet peeves.
3. Any contractor that can't give you a relatively firm price of the total job within 48 hours of the estimate is a red flag (unless you're dealing with exotic materials or they have holiday/vacation and explain that to you). They're either too inexperienced to know what they're doing, or they want to work hourly and work in some extra costs along the way. I refuse to work with anyone who just wants to charge an hourly rate. I don't charge an hourly rate because I know what I'm doing. I will give an estimated price based off an hourly rate, but then I stick to it even if something takes me a little longer. Had a guy one time ask for an extra $176 because a job took him a day longer than expected and his hourly rate was $22/hour. I pointed out the 3 mistakes he had to redo and the number of trips he had to make back to his supplier because he forgot something, and told him that was where his time went and that I wasn't paying for his on the job training, only the work itself. I forget stuff at times and have to run for extra materials on jobs...not the customers fault.
4. The down payment. A painter wanted 1/2 up front for the whole job at the time of the estimate. Thank you but no thank you. When you show up and start working, you can have a down payment, but no more than a 1/3. When you're more than 1/2 done, I don't mind another 1/3 installment if you're working on the side and paying help as you go, but if this is your main business, you get the rest after final walkthrough. The only time I payed a down payment was to a window company who was making the windows in their own shop before installing them for me. I replaced 22 large custom windows in my house and they understandably needed a deposit for the cost of making them.
5. Paying for estimates. Another painter told me based on texted pictures of what I needed done, my house would cost between $1200-2200 based on how much trim wood needed scraping and replacing. He wanted $100 to come look at it. Nope, thank you, I don't pay for estimates. If it's a job the guy doesn't want, he can show up collect $100 and then bid high or just say he's not interested and walk away with $100. Screw that.

So, any horror or success stories from working with contractors? Want any advice with a future estimate you're getting or want me to clarify anything?
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wab
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I have recently experienced the "pay for the estimate" people. One for painting and one for a small fire pit and small patio. That was a new one for me.
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The Marshall Plan
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Hell freezes over before I pay someone to give me an estimate if the work is elective.

For me, there are:

1) Contractors
2) Repairmen / Installers

Contractors: There is one I have used in the past. He's a jack of all trades certified in everything. He's done my roof, taken out a hot tub and replaced it with a loft. I would not hesitate to use him again.

Repairmen / Installers

Here we go.

First, a special The Marshall Plan Bear A'non Sorcerer GO FUCK YOURSELF to Four Seasons. They replaced my furnace a few years ago. While in my house they tried upselling me on a ton of shit which I knew for a fact that I didn't need. It was the end of fall / beginning of winter. I needed someone at the house NOW. I was stupid enough to have them come out again to quote an elective project in my laundry room. They wanted $900 and they wanted to upsell me a new water heater. The water heater was not included in that price. At the time, the water heater was like three years old. I told them this. They asked where I bought it. I said Sears. They said oh well those fail you know. So anyway the other two people I had out at the house to quote it told me $300. I went with a guy who had his own business. Insured, bonded, in business for 20 years, etc. etc. (I still have the same water heater.)

Otherwise, just through trial and error I've found a group of folks I use depending on what needs to be done. Over the past two years I've had plumbers, electricians, landscapers and a fence company out. 95% of that was elective stuff.

Now I will fully admit that I prefer older guys. 50+ years old. Someone that's been doing this for 25 years or so.
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thunderspirit
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When we bought our new place a couple years ago, we wanted a contractor to build a wall and make a room in the finished basement. We had cash to pay for the job.

We called three contractors, only one of whom bothered to come out to view the project. Never got a written bid. Okay, cool, figure he didn't want the job. So we called a couple of others. One guy moved the appointment twice (no reason given) before deciding we were unreasonable because we weren't willing to reschedule again. The other never called back after three other voice mails.

Still would like the room, but have stopped trying to call contractors, though. Not worth the aggravation.
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Atkins&Rebel
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thunderspirit wrote: Tue Jun 29, 2021 9:42 pm When we bought our new place a couple years ago, we wanted a contractor to build a wall and make a room in the finished basement. We had cash to pay for the job.

We called three contractors, only one of whom bothered to come out to view the project. Never got a written bid. Okay, cool, figure he didn't want the job. So we called a couple of others. One guy moved the appointment twice (no reason given) before deciding we were unreasonable because we weren't willing to reschedule again. The other never called back after three other voice mails.

Still would like the room, but have stopped trying to call contractors, though. Not worth the aggravation.
Man that sucks. I actually had luck finding some smaller independent handy-man type contractors using the nextdoor site, from direct referrals from people living around me.
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Xee
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I hear ya, @thunderspirit. When we bought our house the living/dining room and hallway had oak floors but the bedrooms were all carpeted. It took us more than a few tries to find someone willing just to put oak floors into 3 small bedrooms. I don't know if it was because the job was too small or what but I've heard similar experiences from people looking for little bits of work done.
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Otis Day
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This would not be dealing with contractors, per se, but just people I called to clean gutters (much smaller scale than you guys). The people I called all stated they clean gutters, it was in there add. I called 4 people. I talked to 2, left messages for 2. 2 never called back at all and 2 said they would drive by to get an idea of what they were looking at. Those 2 never called back. It was for upper gutters that are at least 30 ft high. If they didn't want to do it they still needed to call to tell me that. I don't like heights, I have cleaned them in the past, but since the fall know 3 guys who have fallen off ladders. It's a sign I am not supposed to do it anymore.
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I'm lucky. Got a guy I met who put in some ceiling fans for 1/7 what others were quoting - they asked for $350 each, he charged $50. Since then I've used him to replace all the carpeting in my home with luxury vinyl (I bought and he charged per square foot to install), repair a ceiling which took water damage from a defective shower part, build a deck addition, and put in a railing instead of a half-wall on the 2nd floor landing. He comes out, gives me a quote and lives up to it, is licensed and bonded. So maybe look for small independent contractors for those jobs.
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Xee
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Otis Day wrote: Wed Jun 30, 2021 2:40 pm This would not be dealing with contractors, per se, but just people I called to clean gutters (much smaller scale than you guys). The people I called all stated they clean gutters, it was in there add. I called 4 people. I talked to 2, left messages for 2. 2 never called back at all and 2 said they would drive by to get an idea of what they were looking at. Those 2 never called back. It was for upper gutters that are at least 30 ft high. If they didn't want to do it they still needed to call to tell me that. I don't like heights, I have cleaned them in the past, but since the fall know 3 guys who have fallen off ladders. It's a sign I am not supposed to do it anymore.
My worst gutter experience was going with a company that was huge and a "jack of all trades" type of company. The cleaning was nothing special but my god I received calls for years afterwards saying I was due for another service and asking if I wanted to schedule. Didn't matter that I told them I was not interested I kept receiving voicemails. That's a surefire way to ensure I never hire you again.

I'm the same way though, yeah, at around $100 a pop it's expensive and if I invest in a $400 ladder that can reach that high I should be able to save money in a couple years but the risk isn't worth it to me.
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Xee
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@Grizzled Feel free to name drop if you're in the Chicago area. ;) -- In fact, I'd love to hear recommendations for contractors/repairmen from anyone else as well. Like @The Marshall Plan mentioned above, when you do need something done you just play the crapshoot of trying out people on Yelp, Google Reviews, etc. I'm so happy that I "know a guy" for working on my car who is honest and charges fairly but I know no such other guys for odd jobs around the house.
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Xee wrote: Wed Jun 30, 2021 3:25 pm @Grizzled Feel free to name drop if you're in the Chicago area. ;) -- In fact, I'd love to hear recommendations for contractors/repairmen from anyone else as well. Like @The Marshall Plan mentioned above, when you do need something done you just play the crapshoot of trying out people on Yelp, Google Reviews, etc. I'm so happy that I "know a guy" for working on my car who is honest and charges fairly but I know no such other guys for odd jobs around the house.
I would but I live in eastern Pennsylvania and I doubt he'd commute that far.
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Atkins&Rebel
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Xee wrote: Wed Jun 30, 2021 3:20 pm
Otis Day wrote: Wed Jun 30, 2021 2:40 pm This would not be dealing with contractors, per se, but just people I called to clean gutters (much smaller scale than you guys). The people I called all stated they clean gutters, it was in there add. I called 4 people. I talked to 2, left messages for 2. 2 never called back at all and 2 said they would drive by to get an idea of what they were looking at. Those 2 never called back. It was for upper gutters that are at least 30 ft high. If they didn't want to do it they still needed to call to tell me that. I don't like heights, I have cleaned them in the past, but since the fall know 3 guys who have fallen off ladders. It's a sign I am not supposed to do it anymore.
My worst gutter experience was going with a company that was huge and a "jack of all trades" type of company. The cleaning was nothing special but my god I received calls for years afterwards saying I was due for another service and asking if I wanted to schedule. Didn't matter that I told them I was not interested I kept receiving voicemails. That's a surefire way to ensure I never hire you again.

I'm the same way though, yeah, at around $100 a pop it's expensive and if I invest in a $400 ladder that can reach that high I should be able to save money in a couple years but the risk isn't worth it to me.
I had my hot water heater go on a friday night. The only guy around that wanted to work on Saturday seemed nice enough and did the work fine, if not a little on the higher side price wise.
But the guy called me 6 times after the job asking for a work review and would text me a direct link each time.
Then he tried to friend me on Facebook.
Then he mailed me coupons for my next job with him.
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Been in the engineering and highway construction world for almost 25 years.

About 80 percent of contractors are unscrupulous dirtbags and the other 20 percent are great. The great typically aren’t cheap.

Make sure you read fine print and get any contracts written the way you want them.
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The "I'll never pay for an estimate" people are funny to me tbh (I was a stone mason for 15 years, now I'm in sales at a stoneyard). People love to talk about contractors being unscrupulous assholes, but you're the one calling them asking them to take time out of their day and come write you an estimate. You're starting out this relationship saying "I don't value your time" and you're surprised that you're not getting your ass kissed?

That's the rub. The majority of people are tire kickers. At no point are you going to make a cent off of them, but they're more than happy to waste your time because of a lot of what's been espoused here. I have met a million customers who start out "Now I dont want to spend a lot of money" before describing insanely elaborate plans, and why wouldn't the contractor charge for their time? If you take the view that it's the salesperson's privilege to be speaking to you, why are you surprised that your relationship is bedded on a foundation of antagonism?

I never could have truly understood until moving into sales full time just how dehumanizing sales truly is, and how it completely changes the way you interact with people.
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Atkins&Rebel
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RustinFields wrote: Mon Jul 12, 2021 4:58 am The "I'll never pay for an estimate" people are funny to me tbh (I was a stone mason for 15 years, now I'm in sales at a stoneyard). People love to talk about contractors being unscrupulous assholes, but you're the one calling them asking them to take time out of their day and come write you an estimate. You're starting out this relationship saying "I don't value your time" and you're surprised that you're not getting your ass kissed?

That's the rub. The majority of people are tire kickers. At no point are you going to make a cent off of them, but they're more than happy to waste your time because of a lot of what's been espoused here. I have met a million customers who start out "Now I dont want to spend a lot of money" before describing insanely elaborate plans, and why wouldn't the contractor charge for their time? If you take the view that it's the salesperson's privilege to be speaking to you, why are you surprised that your relationship is bedded on a foundation of antagonism?

I never could have truly understood until moving into sales full time just how dehumanizing sales truly is, and how it completely changes the way you interact with people.
As a contractor, I figure my time on estimates into the cost of my jobs. I do 40 - 60 on site estimates (and do a bunch of rough estimates through email). I ask pertinent, direct questions and if the customer is evasive I don't give them the extended estimate experience. Just get my measurements, give a rough price, ask one more time if they'd like to sign a contract to get on my schedule and walk away.

Asking for money before any materials are ordered or any work is done to the property is a sure fire way to not be trusted.
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RustinFields wrote: Mon Jul 12, 2021 4:58 am The "I'll never pay for an estimate" people are funny to me tbh (I was a stone mason for 15 years, now I'm in sales at a stoneyard). People love to talk about contractors being unscrupulous assholes, but you're the one calling them asking them to take time out of their day and come write you an estimate. You're starting out this relationship saying "I don't value your time" and you're surprised that you're not getting your ass kissed?

That's the rub. The majority of people are tire kickers. At no point are you going to make a cent off of them, but they're more than happy to waste your time because of a lot of what's been espoused here. I have met a million customers who start out "Now I dont want to spend a lot of money" before describing insanely elaborate plans, and why wouldn't the contractor charge for their time? If you take the view that it's the salesperson's privilege to be speaking to you, why are you surprised that your relationship is bedded on a foundation of antagonism?

I never could have truly understood until moving into sales full time just how dehumanizing sales truly is, and how it completely changes the way you interact with people.
I get that customers can be unreasonable. And I get that sometimes your time gets wasted by people who aren't serious customers. And I get that it's frustrating.

But you have to build those things into your plans/expectations/"business model".

What product, anywhere, now or in our lifetimes, do you have to pay (excluding transportation to the store) in order to shop and maybe buy something, maybe not?

When you're looking for a car, you don't have to pay the salesmen for their time. (In fact, they usually fawn over you, get you drinks, and contact you constantly, if you give them your info).
When you're looking for a TV, you don't have to pay the store/clerks/floor sales for their time. They even have display models for you to look at, where the store eats most of the cost on.
When you're looking for a house, you don't have to pay the realtor for their time.
When you're looking for jeans, you don't have to pay the store (or website) for their time.

The only exceptions that I've personally encountered are:
  • A couple reputable "Members Clubs", like Sam's Club
  • Rare, shady or outright scam, "Members Only" "deals"
  • Some types of auctions
  • An occasional Flea Market type
They're extremely rare. And the reputable examples I can think of involve either genuine discounts once you pay or rare/unique items.

So, when 99.9%+ of your life purchases, from cheap to expensive, and from quick to long decisions, are free to shop situations, yeah, that's what people are going to expect.


Granted, traveling to them is a burden - but so is paying rent & utilities on a store or constructing & maintaining a website. And if you have to travel to give an estimate, you have to travel to do the work if you get it, too. Travel is just a part of your business.
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Honestly, I figure any estimator worth their salt is going to factor the cost of the estimating into their quote.

I don't ask for a written estimate unless I'm serious about paying for a job. If I'm not sure, I'll ask for a ball park via phone -- I'm not looking to waste anyone's time if it's more than I'm willing to pay.
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Xee
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Felt I had something relevant to add to this.

A few months back one we had a plumbing emergency on a Sunday afternoon and were only able to find one company who could come out to fix it (understandable given the day/time). After they fixed it, we mentioned one of our toilets hadn't been flushing properly so since they were there, they tried to rod it out but weren't able to clear it. They said there was a hard object lodged in the trap (my son probably tried to flush a small toy) and the only way to fix it would be to replace the entire toilet. The toilet still worked so my wife and I decided to just put that project on hold for a bit.

Recently we decided it needed to be addressed so I just finished calling 6 plumbing companies to get a rough quote on a toilet installation (we will be buying the toilet). I know there can be some wrinkles but even though I'm not super handy, I did some searching, took some measurements, and it looks like our toilet is a standard install so I just asked for a rough quote that reflected that. Here's how it shook out:
  • Company 1 - Was told I would be transferred to a "technician" for a quote. Somehow I was transferred to another plumbing company. No thanks.
  • Company 2 - Can't/won't give quotes over the phone. Said they would have to come out to give me an estimate and if I don't go with them, I would be charged a $49 service fee.
  • Company 3 - Gave me a quote
  • Company 4 - Same as company 2 but with a $69 fee
  • Company 5 - Same as above but with a $29 fee
  • Company 6 - Gave me a quote
So it looks like the majority of places charge for estimates. Unfortunately, I'm not going to pay someone $69 only to find out they're more expensive than someone else.

Luckily, the guy at the last company was really down to earth and had a much better price than the other company so we're going to go with them.
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The Marshall Plan
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Xee wrote: Mon Aug 16, 2021 5:09 pm Felt I had something relevant to add to this.

A few months back one we had a plumbing emergency on a Sunday afternoon and were only able to find one company who could come out to fix it (understandable given the day/time). After they fixed it, we mentioned one of our toilets hadn't been flushing properly so since they were there, they tried to rod it out but weren't able to clear it. They said there was a hard object lodged in the trap (my son probably tried to flush a small toy) and the only way to fix it would be to replace the entire toilet. The toilet still worked so my wife and I decided to just put that project on hold for a bit.

Recently we decided it needed to be addressed so I just finished calling 6 plumbing companies to get a rough quote on a toilet installation (we will be buying the toilet). I know there can be some wrinkles but even though I'm not super handy, I did some searching, took some measurements, and it looks like our toilet is a standard install so I just asked for a rough quote that reflected that. Here's how it shook out:
  • Company 1 - Was told I would be transferred to a "technician" for a quote. Somehow I was transferred to another plumbing company. No thanks.
  • Company 2 - Can't/won't give quotes over the phone. Said they would have to come out to give me an estimate and if I don't go with them, I would be charged a $49 service fee.
  • Company 3 - Gave me a quote
  • Company 4 - Same as company 2 but with a $69 fee
  • Company 5 - Same as above but with a $29 fee
  • Company 6 - Gave me a quote
So it looks like the majority of places charge for estimates. Unfortunately, I'm not going to pay someone $69 only to find out they're more expensive than someone else.

Luckily, the guy at the last company was really down to earth and had a much better price than the other company so we're going to go with them.
I know a really good plumber that I've been using for years. He's never pulled any crap like charging for estimates or whatever. He's given me prices beforehand but the agreement is that if it takes longer than that he'll charge more which is fair. We normally do T&M with him as opposed to a flat rate.

Local guy, older, years of experience, all that. He's done a bunch of stuff around my house. Your location says Hoffman Estates, I don't see why you'd be out of his distance range. Send me a PM if you want his info.
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Atkins&Rebel
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Xee wrote: Mon Aug 16, 2021 5:09 pm Felt I had something relevant to add to this.

A few months back one we had a plumbing emergency on a Sunday afternoon and were only able to find one company who could come out to fix it (understandable given the day/time). After they fixed it, we mentioned one of our toilets hadn't been flushing properly so since they were there, they tried to rod it out but weren't able to clear it. They said there was a hard object lodged in the trap (my son probably tried to flush a small toy) and the only way to fix it would be to replace the entire toilet. The toilet still worked so my wife and I decided to just put that project on hold for a bit.

Recently we decided it needed to be addressed so I just finished calling 6 plumbing companies to get a rough quote on a toilet installation (we will be buying the toilet). I know there can be some wrinkles but even though I'm not super handy, I did some searching, took some measurements, and it looks like our toilet is a standard install so I just asked for a rough quote that reflected that. Here's how it shook out:
  • Company 1 - Was told I would be transferred to a "technician" for a quote. Somehow I was transferred to another plumbing company. No thanks.
  • Company 2 - Can't/won't give quotes over the phone. Said they would have to come out to give me an estimate and if I don't go with them, I would be charged a $49 service fee.
  • Company 3 - Gave me a quote
  • Company 4 - Same as company 2 but with a $69 fee
  • Company 5 - Same as above but with a $29 fee
  • Company 6 - Gave me a quote
So it looks like the majority of places charge for estimates. Unfortunately, I'm not going to pay someone $69 only to find out they're more expensive than someone else.

Luckily, the guy at the last company was really down to earth and had a much better price than the other company so we're going to go with them.
After having a snafu replacing a toilet myself, I can understand wanting to see it...But asking to text a pic showing the fittings and the connections as well as showing that the floor isn't obviously rotten along with the confirmation that the area will take a standard toilet should be adequate for anyone who knows what they're doing.

And most companies that aren't playing the game, can say "most standard installations go for X and if anything is weird and I have to run for more parts I add on Z."
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