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How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off From Service Industry “Professionals”

Have you ever needed to hire a service industry professional for advice, a project or repair? Chances are we have all been there. Why? Because taxes need completing. Cars break down. Computers need fixing. Home air conditioning systems go bad.

You may be among those fortunate enough to know how to do these things on your own. Or at least you know a little about how these things work. The vast majority of the public does not know how to fix a car or computer. We don’t know why AC units malfunction. We rely on industry professionals who are trained to handle such projects or repairs.

service industry Most service industry professionals are hard working and credible people. They are not looking to take advantage of people. They just want to make a living by doing an honest day’s work.

However, we all know that not all service industry professionals fall into this category. In fact, we need to put quotation marks around some service industry workers when we call them “professionals.” They may be experts at their chosen career. But they are also experts at another thing – conning people out of their money. So they don’t exhibit the kinds of qualities we would all want in someone who was truly professional at their job. Here is a case in point.

Our Recent Service Industry Pro Story

Recently, my wife and I moved into a new home. We had a home inspection done that revealed no major issues. But you know what happens after you move into a new home, right? Inevitably something breaks.

Our break was the AC – in the middle of August. With temperatures in the upstairs reaching 90 in the afternoon, we had no choice but to call in a repairman. So I reached out to the company we had done business with for years at our prior residence.

The diagnosis was for a new coil. We had that repaired. But after a week of the AC unit working, it went out again.

The diagnosis this time was that there was a leak at the unit outside. However, the repairman couldn’t find it. So he prescribed getting a whole new outside unit (because he said there were a lot of known defects for our unit’s model number during the year it was manufactured). Price tag on that equipment and installation – 4,500 dollars.

I don’t know about you but when I see numbers like that, I slow down. If I’m going to spend that much money, I’m going to make sure I really need to. And I’m going to make sure it’s worth it.

So I sought a second opinion from a company I’d never used. When I told this technician what I had been told, he was skeptical. So after poking around for a few minutes, he found where the leak was and repaired it. Another week later, when it again ran out of Freon, he found a second leak and repaired that. The unit has worked properly since then.

So was the first technician trying to rip me off? I’m can’t say for sure but I think so. I saw from the second technician where the unit was leaking and there is no way a certified AC professional would not have known the steps on how to repair that issue.

How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off

As the first AC repairman riddled off all the technical reason why our AC wasn’t working, I could feel my eyes glazing over. I couldn’t follow and didn’t understand the AC jargon he was spouting. I just nodded my head. He could have said anything and I wouldn’t have known if it was right or wrong. “Need a new Johnson Rod? Well, guess you better put one of those on” (see Seinfeld video at end of post).

I wasn’t ready to commit to his “great deal on a new system.” So I backed off, using a few simple techniques I’ve learned through the years.

If you feel like a service industry professional is trying to rip you off, take these simple steps.

1. Breathe. Don’t let service industry professionals rile up your emotions. You can’t let them scare you. You can’t let them put on the pressure. But if you panic, they easily can do all those things.

Just take a moment to breathe. Slow your thoughts and your heart-rate down. You have to think clearly because this could turn into a multi-thousand-dollar bad decision. You can’t think clearly if your emotions are out of control.

2. Watch them do the work. I used to work construction in college. I remember how annoying it was to have someone looking over your shoulder at you doing work, especially the homeowner.

But, if you can though, watch the service technician a bit as he or she does the repair. When the first AC repairman told me the problem, I just happened to ask him to show me what he was looking at. He showed me how he knew it was leaking and then tried to use an electronic device to find the leak. After about 10 minutes he said he couldn’t find and then offered me his proposal on a new unit. They whole thing made me suspicious. Learn to trust those instincts.

3. Practice the 24-hr. Rule – Tell them you have to talk/think about it. This tool needs to be in everyone’s arsenal. It’s the ultimate and easiest deflection to making a decision on the spot. Simply say, “I need to think about it” or “I need to talk about it with my spouse.” Personally, I’ve never run into a technician who didn’t respect this.

However, they may still try and pressure you by saying something like, “Ok, but this deal is only good for today.” Recognize that as a manipulative tactic designed to get your decision now, not later. Most likely, you can get the same deal if you wait a few days.

In our house we call this the 24-hour Rule. In essence, it means never making a decision on a major purchase for 24 hours. This practice helps defuse emotion and allows you to think about the issue. It also allows you time to review your finances to figure out how you will pay for it. Often times we have found that after waiting 24 hours, a new alternative or a clearer option arises.

4. Do some reading/research. After you have stalled them with the “I need to think about it” routine, you can start getting educated. Do some online reading on the subject. Search for keywords you remember hearing during your conversation. A little knowledge about the subject can help you make an informed decision.

If you are fortunate enough to know someone else with expertise in the area, give them a call. Explain the situation and see what they think. They may confirm your suspicions or put them at ease.

5. Get at least one more opinion. This goes beyond just talking to someone else about the problem. Have someone else actually look at the problem or project and give you their opinion. Again, this will give you clarity about the situation.

This may seem like a no-brainer step to you. Admittedly, this one of the hardest steps for me to follow-through on. Why? Because it takes more time.

In my mind, I just want to get the issue fixed. Having another professional look at the issue requires time, which might require taking off more work which will then cost you money in your paycheck. My mind plays tricks on me saying it’s not worth the hassle. So you may have to fight against this thought process. Get a second opinion for sure.

6. Negotiate. Don’t forget, in the end, you can always negotiate the price or services offered. You can especially negotiate if you have a second opinion. Some view negotiation as another hassle. But if you learn how to negotiate it will be worth it if you can get a few dollars off on the price. Why pay more when you don’t have to?

We all want to trust the people that service our needs. However, don’t give your trust away blindly. Make service industry professionals earn it. If you follow these six steps, you will lessen the chances of getting ripped off and paying too much.

Questions for Discussion: Do you have a “I got ripped off” story? What other steps can people take to avoid getting ripped off – what has worked for you? Have you ever needed a new Johnson Rod on your car (watch video)?

photo credit: clement127 WC – out of service via photopin (license)

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  1. The 24 hour rule is a really great one. We nearly got ripped off over $7k from roto rooter. We had a collapsed sewer drain-out and were told it would cost $7k to repair and that there is no use calling the city as they never pay for it or take responsibility for it.

    We got a second opinion and not only was the quote $2k-$3k, the company went to city hall to talk to the engineer and lo and behold the city WAS responsible because a drain broke 4 years prior and the contractor the city hired did a shoddy (if not illegal) repair to the drain-out. So we went from a high-pressured overpriced $7k repair to owing $0. 24 hours and a second opinion can make a HUGE difference. I also think Angie’s List is underrated as I found roto rooter on google and the other company on Angie’s List.

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