It's a subject that homeowners and plumbers have debated for years. Which is the better deal? Flat rate pricing (sometimes called contract price) or hourly rate? First, let me state that certain situations might tilt the advantage to hourly and other situations might tilt the advantage to flat-rate, but for most plumbing repairs, a flat rate for a plumber is usually a better deal. Here’s why:
First, you’ll be given a price on parts and labor upfront before any work begins. This can be very comforting to just get the agreed upon price out of the way without having to worry about the plumber dragging his feet and racking up hourly charges. When you pay a flat rate, you’ll pay the quoted price whether the job takes an hour or five hours. Advantage customer! This is especially true if the plumber came out without hitting you up for a trip charge or an assessment fee.
Furthermore, sometimes (but not always) plumbers have some negotiating room on their flat rate. If you don’t like the price, try haggling. The worst that can happen is he says “no.” But if a plumber is having a slow day, he may be willing to drop his rate somewhat to get the job. After all, he’s already at your house, he’s invested some time evaluating your problem and he’d probably rather discount the job than go back to the shop empty handed. He may also give you a discount coupon or refer you to one on his website to justify the discount and provide a good value to you. After all, a good plumber wants your business for life, not just for one job. If he does discount, that doesn’t mean his original price was a scam. It just means his schedule or other circumstances have allowed him some flexibility to give you a lower price.
In my view, the only time an hourly rate might be a better value is when the job only requires a quick fix that commonly takes five to fifteen minutes to complete. For instance, lighting a pilot light on a water heater or tightening a loose water connection. A customer oriented hourly rate plumber ought to divide his hourly fee and only charge you for a quarter of an hour. Unfortunately, many will simply tell you their company policy states that they MUST charge you for the full hour - so you may not get any price advantage after all. On the other hand, many flat-rate plumbers who want to keep your business have a special low “quick fix charge” for such instances instead of dinging you for a couple of hundred bucks. Just as commonly, I’ve seen Roto-Rooter plumbers do such simple fixes at no charge, especially if it’s a customer who has used them before or whose business they hope to earn in the future. “There’s no charge. It was a simple fix. Call me the next time you need me.” That’s a very powerful gesture that often wins the hearts and minds of a customer. Just to be sure the gesture is remembered, I recommend that the plumber place a sticker with his name and phone number around the work area, beneath the sink or on the water heater so the customer will always be reminded who that nice plumber was who was so generous and helpful.
Now taking into account everything you just read in the last paragraph do not confuse a very fast, efficient plumber with “a quick and easy job.” A more experienced plumber may be able to complete a difficult job faster than a less experienced guy. Don’t get angry and critical of him for being good. Some people will say, “It took him only 30 minutes to replace the disposal but his fee was equal to what the other guy would have charged me for a full hour of labor.” So what? He was fast, efficient and he saved you time. Would you prefer that he slow down and waste your time or just appreciate the fact that he’s out of your home quickly at the contracted price and you can get on with your day?
And what if the plumber has to run out for more parts? This is a common occurrence and the meter will be running the entire time on the hourly plumber but the price remains fixed with the flat rate plumber. Finally, when calculating your overall value, please don’t forget to factor in hard costs that every business has to include in to its pricing. There is the service truck, fuel and maintenance as well as vehicle insurance, liability insurance for the business, even the plumber’s health insurance. Also, office staff, rent, phones, utilities, advertising, tools and equipment. Plumbing is a professional trade that involves never-ending learning to keep up with changing fixtures, materials and plumbing codes. Not just anybody can do this kind of work so please don’t pretend that a plumber’s time is less valuable than that of any other professional, whether blue collar or white collar.