If you are a price shopper you’ll always find a lower phone estimate somewhere else (see below). If you are looking for a long term relationship with a righteous plumber, you’re in the right place.

Typical Minimum Job Charge: $175

This includes everything (parts, labor, travel charges, etc.). Most of the cost of a visit exists just getting a truck to the curb outside; overhead (licensing, parts inventory, truck, accounting, etc., etc.). Prior to every visit I need to discuss the job, many times the discussion takes 5-20 minutes. This is one of the many ways I help minimize your costs by helping you avoid the cost of two visits to solve one problem.  Last year (2016) I was shown an invoice by a well-regarded drain service whose minimum charge is $175. Their (or any) drain technician does not have a plumbing license, does not have thousands of dollars in parts inventory in the truck (and thus no restocking time), vastly fewer skills and training, no annual continuing education requirement, etc. compared to a licensed plumber Master Plumber and Drain Technician. In addition, for a drain visit there is no need to take time for an evaluation discussion prior to a visit. For repeat customers I may deviate from this charge depending on various factors such as; location and ease of scheduling relative to another job, is exceptionally quick and easy to solve, etc.

Minimum drain clearing: $150

If you are a price shopper you will always be able to find a sewer and drain service that will do it for less. I have significantly higher overhead due to being a Master Plumber. For more information see Master Plumber and Drain Technician. Subject to change without notice.  There is a cost benefit to you when I am able to do a plumbing repair at the same visit because my truck is already at your home, etc.

Evaluation visit (minimum): $125

An evaluation only visit rarely happens as I do not typically schedule a visit where it is unlikely that I will perform a repair. Due to the fact that I spend considerable time on the phone prior to the job, provide information via my website, have an extensively stocked truck with all of the necessary parts and time for a job and it is very unusual to have to reschedule or to locate parts. This notice is to confirm that my time is billable. There are times when I am unable to perform a repair at the first visit. You gain important information about your particular problem from a licensed plumber which saves us time when I return to do the work. Much of this cost is, in effect, recovered at the next visit as we have already discussed your situation, different options, etc. (what I like to refer to as the “yakking and talking part”).

Three ways plumbing service is priced

1) Estimate (The AthenaCare way)

  • I ask questions over the phone to determine that the work fits my business; type of work required, the dwelling is a single family, duplex or townhouse, appropriate geographic location, etc.
  • For a variety of reasons it is not practical, or does not fit my business, to do a “bid visit” or schedule time to visit the home in person with the only task being to estimate a job. I typically do not schedule these types of visits. A few of the reasons;
    • The typical job is too small to justify an extra visit for estimating or bidding.
    • Some people might be using the bidding process in a subjective way to pick a plumber. I believe there is ample information or evidence here and elsewhere to help a potential customer answer that question. By saving me time of wasted bid visits for jobs I do not get, I can keep my pricing down for people who become customers.
    • Some people shop only on price and that type of person is not a good fit for my way of doing business.
  • You determine, through your own research and a brief discussion with me over the phone that you are confident in my skills and me with your integrity, and schedule a service call to your home. In return I gain an understanding of the scope of work and am able to plan accordingly. My pre-visit preparations involve scheduling the necessary time and acquiring any special parts. As a result it is very unusual that I need to schedule an evaluation only visit. This is the benefit of my years of experience and the time invested over the phone.
  • You and I meet at your home, for me to see your situation, discuss the details now that I can see the situation first hand and I provide a written estimate before I start the work. The impossible question for me to answer is one I receive on occasion; a request to commit to a fixed price over the phone. The question I am able to answer in some cases is a ballpark estimate or at least a minimum cost. It is critical for every customer to understand that the cost is not final until the job is complete and the work area is cleaned up. I schedule work with customers that intend to have me visit their home to perform a repair. I do my best to avoid scheduling a visit where I am unable to do any work.

Advantages:

  • You the customer know in advance an estimate of the final bill for the work described.
  • You are hiring a person that will never talk you into performing unnecessary work. The biggest reason that I believe my approach is unique is that I always advise my customers how to avoid unnecessary costs. Many times this involves NOT doing work on a visit, on occasion it is to add a task or parts because this is the least expensive time to do it, it will be needed soon, etc. This approach saves my customers more money and brings more long-term affordability than any other approach.
  • You deal with the same person at every step of the process from the first phone call to the work being performed.
  • The owner of the company works on your home.
  • This company is unique in the number of ways it utilizes technology to assist you by facilitating the communication process directly to the owner from the first inquiry to the actual service visit; e-mail inquiry form, texting, voice calls.
  • You get a Master Plumber for every visit
  • You are hiring a way of doing business that has largely disappeared. I advise my customers and perform work in the most cost effective manner possible.
  • You are hiring a person that leaves 10’s or thousands of dollars of customer money in their pocket every year, by offering information and ideas of which potential repairs don’t need to be done, can wait or when is the most cost effective time to get them done.
  • You are hiring a plumber who will perform a small extra service or provide extra information at no charge.
  • My “educational videos”, FAQ articles and my pre-visit approach almost always results in having the parts on hand at the first visit, saving the dollar cost, and scheduling hassle, of two visits.
  • If the project takes less time than I estimated, the customer pays less than the estimated cost. If the job takes longer or unforeseen aspects increase the scope of the work, the customer pays more. The reality? In the majority of cases, I am able to charge clients the estimated cost sometimes a little less.  My goal with every customer interaction is to (a) have a satisfied customer and (b) get paid enough for my efforts that I stay in business.
  • If I need to answer a phone call or go get parts, you’re not paying me an hourly rate as you might with T & M. And compared with flat rate pricing, the cost is almost always going to be less.  I’m so confident of this that I’ll make limited time offer; If you have a visit from a flat rate pricing company for a plumbing job, keep a copy of their estimate, pay them their trip charge (to which they are entitled), and call me.  After I’ve completed the necessary work, give me the original flat rate estimate paperwork.  If I charged you less than the other company’s estimate, I will deduct from your bill the trip charge you paid them (up to a maximum of $75) in exchange for their paperwork. This offer expires after the first four customers who qualify.
  • If I am able, and frequently do, offer extra no charge, value added information.
  • You are hiring a plumber who has spent countless hours personally writing and posting to this site, helpful information to save you time, money, stress, and in the event of a leak, limit damage to your home available 24/7.

2) Time and materials (T & M)

The service technician keeps track of the time the job required and multiplies that by an hourly rate. The cost of parts used in the job is added in to the labor cost.

Disadvantages:

  • The less experience (or less talent) means it will take them longer to perform the job. You are now paying more because, in my opinion, you are funding his training. Not only that, but you, in effect, are encouraging them to take the slowest or most involved approach to solving your problem. Remember, many plumbing companies reward and certainly all monitor how much revenue their plumbers generate every day, every week. And remember that if you pick the guy with the lowest price per hour and it’s not until he is in your house and you’re committed that you suspect he is taking forever to perform the work, where are you then? Stuck.
  • They give you a low ball quote over the phone. Once inside your home, in the middle of the job, many times they’ll say ‘I didn’t know I would run into this, that, or the other thing, so…’
  • Two plumbers that I’ve seen operating this way carry nearly no parts in their truck. Correct: they get paid more for every job because they did not spend hours upon hours and huge expense installing, stocking and keeping shelves stocked with the parts most likely to be needed for your 1920’s or newer Minneapolis home. Next time someone offers T & M, look in their truck before authorizing the work!
  • If (when) they have to travel for parts, you have no idea of how long that should really take, whether they add time by making another stop along the way, etc.
  • The customer has no idea how much the job will cost until presented with the bill at the end of the job. Surprise! Or you have to battle with them about how the time was calculated after you get the bill.
  • Many different aspects can increase the amount of time required: unforeseen complications, technician does not have all of the parts with him (remember the non-stocked truck?), etc.  Some companies have been known to use minor complications as an excuse to run up the bill.
  • Many companies pay the technician (plumber) a commission. How do you think this influences the process?
  • What if the tech receives a cell phone call during the job? Did he charge you for that time?

T & M, I believe, has the result of being stressful for both the technician AND the homeowner due aspects like those listed above. It also has the potential for conflict at the end of the job and a high probability that the process will result in an unsatisfied customer.

3) Flat rate pricing

The service technician has a book of various services and the price for each. The sales pitch is the guarantee that no matter how long it takes in the course of the work the cost of the job will not exceed the price agreed to by the customer before the work starts. This is great in theory, if something major goes wrong.  But in planning for that unlikely event, the technician has to bump the flat rate price of even minor jobs.  Consider these items;

  • Toilet problem. Technician quotes a price, homeowner agrees. Technician completes job in a very short period of time, which means the homeowner paid a huge hourly rate. Result: unhappy customer. In 2016 I have learned that the largest companies are estimating their job costs using an hourly rate of 200% or GREATER than mine when calculating this amount.
  • They always replace fixtures (e.g. toilets, faucets), never repair. They provide various reasons, but the bottom line is that you pay significantly more than if the fixture was only repaired.
  • The typical “estimating” scenario involves the technician providing multiple levels of work at greater and greater (i.e. astronomical to mind-boggling) amounts so that the lowest, even if ridiculous seems acceptable. For instance I asked a young homeowner about who did the work and how much it cost for a new tub drain mechanism and piping and the amount was ridiculous, but they explained that it was less than the other two amounts quoted. I didn’t have the heart to tell her what I typically charge.
  • The technician gets a COMMISSION on the total job cost. How do you think this influences the process?

4) Home Warranty

You pay a monthly fee, forever. This is a fantastic deal for the company providing the service because their business model necessitates making a profit (paying out less than you are paying them) AFTER they have paid for all of their staff and overhead to advertise, hire and manage subcontractors (that also need their own office staff/overhead). This is a fantastic deal for them.

Advantages

  • If you have an event that is covered by the warranty you pay little or nothing. This in my opinion is the tease/carrot to get people  to sign the contract.

Disadvantages

  • You are paying month in and month out for nothing.
  • When you finally do have an issue they might cover, there is usually a clause which prevents them for having to provide service. If this happens, then you end up in a stressful battle and they still won’t pay. If you ran a company that stayed in business only by collecting more every month than you needed to pay out, you’re incentive is to not pay out whenever possible.
  • This is like an insurance policy that by design is unlikely to pay you anywhere close to the monthly “premium”. The reason we all have insurance (auto, home, etc.) is because a potential loss could be hundreds of thousands of dollars or more (i.e. devastating). That is why we pay, in the unlikely event something happens we do not lose everything. The largest plumbing expense covered under a home warranty is readily affordable by comparison. Also one large expense such as a water heater is already covered by the water heater MANUFACTURER, not the warranty company.
  • You will never see the same service person at your home. The reason is that they are either a huge company and/or constantly churning through subcontractors (like plumbers) because they pay so low a good plumber won’t stay with them. I went through a similar scenario in my early days trying to install water heaters for a large retailer, so I quit. I have had other successful contractors tell me they experienced the same frustration as I’ve described trying to work with a home warranty company and they too stopped working with them.

If you want to save all of the time, cost and hassle, cut out all of their overhead pay as you go. If you run into a larger expense than you can handle at the moment? Put the expense on your credit card. Then you pay it off monthly.