Here’s Why It Always Pays to Shop Around

Here's Why It Always Pays to Shop Around - picture of online shopping site on tablet on messy desk

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Last week, Greg was forced to take a cold shower.

But before you start feeling sorry for him, you should know that it isn’t what you think.

Here’s what happened: Basically, our water heater died sometime during the night without our knowledge. My lucky husband just happened to be the person who learned this knowledge firsthand when he entered the shower for his morning rinse. {Better him than me. LOL}

But our water heater didn’t just “quit.” It started leaking.  And by the time we realized there was a problem, it had leaked all over the furnace room in our garage and out onto the garage floor. The first thing we did was turn off the water. Then Greg attempted to drain the water heater into the yard with some sort of hose. {Epic Fail} After that, we called the local plumbing/furnace people to take a look.

As we waited, I browsed online for similar water heaters and found plenty of 40 gallon gas water heaters in the $300-$450 range. “This shouldn’t be so bad,” I thought.

Of course I was wrong. When the plumbing people showed up, they quoted me $1,100 for their cheapest water heater. Never one to accept a ridiculous price without doing some research, I asked a few questions.

“Why so much?” I asked. “I was just browsing online and found several water heaters at Lowe’s and Home Depot for $300-$400.”

“Is Lowe’s here?” he asked in a condescending tone.


I probably looked like my head was about to explode, so he went on to explain their pricing further. “Lowe’s will probably take a few days to get here,” he said. “You don’t have any hot water. Our price will get your water heater in here today.”

I laughed because this guy obviously doesn’t know me very well. Not only am I willing to go without a shower for a day or two if needed, but we also have plenty of friends on the block who would gladly let us use their facilities.  Plus, it’s just the principal of the thing, you know?!?

Nope. Not gonna happen.

It Always Pays to Shop Around

Here’s where it pays to shop around. After the plumbing guy left, I called Lowe’s and inquired about their installation timeline. Despite everything the plumbing guy said, Lowe’s promised to install our new water heater the same day as long as we could get in there to pay before noon.

So that’s exactly what we did. After a little bit of browsing, we settled on a $500 energy efficient water heater that was very much like the one we had that had just died. We went back and forth about installing it ourselves, but ultimately chose to pay $250 for installation because we were short on time and already had a boatload of work to do. The final price: $750

Is It Possible to Continue Bargaining Further?

My $100 Water Heater Dent
My $100 Water Heater Dent

But shopping around isn’t always enough. Over time, I’ve learned that you can continue bargaining even after the purchase has been made.

Case in point: When we received our new water heater from Lowe’s, it had a huge dent in the top. It wasn’t enough to affect the structural integrity of the water heater, but it still wasn’t cool since I had just paid $500 for it!

After calling Lowe’s, they refunded $100 off of my purchase and put it back on my credit card. I still feel a little bit guilty about that part, but I didn’t want to pay full price for a scratch and dent model!

The Bottom Line

I always get the feeling the contractors are trying to pull one over on me. Unfortunately, I am right almost 100% of the time.

The good news is, shopping around can usually inform you about whether the quote you’re getting from a contractor is even close to reasonable. The bad news is, taking the time to shop around can sometimes mean being inconvenienced, and yes, even going without hot water for a few days.

Either way, I’m happy about my new water heater purchase and glad I didn’t get scammed or ripped off. At the end of the day, all I want my water to do is heat water so we don’t have to take cold showers or baths. It doesn’t take an $1,100 water heater to do that.

Have you ever saved a ton of money by shopping around? Do you ever feel like contractors are trying to get as money from you as they can?

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  1. MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

    He obviously saw a family with two kids and thought DESPERATE!

    This makes me think it might be a good idea to research these things regularly. Like knowing the systems you may need to replace at some point and figuring out what they cost and who has the best prices ahead of time so you DON’T have to be in a panic.

    1. Yeah, I’m sure he thought we were desperate. It was first thing in the morning and I was still in my pajamas. He probably thought I was desperate for a shower!

    2. MomOfTwo, researching prices always pays. But it really, REALLY pays when it comes to getting major work done on one’s home. And here are just 2 personal experience examples. (I don’t want to hog the comment thread with more.)

      A little over a year ago, we needed a new roof. The first 3 estimates hovered around $15,000. I kept looking. After 7 estimates, we ended up with a top-quality job for $7500 (same shingles and everything).

      Some years ago, I needed to have a back-up generator and transfer panel (that I already owned) installed. The first “factory approved” installer I contacted gave me a $5000 quote for the installation. I kept looking. After 4 estimates, we ended up with a top-quality, county-inspector-approved job for $500. (And THAT is not a typo.)

      So Holly’s message here really needs to be taken to heart. SHOP AROUND. It will really pay off.

  2. Wow! That plumber needs to take some courses on selling 101!

    I always try to see if there is an open box model or a scratch and dent before I buy. Most times the defect is somewhere you can\’t see and it\’s great to get a discount on it. For example, we bought a new flat screen TV after ours went bad. There was one with a \”scratch\” on it, so it was knocked down to just $500 from the original $1,400. I spent 10 minutes looking for the scratch along with 2 salesmen and my wife. We never found the scratch, so we bought the TV.

    1. I definitely didn’t mind getting a dented water heater. No one will probably look at it ever again!

      1. If the dent didn’t hurt the insides of the water heater sounds like a good deal. I need to have some plumbing work done. I need to have pipes cleaned out because water is going down very slowly and I need a new water heater. I’m always afraid of being ripped off because I am a single Senior woman. If I call a plumber to come out and give me an estimate for the work, don’t they charge for the estimate? Many years ago, I had had to have some work done and I was told there was a charge even if I decided not to have the work done by the company that I had called.

  3. OMG! I totally cracked up when l got to the repairman and his answer about Lowes.. :-). I am such a cheapo when it comes to some! It happened to me once about the busted water heater. I waited like 6 days before my handyman came back from visiting his folks in El Salvador so he could put in a new one (they get contractor discounts at Home Depot). In the meantime, l just boiled water and used a bucket. I am from a third world country after all . I am used to the kettle :-). Bloody thieves!!!! They price by neighborhoods where your house is located.

    1. I’m sure it was based on our neighborhood. They probably think they can charge anything they want.

  4. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    Congrats on getting a good deal! I live in a rental and luckily, when our hot water heater died, it was the afternoon and I called the landlord before the leak was terrible and he swung by to stop the water and the leaking that day. Since I’m in a two-family unit, he came by the next morning and replaced both water heaters at once since they were the same age (+15 years old).

    Fun fact about water heaters– my landlord says they have about a 15-18 year lifespan and they generally die on that time frame… he joked you could set a clock to them.

    Also, if you feel so inclined, I would leave a bad online review for that first contractor, with the snark he gave you upon his visit. Any contractor with sense would have at least offered a discount upon your price inquiry or a better, less-sarcastic reply.

    1. Our water heater died at 12 years, so I didn’t think that was too bad! A water heater in one of our rentals went bad after three years- not sure what was up with that.

    2. I agree with leaving a bad review! Hope he doesn’t get much business, what a jerk.

  5. That’s some pretty high convenience charge that plumper tried to slap on you. We always try and price compare when needed work done. We are in the market for a new fence for our yard. We are in the middle of call 4-5 different companies to see who has the best to offer.

  6. I can’t believe the guy didn’t reason with you once you said you were just gonna go to Lowe’s.

    Every time encounter these kinds of situations I think, these people don’t know who they’re dealing with, haha.

    1. I know, right? All I could do was shake my head.

  7. I had to laugh about the part when you said you’re willing to go a couple of days without a shower to save some cash – that is SO us. 🙂 Way to go on the research, and good to know. Our water heater gets a little cranky sometimes and I worry about waking up one day to no hot water myself. 🙂

    1. Hey, I work at home. I can skip a day if needed. =)

  8. Nice work on the savings – especially with having to deal with the condescending plumber. It makes me wonder how much other business he has lost through being that way. I think there are definitely some contractors out there who are trying to get as much as they can out of a situation – it’s just poor business in my opinion.

  9. We just had to buy a new water heater last month, too. We did a price match on a similar model at another store to save $100, then got a 10% discount since my husband is a veteran, and got a $50 credit from our utility compamy because we bought an energy efficient model.

  10. I don’t own a home so haven’t had to deal with contractors. Plus my father taught me plumbing, electrical, capentry, etc., so I would most likely do the work myself. Don’t get me wrong, when you’re in a rush and need hot water, $250 isn’t so bad to pay. But I have learned that when purchasing a used car from a dealership, you just have to mention “CarMax” and the price drops instantly! 🙂

    1. My hourly rate is about $100 so me putting in a water heater and transporting it, getting rid of the old one, etc. would be a losing proposition for me!

  11. There’s some kind of law in our area such that we’re not allowed to install water heaters ourselves! But we went with either Lowes or Home Depot and didn’t have any problems.

    1. Honestly, I wouldn’t feel safe working on ours. It’s gas and I don’t really need my house exploding on me.

  12. So first of all the guy was a jerk and LIAR, so good riddance. Second off there is no way that you should feel guilty for getting that $100 credit back from them. I know for a fact that Menards sells water heaters that have small dents like that for a discounted price. Also there the one’s the damaged it as they brought it to you, so you and them did the right thing by working out the $100 credit.

  13. I absolutely love this post. This is exactly what I would have done on all parts! Although I may have laughed out loud if my plumber quoted me such a ridiculous price.

  14. I think contractors are always trying to take advantage of customers who they don’t think did their research, or know what they are talking about, or are impatient. I would have wanted to smack that guy! 🙂

  15. I think I’ve been on a three month rant about contractors and service people. And they wonder why big box stores have driven small business away? If you can’t compete on price, you have to compete on service, and I am not seeing that side of tradespeople at all. I always ask if I can buy my own materials and have them install. If they won’t do that, then you know they are probably ripping me off. Lots of people must just pay whatever. Otherwise, I don’t know how people do stay in business.

  16. I’m sure there are many people who just accept the contractor’s quote, no questions asked, simply because they don’t want to bothered to search out better deal. I think you did the right thing by getting some money back since the heater was dented- I would not be happy about that either!

  17. When it comes to contractors there’s no way I would let one in my door that I didn’t vet on Craigslist. If you compare contractors I used on Craigslist to ones I haven’t the difference is incredible. I believe you read my story about our sewer drain-out. The contractor that tried to rip us off versus the contractor that was ethical and acted in our best interest the difference was (literally) a $10,000 swing. $7k for Roto Rooter versus ($3k) for the other contractor (because they consulted the city and got all our bills paid for by them).

  18. It definitely pays to shop around, all these plumber/electrician guys typically will give you a higher quote because you don’t have a whole lot of options. It’s always good to know what the part costs on average so you know you have other options.

  19. Well done, Holly. We had a similar experience a while back. Luckily, we’ve found a plumber who is good and affordable, and charges the same hourly rate for any work we do. We all went to Lowes together to pick out the water heater, I helped load it into his truck, and he let me watch while he installed, so next time I may be able to DIY. Of course, let’s hope that never happens. 🙂

  20. We recently had a contractor problem that we are still trying to solve. We didn’t have a ton of time to shop around as every contractor we called actually said our project was too small. We finally found someone who would come out and they made up all of these lies and charged out an insane amount for about 10 minutes of work. They originally thought it would be about 8 hours of work and they charged us for the FULL EIGHT HOURS!

  21. Non finance notes on water heaters:

    The difference between a \”5 year\” heater and a \”10 year\” heater is the size of the anode (the thing that corrodes inside your hot water tank so the tank doesn\’t rust). These anodes are much cheaper than a new heater and easy to replace if you\’re handy. Make a point of changing your anode every 5 years and your hot water heater will last as long as you want it to.

    On the safety front, misbehaving hot water heaters are incredibly dangerous (check myth busters hot water heaters on YouTube for a laugh) but fortunately incredibly rare. Don\’t mess with your hot water heater if you don\’t know what you\’re doing. Gas leaks and explosions are just two of the potential dangers.

  22. Poor Greg! LOL. Cold showers I abhor. But good job Holly!

  23. Great work. And Lowe’s is pretty good about handing out 10% off coupons. You can buy one on eBay and get immediate download too. A Lowe’s credit card gets 5% right away if you do not want to get a coupon.

    And the military get 10% off all the time.

  24. It pisses me off when professionals take advantage of people in tough situations. Good for you for doing your due diligence and saving yourself some serious cash!

  25. One summer heat wave our Central Air Conditioning Compressor died and I had a wife and 2 teenage daughters to join me in being unhappy about the 95 degree house.The quote to replace was $3500. I said that was way over my budget and asked if they had any scratch and dent deals. The guy looked at me funny and said he would call his boss. He came back shaking his head and smiling. Turns out they had one at the warehouse and it had been installed and rejected by a customer because of a dent. They offered it installed for $1500 and we were back in business. I think its always best to step back and do like you did because when we panic we take deals that aren’t deals.

  26. That’s awesome, Holly. Nicely done! I would totally go without hot water for a few days to save money–no doubt in my mind. We frugal people really are a contractor’s worst nightmare :).

  27. Oh just last month I also noticed that one of our water line was leaking so immediately called the plumber. After the whole day working, they asked me to pay them for about $50, so I pay them but after two days I noticed that there are still leaking and they came again and fix it and they charged me again for $30!

  28. Yep, when water heaters go, they leak. (Unless it’s just the pilot light, but that’s something you can fix on your own.)

    Ours died mere days after we bought a new dishwasher at a Black Friday sale. Just because the universe loves a one-two punch.

    We already had a couple of plumbing items that needed fixing, so we just called the company we use. She said it would be around $700-800. I had already priced heaters online too. So I asked about the difference. She told me the breakdown between labor and product. Sure enough, the numbers she provided were about the same as Home Depot.

    After that, the installation of a dishwasher and fixing a leaky pipe in the guest house, we paid around $850. Guess we got lucky with an honest company!

  29. I ALWAYS feel like contractors are trying to scam me and I would never take one at face value. We recently saved a ton of money shopping around but it was with the same company. We went to one Toyota dealership and negotiated for a car for me and the guy kept pushing us to a higher price, so we said forget it. The next day we went to another Toyota dealership in the opposite direction and they matched our price. Whenever you have large purchases (and even small ones) it doesn’t hurt to shop around.

  30. Wow that plumber definitely put his foot in his mouth. Also, like others have said, you totally shouldn’t feel bad for the refund. Unlike the plumber, the store’s trying to keep you around as a customer, and I’m sure responding to your complaint did just that.

  31. Wow-“Is Lowe’s Here?!” What a jerk. I’m also glad that you got refunded some money for the dent!

  32. Man, I just paid that much for my water heater install. That being said, I had to get mine moved, permits pulled, increased in size, and had a new drainage system built for it so it won’t fill my garage if it bursts. I also found one of the best rated water heaters on the market. That being said, I shopped around and got quotes from numerous plumbers. I also went to Lowe’s and Home Depot, but they didn’t offer the heater I was looking for. Most of the cost was moving the pipes, permit pulling, and the new drainage system, which was long and complex.

  33. I have to admit that my experience is quite similar to yours; I do indeed often feel I’m being taken for a ride – in my case when it comes to car maintenance. This is why I am planning to do a basic motor maintenance course myself soon because I think a little knowledge could be a very powerful thing for not being taken for a ride.

  34. I wish I would have read this article a couple of years back when this same thing happened in my household. You sort of feel like you’re over a barrel and must make a decision when there is a plumber standing in front of you like he’s the only guy in the world, a demi-god in some respects, that can get you out of this jam. We replaced our water heater with the plumber our home warranty sent out because the damage wasn’t covered – that’s another thing that could be examined – and spent nearly $1500.00. Way too much, I know, but we didn’t take the time to do our homework.

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