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Did plumber sink to low depths?

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Work taken on by an arbitrary contractor ends up costing an exorbitant price.

I have had almost a week in bed with the dreaded lurgy, and have not been out and about or in the mood to look for new topics, so thanks to all my regular readers who have kept questions and comments flowing.

Tip of the week

Be careful how you go about employing contractors, especially for emergencies. Mary sent me this, which I have edited for space reasons.

Recently the double sink in my kitchen became blocked. I first tried a plunger, and when this didn’t work, I bought a granular drain cleaner. I followed the instructions, and ended up using the whole bottle, but still no joy.

I live in a large complex and tried to contact the plumber who does work around here, but he has yet to respond, so I went online. 

What looked like a large national plumbing company showed an online form for a quote with no call-out fee, so I filled in my details and sent it. Instantly I got a call back – the guy was “in the area” and would try to fit me in. I was impressed with the promptness.

The guy arrived with a serious-looking plunger and, with me blocking one of the plug holes, gave the other a few goes. He checked the U-bend, then got a bottle of liquid drain cleaner, and gave each sink three or four squirts, and that was it. The drain was clear in 10 minutes.

When I had replaced the U-pipe in my efforts to find the problem earlier, I didn’t screw the rings back on tightly enough so there was a tiny little drip, which stopped when he tightened them.

He told me I would have to do an EFT and send proof of payment to his boss. I expected to pay around R450-R650. Stupidly I hadn’t asked him for a quote upfront. 
This was the invoice: R350 for unblocking the drain; R500 for the drain cleaner and R450 for labour – a total of R1 300.

When I objected, he said he wasn’t allowed to leave without payment. There was an email address on the invoice, so after he left I wrote to his boss expressing my horror at what I considered a monumental rip-off. He wrote back – twice – saying I had “paid willingly” and “didn’t have a gun to my head”.

He also threatened legal action for “deformation” (sic) of character if I took the matter further. The plumber also phoned me and shouted abuse at me. They were both highly indignant that I had called them in for a blocked sink, and that there was also “a leak” which they hadn’t “even charged me to fix”.

Later the same week, the flushing mechanism on one of my loos wasn’t working. While I was at the plumbing supply shop buying a new fitting (it cost R60 and I fixed it myself ), I asked the guy who served me about the exorbitant bill and whether it was fair. 

He went into a long story about the cost of plumbers’ training and overheads, etc. But my doctor, dentist and IT guy, for example, have far higher running costs and qualifications and they don’t charge like this. 

Was this a normal fee for this kind of job or daylight robbery?

I think the charge is excessive and do not like the way Mary was treated. I bounced this off a plumbing friend who responded:
I think it is apparent in these times to ensure the service you use comes from a reliable source or a recommendation.
A usually reliable source would be the Institute of Plumbing SA or a plumber registered with the Plumbing Industry Registration Board.

It is imperative you make sure you know what you are being charged before commencement of services and, to be sure, get it in writing.
Mary also asked if she had any recourse. 

I doubt this as she would have to go the legal route, which at the end of the day would cost more.
As a contractor, it is always difficult to put a fair charge against an emergency job. I have always worked on the principle of starting off with a minimum charge and working from there, but would never think of pressuring a client. 

However we do get caught. You are begged to fix a problem only to become a money-grabbing charlatan when you submit the bill, so from the point of view of both sides it is best to agree to a price up front.
I will follow up on this topic next week because I disagree with Mary about the relative values of plumbers, doctors, dentists and IT specialists.

Handy Mac, aka Don MacAlister, is our expert on household DIY issues. If you have a question for him, please send it to or SMS only to 082 446 3859. Find Don on FB:
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