Negotiating with Installation Services – A Survival Story

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My GLORIOUS New Tile Floor
A little while ago, I told you of my tale of woe when it came to our engineered hardwood floors. While I respect that many of the commenters in that post still like the product and presume I just happened to use one of poor quality, I stand by my statement that I will never, ever, ever do engineered hardwood again. Or as a home builder I recently met called it – engineered cardboard.

The experience left me a little DIY-shy when it came to replacing the area with something new. I didn’t have plans to replace every stick of engineered cardboard hardwood in my home – just the key impacted area: our entrance (and while I was at it – replace the sad tiles that were in the kitchen and bathroom). I became worried that in the process of removing the flooring myself, I would disturb the temperamental engineered hardwood in the living room, causing buckling and a greater problem of goofy flooring throughout my home.

And so – I decided to bite the bullet and hire a professional to remove the floor and install something new – specifically, a lovely glazed porcelain tile. But as anyone who has done remodeling knows, there’s a mighty sticker shock attached to departing from DIY. However, in the end, we were able to knock a nice chunk off the final bill after a bit of haggling and thoroughly reviewing the quote. I’m not the type who is super comfortable with the idea of bargaining, bartering and haggling – for whatever reason, it makes me feel embarrassed. However, seeing that we were able to chop a thousand dollars off the quote, my dainty little spirit was quickly soothed when I thought about all the nice things I could buy with that sweet G instead. If you’re dealing with Home Depot (as we eventually did – while more expensive, I wanted to go with someone with a corporate office I could freak out on should something bad happen) or any other installer, here are a few tips that might help you save on the bottom line:

Get everything itemized to the last detail
A big fat line item of “$3000 – installation” does you no good. Ask them to break out the entire job for you. This has three big advantages for you: 1) You can ask questions and find out if something is really necessary; 2) You can see what you can easily do for yourself; and 3) You get in writing exactly what’s included that you DO want them to do – no surprise “I-thought-you-were-going-to-do-that” moments from the installer.

For example, after we had them break out the price, we saw that there was a charge for a special soundproof underlay that was totally unnecessary (we’re on the first floor – ain’t no one gonna hear us walk around no matter how obese we get) – and same with an edging piece that really didn’t matter to us.  They also wanted to charge us $90 to simply move our kitchen appliances out the way – something we could very easily handle that would only cost us a minute of our precious time. Same goes for some of the other super DIY-able charges like a silicone lining along our backsplash, removing and reinstalling the toilet, vanity, and our closet doors. I was also able to knock off the post-job cleaning fee – because, frankly, we all know I’m just going to come along and clean it like the anal dork I am “my way” right after anyway.

Get other quotes in writing
Most people are willing to come by and give you a quote without charge. Do this – after all – you might want to go with them! But having another quote – that you can actually show your preferred installers – is much better than just saying, “Gee, your prices seem high!” Having one or two quotes from the competition shows your potential installer that 1) It’s not a given that you’ll just go with them – you have options; 2) You’re willing to do your homework and get a sense of what the industry rates are; and 3) They’ll have to explain why they’re charging a higher rate … or come down a little. We were able to bring a couple things down because of this – not hugely, mind you – but every dollar counts! Remember to always get back to the people who came in to give you a quote and thank them for their time. It’s common courtesy – something that’s sadly not so common anymore (said in a crusty old lady voice).

Sweeten the deal in unexpected ways
If you can reduce their costs or make things easier for them in any way, suggest it and see if that might impact the cost.  Think about little things like arranging free parking (using your own parking pass or getting one for cheap) for the install crew, securing a dedicated elevator for loading / unloading materials, an existing disposal bin or recycling room they can use to get rid of garbage/ removed materials (legally!), or offering to bring in lunch for your installers may be of value to the company. If you are skilled or a very quick learner, you might even ask if being an “assistant” to the installer during your project would be of worth to them or might reduce their hours. But don’t be surprised if they groan at that last one.

And don’t forget the great art of bartering (in which you offer your services in exchange for theirs). No, I don’t mean those services, you dirty, dirty bird. Particularly if you’re dealing with a smaller company, consider chatting with them about what’s of value to them. Maybe it’s putting a sign out on your lawn for a period of time promoting their services. Maybe you can help them redesign their crappy website. Maybe it’s taking professional pictures of their work for their portfolio. You never know!

Don’t sign until you’re satisfied
Now, while bargaining might make me feel embarrassed, it’s nothing compared to the humiliation I feel when someone tries to get a discount after they’ve received a service simply because they want something for cheaper. Gross. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about doing a fair inspection of the work before signing off on it. If something is missing or goofy – mention it. See if it can be corrected or if a discount is warranted. The same goes with extra materials – see if any of it can be returned for a refund. Because after you sign off on something and pay for it? You have no leverage for negotiation.

Have a few negotiation strategies of your own? Please share them in the comments below!

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About Jen

Jen (but never “Jenn”) Byck, aka the Fix'n Vixen, is a Toronto-based freelance writer and communication consultant who is undoubtedly home fixated (she is also TV fixated, really bad TV fixated and donut fixated). Her approach to home improvement has been rather trial and error, the latter of which is evidenced by the amount of spackle she buys on an annual basis.

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3 thoughts on “Negotiating with Installation Services – A Survival Story”

  1. Great tips Jen, especially those first 2. Itemizing is key to finding ways to save money on things you can do yourself or line items to be negotiated. Some additional tips:

    1. Know about the materials you’re asking them to put in and get your own quotes from the suppliers first. Often, a contractor will charge you for picking up and delivering the material to the jobsite at a much higher cost than you doing it yourself. Verify that no product substitutes are allowed with your written consent and check all raw materials before they get installed. This keeps everyone honest as well as prevent costly errors.

    2. Never pay more than 10% deposit. They shouldn’t need more than that to get started and anyone asking for 50% is likely going to be a scammer. I’ve seen it happen. For large projects, work out a payment plan where a certain percentage is paid at specific stages of the project. That way it something goes wrong, you risk a smaller portion of the total budget and still have a chance to bring in someone else to finish the job.

  2. One of the standard rules of bargaining that helped me in this same situation was to never use the word “need” when working on the deal. If the installer knows that you absolutely need a new toilet, or need the floor replaced, or need a new bathroom because of some event coming up then you are at a disadvantage. When I was working with the bathtub replacement guys I said things like “We would like to do it sometime this year” instead of “We need is ASAP”. Once they knew I could wait it seemed like they worked harder to make sure I went for it now instead of later.

    • Great negotiating tip Bob! Playing things cool can often help frame expectations and motivations in your favor. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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