You’ve read my stories about the $29.95 clean-and-inspects and my disdain for contractors who insist they can make money on such a service call.

Readers have responded with their own service plans, and some were billed well above $120. The News even sponsored a poll asking contractors what their charge-out rates were. Some answers exceeded the $100/hour mark.

Are we charging enough for quality service? What is a fair price? I’m not sure I can give a definitive answer because of the various market forces. But I’ll give contractors something else to think about — Sears.

I know that competition from Sears is an old subject, and some readers probably will decide to stop reading my column at this point. But hold your horses.

I was recently enticed into calling Sears for a clean-and-inspect by an e-mail sent to me from, a Web portal that links service contractors with homeowners seeking repair or maintenance services on appliances, hvacr systems, plumbing and electrical, etc.

The website was touting Sears Home Central’s $69.95 “Preseason Heating System Tune-Up.” For a limited time, MyHomeKey was offering a $15 rebate on the tune-up, making the whole thing a modest $54.95.

What kind of service could I get for $54.95? I had to find out. Please do not send irate e-mails asking me why I did this; I did it for you! I had to know what hvacr contractors were up against with this new promotion.

I’m not sure you’ll like the results, unless you work for Sears.

The Service Call

At no time during this entire experience did I mention my profession. I didn’t want to bias the service call. My first step was to set up the appointment via the MyHomeKey home page. Simple enough. A Sears’ customer service rep called me the morning of the call and said the service tech would be out between noon and 3:00 p.m. I wasn’t too upset when he rang the doorbell at 3:03.

The tech was very polite, friendly, and in a joking mood. He went about his work in a timely and efficient manner. I didn’t mind that he wore his unprotected shoes in the house. After all, I have hardwood and linoleum floors leading to the basement, and it was warm and dry outside.

The duration of his service? About 30 minutes. He cleaned the burners, inspected the pilot and disconnect switch, oiled the motor, checked the filter and thermostat, and cycled the system, running a final check. I asked him if he had a “20-point checklist,” but he said that the type of furnace dictates the number of various checks. Mine didn’t require a lot of checks.

He discussed the results, saying only that my filter would need changing soon and that my heat exchanger was slightly rusted but in good working condition. He only made one sales pitch, and it wasn’t necessarily for a Sears product. He suggested I add another CO detector to the one I already had.

He noted that he was not trained to sell parts or pad the bill, saying, “I’m paid by the hour, not the job.” I was impressed with his candor and honesty. He added a 90-day warranty to his work and went on his way.

If I had one criticism, it was his lack of knowledge about the MyHomeKey promotion. He didn’t know anything about it, and said that my stop was his first furnace work of the day, having serviced appliances up until then. But that’s not much to complain about.

The bottom line: I got peace of mind and ease of service for $54.95. Sears made a diehard (no pun intended) like me admit that the company did a good job at a reasonable price. Consider this column an “FYI.”

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 10/29/2001