After stating here recently that Yours Truly spent $4,700 for a new heat pump system, “Dave” left me a pleasant voice mail message saying you-know-who was a real you-know-what for spending so much money for a heat pump.

In his words, “Being a part of this industry, you should know that a heat pump can be had for about $800. You were taken to the cleaners.”

A smile crossed my face after I finished listening to his diatribe about what a moron you-know-who was. But as I thought more about his message, troubling questions surfaced.

For example, how could Dave quote a price on a system that he knows nothing about? Did he somehow magically know that a name-brand, high-efficiency, 5-ton heat pump was installed? Did he know that the installation took two full days because of the awkward placement of the air handler?

Did he know that an extra return had to be put in upstairs, which the contractor recommended after Yours Truly complained about the temperature differential? Did he know that this installation took place in the middle of September in Phoenix, when attic temperatures reach 160°F?

One has to wonder how many times contractors quote a price over the phone without taking the time to really look at the application.

If a customer calls and says he needs a heat pump, do most contractors just rattle off a number, or do they actually make an appointment to come out and take a look? Do they do a thorough inventory of the existing system and think about the modifications that could be made to make the customer more comfortable?

Cheap is not the only option

Of course, this leads to another troubling question: How many times do contractors make the decision for the customer regarding what type of equipment to install?

In my case, my contractor spelled out a number of options. His suggestions included:

  • Go with the cheap-and-dirty system, which would cost significantly less. However, one would still have the same high utility bills and the chance that the system would clunk out within five years (as the first one did). Or,
  • Go with a higher quality system and also make some modifications to the existing ductwork in order for my family to be more comfortable.

One can appreciate the fact that the contractor gave those options, then let me decide. Because my husband and I believed that the price was worth the comfort for our family, we gave him the green light to proceed with our system. While parting with our savings account was not comfortable, we fully trusted our contractor and are subsequently very happy with the system.

Do contractors like “Dave” believe that customers only want cheap systems, therefore that’s the only option they give? That makes it difficult for other contractors to bid on a job, because the customer already has the low-ball price in mind. If another contractor recommends a better system with, say, upgraded filtration and whole-house humidification, it becomes a much harder sell.

And making the decision for the customer is actually insulting. Do you want others to make buying decisions for you?

Let the customer decide

Would you like to go to a car dealership, only to have the salesperson tell you that you can only buy the $10,000 car with vinyl seats and no radio? What if you had planned to buy a $40,000 car with an all-leather interior and a CD player? How would you feel?

Would you think that you look like someone who can only afford to spend $10,000? Maybe the salesperson thinks you can’t afford $40,000, but he doesn’t really know, does he.

Most customers know that total comfort is not cheap. One contractor I recently interviewed ended up installing a $140,000 hvac system in a residence because the customers wanted total comfort (of course, this was a $3 million house). This contractor took the time to educate his customers, and they ended up going with the most expensive system he suggested.

Another contractor told me that his customers almost always go with his upgraded recommendations because they trust him. He takes the time to sit down with each customer and discuss all the options. Then he lets the customer decide.

So the next time you’re tempted to only offer a cheap system at a low-ball price because you think that’s all the customer wants to spend, think again. That customer may have a million dollars in the bank and thinks nothing of dropping a wad of cash in order to be comfortable.