Trade quotes

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A suburban home with a plumbing problem -- how much could it possibly cost to repair? Well it depends who you ask: the first quote was almost $25,000, but another plumber was less than $2,000 -- almost $23,000 difference.

The Sydney home-owners -- who didn't want to go on camera -- were shocked and an Adelaide couple also know that feeling all too well.

Their hot water system failed and the first plumber they called for a quote arrived to inspect the job. “We were relying on them to give us expert advice and a reasonable price”, said home-owner, Craig Howarth.

But that didn't happen for Melissa and Craig. “The tradesmen had been here 15-20 minutes. I knew there was a call out fee and that they were charging 15min blocks and the quote was presented; you've got to think quick”, Craig said.

“I was at work and when he called me to tell me the price -- that was when I said we need to stop this”, Melissa said.

The hot water unit can be bought online at retail price of: $1,250; the plumbers charged a premium price for that, plus additional costs for fittings and fixtures, disposal of the old unit, an electrician to install it and an administration fee -- but the kicker was the labour -- over $900 for just two hours of work. The total charge -- $2,716.

“They said bad luck you accepted the quote. Then they added on a $66 dollar late fee because we didn’t want to pay it on the day. Other plumbers have since said to install that system is normally about $1500.

“In many cases they are going to court for compensation”, said Consumer Affairs Victoria’s Phil D'Adamo.

Phil says homeowners have a couple of options when disputing a charge but the best policy is don't agree it to it in the first place. “If you're entering into this contract and you've got really good communication -- and that goes both ways with trader and consumer -- then there shouldn't be surprises at the end of it”, he said.

The best advice is to look for an established tradie, check their registration, research their business online, if possible speak to past customers, but the most crucial thing is to shop around for quotes and get a contract in writing -- detailing exactly what's included; the materials, the labour and the costs. “It is a case of buyer beware -- do your homework and certainly don’t sign agreement unless you've done those checks”, Phil said.

The plumber who quoted $25000 quote for the Sydney problem responded with a statement saying: “It is company policy to present all options available with a permanent solution that carries a 25 year material warranty as well as a lifetime labour guarantee”

And after Today Tonight contacted Metropolitan plumbing, Melissa and Craig were informed that the company would waive the remainder of the money owed.

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