When I’m making a large purchase, I do plenty of research before making my final decision. I might do too much sometimes, but that’s okay. It generally pays off in the end.
When it’s time for a new vehicle, do you visit the closest dealer, pick the first one you see (without knowing anything about it), and buy it? Probably not. You’re probably going to have a make and model in mind, and you might have some other ideas too. If you’re like me, you know exactly what you want and where you can get it because you’ve done plenty of research. I research vehicles, air conditioning, televisions, computers, phones, lawn equipment, and pretty much anything more than $100.
Different products and services have different starting points for research. It may be the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Consumer Reports, Edmunds, product reviews on a retailer’s website, random internet searches, or any relevant source.
Frugal is not the same as cheap. I want value. For example, it’s better to buy one quality item that lasts instead of buying one cheap item that needs replacing. You end up spending more because you’re buying two cheap items.
The second lawn mower I purchased (in 2010) has lasted longer than the first (2005). The worst reviews of my second one said that people felt like they were running behind it. Those “negative” reviews helped sell me on it because I’m a natural speed walker. I’ve never run behind it, but I did cut my mowing time in half! Now, I need the self-propel function fixed because my time has doubled as if it weren’t self-propelled. My first one wasn’t self-propelled. One warning I noticed about buying a self-propelled one is that it’s heavier which means it’s harder to push when the self-propel function breaks. I can vouch for that warning.
My most recent research has paid off big time! It’s time to replace my air conditioner and heater because they’re 16 years old and are starting to cost too much to repair. My A/C uses the old R-22 freon and has always had a leak, plus I had to dump more money on other parts last summer. Since R-22 is no longer manufactured, it’s super expensive!
The first part of my HVAC research was finding out which brand I might prefer. As it turns out, there are only a few manufacturers, but they use hundreds of different brand names. According to my research, the top 10 brands are so similar, that the installer matters more than the brand.
The second step of my research involved finding local bidders. For this kind of service, my first stop is always the BBB. There are so many A+ rated companies in my area, that there’s no point getting a bid from someone with a lessor grade and official complaints. For services that require state licensing, I also check the appropriate state websites to ensure the license is current.
I had an unofficial bid from the company who has been doing my maintenance off and on over the years. I received it because a sales guy happened to come with my maintenance guy. I scheduled four official bids (each bidder offered three options).
My first bid was reasonable based on what some neighbors told me, and it was lower than the unofficial one. However, she lied to me! My red flag was triggered, and my stress level went up. In addition to the regular system replacement ($6,880 – $7,610), she recommended that I replace my ducts (would be an extra $3,960). She said they looked fine (not a lie). However, she lied about old ducts possibly getting condensation (causing water, mold, etc.) when replacing a unit. I sent out a social media request for advice. It turns out that I’m lucky enough to have knowledgeable friends, and I found out that some are licensed HVAC technicians! I had a 100% consensus to keep my current ducts and save almost $4,000! Simply changing a unit does NOT cause condensation in old ducts. Condensation is caused by other issues.
My next two bids went well, and they said my ducts were fine. I had hoped they were lower because I didn’t want the sale going to an unethical company. Unfortunately, they were both about $1,300 – $2,000 higher. I was willing to pay maybe $500 more for an honest company. One guy even boasted that the company was smaller than most and therefore had less overhead and could charge less. After I saw the numbers, I laughed in my head because they don’t charge less; they just make more profit!
My fourth and final bid is the winner, by a long shot. Two of the owners came to do the bid! At least one of them will also be here for the install. Not only were they friendly and honest, they charged less ($5,532 – $6,681). I’m choosing the middle one they recommended ($5,804). They’re able to charge so much less because they really do have low overhead and lower profit margins. It’s a very small company, and they work from home (like me) instead of spending extra money for office rent, utilities, etc. I also happen to be getting one of the “best” brands (usually rated #1).
I’m thankful that I did as much research as I did. I’m also very thankful that I have friends who were able to provide great advice. I’m very happy to give business to an honest company. Are you willing to research something to save thousands? How about saving hundreds? When selecting a service company, do you think about integrity and licensing?