Sunday, September 08, 2019
Customer should feel fine about looking for better deals
A reader we're calling "Connie" is in the process of finding a contractor to re-design her master bathroom. She and her partner have met with several contractors and have chosen one whose plan and bid seem attractive and whose references from other customers seem stellar.
As part of the bid, the contractor included allowances for fixtures and finishes for the bathroom, everything from the floor tiles and towel racks to the sink faucets and countertops. The contractor made clear to Connie that the allowance was only an estimate based on average costs from previous jobs. If she chose more expensive fixtures and finishes, the cost would be more. If they were less expensive, then the overall cost of the bathroom would reflect those savings.
"I'm a bit concerned because our contractor told us he uses a particular showroom in town," Connie writes. He recommended that she and her partner visit the showroom and work with the contractors contact there to order materials. He assured Connie that even if an item doesn't appear in the showroom, his contact would be able to help find and order any items she needed for the bathroom.
"I'm pretty sure I can find many of the items I need for the bathroom online for less money," writes Connie. "But the contractor seemed pretty clear he works with this particular showroom contact."
Connie wants to know if it would be wrong to insist that the contractor use materials purchased someplace other than the showroom he recommended. "I don't want to do anything to jeopardize the project," she writes.
As someone who has experience working with contractors over the years, I know how difficult it can be to find a reliable contractor. Heck, I still rue the day three years ago that my plumber of more than 30 years finally decided to retire and I'm still looking for a plumber I can regularly rely on to return phone calls and show up to the house when an issue is beyond my capacity to repair while referencing a YouTube video and advice from Zack at the local hardware store.
It's understandable that Connie wants to maintain a good relationship to her new contractor. But she shouldn't forget that she is the customer and he is working for her. He will still make most of his money from the labor he puts into the job, regardless of where Connie gets her fixtures and finishes.
If Connie believes she can get better materials at a better price on her own rather than purchasing through the contractor's preferred showroom and she's willing to put the work in to finding the stuff, she should do so.
The right thing would be for her to let the contractor know of her plans and to ask him if he has any issue with her doing this or if there is anything he believes she should try to avoid in choosing materials and placing orders.
It would have been good for the contractor to make this possibility clear to Connie from the outset. While a showroom can be a good way for a customer to cut down on the time it takes to find all the materials needed for a bathroom renovation, it's certainly not the only way.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglinDo you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to email@example.com.