Best steps to take when contractor overcharges for materials

13 Replies

My wife and I have a rental property in San Antonio, Texas (Go Spurs Go!!!).  We've had a new tenant move in and hired a contractor remotely (we live on the East Coast) to mend to a few issues.  The previous tenant did not fill the water softener before leaving, so we had to hire for that.  

Once we got the invoice for services performed, we were charged 20.00 per per one 40 lbs bag of water softener pellets, for a total of three bags for 60 dollars.  Typically those bags retail for around 7 dollars.  We were also charged separately for labor.  

My wife wanted to fire off an angry email, however I told her to wait for 24 hours an ask what others have done when being overcharged by contractors for remote work.


@Christopher M Miller maybe you should take time out of your day to handle things if u don't like paying. The contractor isn't billing out a several thousand dollar job, where is he supposed to make money to cover his vehicle expenses ? When I have to go around getting material for jobs, I charge my material markup plus my hourly rate, my times not free nor is my truck.

I would ask them if they can explain the charge so that you understand for future work.  

If they included their time for buying it in the labor, that, to me, would be more normal, and a mileage charge for the vehicle.  Or maybe a routine 20% mark up on items purchased.  Or even a set delivery fee, like at a hardware store to get appliances or wood delivered.

But to increase the cost of materials over 3 times just seems too much!  And if that is how they do it, I would want to know so I don't send them to get a frig!  

And they may just think you do not know the cost of the item and are crooks.  Hard to tell without knowing the labor charge that went with it.  And if they had a service charge or mileage charge.

It is hard when you are not there to know how someone is working or if they are cheating you.  

I sold a house in CA when I was in TN and even had a realtor and buyer involved and got cheated big time.  I had to pay for the septic tank to be emptied and inspected.  Normal in CA.  It was located under a paved driveway.  They used heavy equipment to locate the spot they needed access to and did the work.  But then they wanted an additional charge to refill it with sand (so its easier to access next time) and blacktop over.  I paid a LOT for them to deliver sand and reblacktop it.  When on vacation a year later I drove by the house--still had dirt filled holes in the driveway, and they were parking there, so I know that hole does not have sand!  No blacktop over the hole--and I paid for hot blacktop to be delivered and a roller!

So what did your total bill come out to? People do add a profit typically. Keep in mind this sounds like a low price job. Hopefully you don’t have anything major go wrong with the house. :-)

@Christopher M Miller it sounds like a high markup on the surface, but without knowing the other charges it’s tough to say. Also, are you certain that the $7 you pay where you are is definitely the current price in San Antonio? Or is it possible the contractor got ripped off himself? Do you ask for receipts for materials?

Also, you have to remember that these small jobs are often more of a nuisance for contractors - that was a couple hours he could have spent beginning work on a larger more profitable job.

Before writing an angry email I would pick up the phone and call. At the end of the day you are talking about less than $40 - is it worth losing an otherwise good contractor given how hard it is to find good workers these days?

The billing really doesn’t matter on how they break it down as much as the final cost.  Did you have a quote beforehand and did it cost what you expected.  If so you weren’t ripped off.  Contractors have to make money and account for it differently.  They can use trip charges, markups on material, hourly wages, or a variety of other methods but at the end of the day it is the final bill that matters.  I hate these markups which is why I self manage locally and value my money more than my time.  For someone investigating remotely it is just a cost of doing business.  I’d consider yourself luckily though since I was expecting this post to be much bigger dollar value than this so look at it as a learning lesson.  

Good on you for waiting 24 hours. Bad on you for your overall process. You didn’t get an estimate upfront and that is on you. 2nd, you say “typically” and “around” when referring to the cost of $7. Typically and around are not super confident words. Also, where in the country do they typically cost around 7?

You also left off how much he charged you for his labor, that is a really important number here. Did he charge you 500? Or did he charge you 10 and put some of his labor on the bags?

Without that number no one here can really give an opinion if you were over charged or not.

Not getting an estimate upfront means you made an assumption and as your assumption wasn’t met you are made at the contractor instead of yourself. You and your wife should fire off angry emails at each other because your process stinks : )

Also, do you value this contractor? At most (if anything) he over charged you 51 by your “typically and around” number. You fire off an angry email about this and chances are he won’t work for you again or put your jobs on the back burner. Doesn’t mean you cant have a conversation (or better yet, get estimates up front and then talk to him about it next time) with him about it, a peaceful, normal conversation. Doesn’t deserve an angry email in my opinion. Conversation at most. Process change at the very least.

If you do change your process, send him a thank you note not an angry one. For only $51 you learned a valuable lesson. Considering how costly lessons can be, you got off cheap!

Yes, you are being unreasonable.

The bag of pellets is $7 but he had to drive to the store, pick them up, then deliver them to your rental. It could easily take him 15 to get to the store, 10 minutes to buy the salt, and 15 minutes to deliver to your home. That's almost an hour of his time which is probably worth $30 - $40 an hour. Do you think he should donate his time for you? 

I charge $5 for a lightbulb and sometimes tenants complain. They don't realize I have to hire someone to drive to the unit, take a ladder and bulb inside the house, swap the lightbulb, and dispose of the old one. Things take time and time has value.

If you don't want to pay markup, invest in something local and do it yourself. Keep in mind your time also has value so that $21 worth of salt is still technically costing you more.

There is the old story about a driver who locked his keys in the vehicle and had to call a Locksmith to open the door to the vehicle. The locksmith arrived and within 5 minutes had the car door open and retrieved the keys. 

The locksmith says that will be $75. 

The car owner EXPLODES $75 F****ing Dollars  - it only took you 5 minutes to open the door. 

Whereupon the locksmith throws the keys back in the car, pops down the lock and says - Now you can get them out!   

You didn't mention what your labor charges were, so we don't know the final bill. Hopefully he charged you approximately $200 or so...? Most non business people don't think about the cost of doing business.....wages/other costs of labor/materials/overhead/profit/other cost of doing business/on and on.....