Emergency Finances: Watch Out for a Fleecing from Cleaning and Restoration Companies

One of the things I learned about emergency finances recently is that you really have to be on your guard against a fleecing. The bottom line is that companies that respond to your distress call in a time of need are businesses, and they are likely to act in their interest, and press all sorts of services — and their attendant costs — on you in your time of stress. We discovered this the hard way when our crawl space flooded and overflowed into our downstairs. We called a cleaning and restoration company to suck the water out, and found a few unexpected surprises along the way:

  • They sprayed “anti-microbial” solution without giving us the option to decline. They just told us they’d done it. This ended up costing right around $170.
  • They pulled up the carpet and removed the pad, but no one would tell us how much it would cost. They spoke as if it was part of some sort of package. This ended up costing pretty close to $300.
  • They left air movers and a de-humidifier, but it took two days before someone would tell us how much the rental cost was on these items. This ended up costing $25/day for each air mover, and $68/day for the de-humidifier. When we found out the cost, we had some of the air movers pulled (we just moved one around) and rented a de-humidifier from a cheaper rental company.
  • They arranged for a plumber to come, as well as someone to replace the carpet pad and re-lay the carpet. But didn’t tell us how much those services would cost — in spite of several attempts to find out. The carpet re-lay and pad ended up costing $445 (between $145 and $265 more than some of the quotes we got after the fact). After all this, we insisted that the plumber’s bill come directly to us, rather than going through the cleaning and restoration company and getting the mark-up they charge for making a phone call.

In fact, the whole time, we felt as though we were unable to make informed decisions about anything. We called the office multiple times, since the guys “in the field” weren’t authorized to “estimate” costs. They didn’t even tell us whether we would be charged by the hour or by the square foot. When we called the office to ask about charges, we were finally told (after more than one questioning phone call) that we would be charged by the square foot, but no one told what the cost for each service would be per square foot.

On top of all this, we were still charged full price for the water removal from the crawl space — even though the crew left before the job was done. The plumber actually had to remove about an inch and a half of water, so we ended up paying for that water removal. When we finally (after two weeks and multiple phone calls; the web site promises estimates within 48 hours) received an itemized invoice, we were not happy. I made a note of the issues — especially not being able to decline some services (like the anti-microbial spray) before they were carried out, as well as dissatisfaction that no-one would tell us how much services would cost.

I pointed out that they could have told us the cost per square foot of services, since that information was available to them. I made it clear that we would have declined the anti-microbial had I even been given the option, and that if I had know the square-foot cost of the pad removal and carpet lifting, we would have stopped the guys on service call when they began (without asking us) performing these actions. I pointed out my disappointment that they didn’t finish sucking out the water, and we then had to pay the plumber on top of it to finish the job so that we could get a sump pump installed.

After I explained my trouble and disappointment, they did knock off $300. I’m glad I have an emergency fund, and that I’m financially ready for this coming year. But, am I totally satisfied? No. Will I be calling Alpine Cleaning and Restoration to do anything for me again? No. And next time something like this happens, I will be very explicit in telling the cleaning and restoration company that the only thing I want done is the water sucked out. All of it. We can do the rest of the stuff, or call around for other services, on our own.

This post was included in the Best Credit Cards and Saving Money at CardWisdom.com.