Updated: 1/12/2012 11:09 PM ET|
5 things worth haggling over
They cost a lot of money, and most are necessities, but many people routinely pay too much for them. Don’t be one of the pushovers. Do some negotiating.
Americans, it's been said, don't have a "bazaar" culture. We know we should haggle over homes and cars, but otherwise we're supposed to be accustomed to paying retail.
Except that's not really true. A Consumer Reports survey in 2009 reported that two-thirds of Americans had tried to haggle for better prices in the previous six months, and most were successful in winning discounts on stuff like hotel rates, cell phone bills, clothing, electronics and furniture.
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In truth, many prices aren't set in concrete. Tough economic times may make more retailers, vendors and service providers willing to cut you a break to get your business. Here are just five areas where negotiating can pay off:
1. Home repairs
Freelance writer Jen Miller of New Jersey said she'd never haggled over a price until she called in a rooter service to deal with an extremely clogged shower drain.
"He looked at it, took some of it apart, and said he could snake the drain but it might not work. To do that, it would cost $395," Miller wrote me. "I was expecting to pay, at most, $200. So I said I couldn't do that, offered to pay him a consult fee or something, but there was no way I could afford $395."
The rooter guy told Miller she could go online to get a $40 coupon. She said that was still too much. He then knocked the price down to around $295.
"I said it was still too much and said, 'I'm sorry, but I can't hire you for that much,'" Miller recalled. "He said, 'Maybe I can get it down to $200. Let me call my manager.' Which he did. I paid $205."
Miller said a few things worked in her favor. She had a price in mind that she was comfortable paying. She also had an alternative. "I could have called a relative who works in construction to do it," she said.
Ultimately, being able to say no gives you a lot of leverage when you haggle. People who can walk away from the negotiating process often get called back with a better deal than those who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have no other option. It's also important not to accept the first discount offered if it isn't what you want -- silence, waiting or just saying no can produce a better deal.
Laurie Hunter Frick, one of my Facebook fans who also lives in New Jersey, discovered this when she called three companies for estimates for basement waterproofing. The bids ranged from $4,500 to $6,000.
"We couldn't afford it," Frick wrote, but one company continued to call to ask if she was ready to do the work. A year later, during a dry spell when "they must have been hurting for work," the company called again.
"We said we could afford $3,000 to have it waterproofed. They said, 'If you do it in the next week, we'll agree to it,'" Frick recalled. "So we did, and they did a fantastic job. (We've) never had water in our basement again."
2. Auto repairs
Finding a mechanic you can trust is a key ingredient to keeping your car well-maintained and reliable. But that doesn't mean you have to pay whatever the mechanic wants to charge.
If the car's running, you can take it to competing shops for estimates. (I knocked $800 off a big repair this way, by taking the other shops' bids back to the dealership's mechanic and getting him to match them.) Even if your car is dead on arrival, you can check RepairPal to see how much a repair should cost and pay to tow it to another mechanic if the quoted price is out of that range.
You can haggle for discounts even on smaller charges. Robert Clark of Pennsylvania used common sense to push back against the $100 a repair shop tried to charge him for connecting a laptop to his car's computer to read an emission code indicating what was wrong with his vehicle.
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