What to know about AC repairmen

May 10, 2012 5:04:20 PM PDT
Summer is still a month away, but your air conditioner is probably on and already working overtime to keep you cool.

As you know, fixing a broken AC unit can be costly, but a little known secret in the industry could have you paying more for a repair than you need to.

It is something we all dread -- having to fix the air conditioner. But the way your AC repairman gets paid could have a big impact on the size of the bill.

William Martin's air conditioner started acting up just as the weather turned warm.

"It would cut on and then every two minutes it would cut right back off," he said.

So Martin called an AC repair company.

Martin said, "He comes back in about 30 minutes later and says you are going to need a new thermostat, it is not getting a good signal and it is going to be 500 bucks."

But Martin's air conditioner is only a couple of years old and he felt the estimate was too high, so he called for a second opinion.

"He came out and said, 'No, Mr. Williams, it is not the thermostat, it is the draining system in the attic. It is clogged up,'" Martin explained.

The second repair man fixed the problem for just $75. It turns out the first company Martin called pays its repairmen a commission, not just an hourly rate for work.

"I just thought they were company employees and they came out and did the service for you," Martin said.

The Better Business Bureau says they are seeing a growing number of complaints from homeowners who were quoted a high price for an AC repair only to find a much cheaper fix after getting a second opinion. The BBB's Monica Russo says often times the more expensive estimate comes from a company paying technicians a commission.

She said, "A lot of companies are moving to a commissioned sales structure, and that's not always bad, but you do have to be aware that there is an incentive for the technician to sell you as much as they can."

Russo adds commission-based repairmen are not always responsible for a higher estimate, but says consumers should ask up front if the technician visiting their home is paid hourly or on commission.

Russo said, "I think a consumer has every right to know and there are ethical sales people out there and some that are not so ethical."

We called several AC repair companies in Houston and asked if the technicians are salaried or on a commission and found most are paid by the hour, but we had no trouble finding companies that pay commission instead.


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