Living Smart: How to deal confidently with contractor upselling

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Upselling is a fact of consumer life, from "will you have fries with that?" at the drive-thru to the credit card promotion at the department store cash register.

But when it comes to home services, how can you tell the difference between a worthwhile recommendation and a pitch you should ditch?

The answer revolves around one word: trust. Do you trust your plumbing, electrical, carpet-cleaning or other service provider?

Our members say that when theyíve hired well-rated companies, especially ones theyíve worked with before, they experience recommendations about additional products and services more as education than upselling.

One homeowner told us he braced for a hard sell after a garage door technician found more than just a broken spring. The customer was relieved that he got no pressure and that the repair pro took the time to show him the worn areas. Seeing was believing, and the consumer opted to pay for additional repairs.

Another homeowner said he appreciated his plumberís suggestion to replace a 15-year-old commode with a model that had more features than the original. The customer conducted his own online research and concluded that the more expensive toilet did, indeed, better suit his needs.

Here are some ways to feel confident about evaluating service provider proposals to spend more than you planned:

* Seek multiple estimates from contractors who have positive reputations and are appropriately licensed and insured.

* Make sure you understand whatís being proposed, and why. A reputable contractor should be willing to take time to explain everything, not simply push you to make a quick decision. If youíre told to replace your main sewer line, for instance, require video proof of the problem, and be certain the images are of your system.

* Donít hesitate to ask questions, do research and take the time you need to make a decision.

* Never forget that itís your money. Itís your home. Donít be afraid to say no.

* When scheduling cleaning or routine maintenance work, make sure you understand what the typical service includes. For instance, with carpet cleaning, it may cost $3 a step or more to clean a staircase. Special treatments may be required for stubborn stains.

* Be wary of "free" home analyses, which may be thinly disguised sales pitches that will end up costing you.

* Be especially suspicious of anyone who uses scare tactics or insists you must get the service or product that day.