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Negotiation Strategies with Plumbers and Other Contractors Part 1

Negotiation Strategies with Plumbers and Other Contractors Part 1

Notes on Negotiation by Marty Latz, Latz Negotiation Institute

I’m not much of a handyman. In fact, my father-in-law warns me all the time to stop overtightening everything. And he watches me with an eagle eye whenever I use any of his tools (and he has a veritable hardware store in his garage).

It’s just not my skillset. And that’s fine. I don’t really enjoy it, either. But it does create a challenge for my dealings with plumbers, electricians, and other contractors that we must inevitably hire when things go wrong at our house.

So how do I negotiate with them and ensure they do a quality job at a reasonable price?

1. Research the market and check references

My brother used to own a company that regularly hired contractors to work on houses throughout Phoenix. He was a great resource for quality and reliable contractors of almost any stripe, from painters to roofers to handymen (and women).

He was my first call for a recommendation whenever anything went wrong at our house. But I didn’t stop there. The first time I called his preferred contractors (he usually gave me two), I also asked for their rates and references. You don’t want to find out they have a minimum charge or unreasonably high fees after they start work (when your leverage, or Plan B to having them finish, is poor). I learned this one the hard way!

Plus, it’s easy early on to ensure their fees are fair, e.g., consistent with the market. Most don’t want the low-price leaders, but most don’t need gold toilets either. I always ask for a small discount upfront, too. My brother was a volume customer for many of them (giving me a little leverage). And it doesn’t cost anything to ask. But do it nicely and don’t push too hard. You don’t want your job done on the cheap.

One more thought. Check their references to evaluate long-term quality, responsiveness, and to confirm they stand behind their work. These are obviously your primary negotiation goals.

2. Build rapport and create a relationship

I always try to spend some time and build a little rapport with the on-site person doing the actual work. Why?

One, I enjoy it. And two, it’s strategically important to develop the right atmosphere and relationship so they feel comfortable sharing what’s wrong and their recommended fix.

Frankly, you may not get the full story or all the options if they don’t like you. You’ll also often get extra special service and maybe even some time thrown in for free if you connect with them. I’ve found many Phoenix Suns and Arizona Cardinals fans in the contractor world.

Bottom line – it pays to build rapport and be nice.

Latz’s Lesson: You don’t have to be a home repair expert to negotiate great deals with contractors. But you do need to research the market, check references, build rapport, and create good relationships.


Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute, a national negotiation training and consulting company, and ExpertNegotiator, a Web-based software company that helps managers and negotiators more effectively negotiate and implement best practices based on the experts' proven research.  He is also the author of Gain the Edge! Negotiating to Get What You Want (St. Martin’s Press 2004). He can be reached at 480-951-3222 or

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN • Premier Indiana CLE


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