Mr. Rooter Plumbing Job Quoted At $300 But Ends Up Costing $25,000

Dave and his wife came into some money and decided it was time to get a professional out to solve their slow draining toilet problems once and for all. Mr. Rooter showed up, and in less than a week the company managed to also solve Dave’s “I just came into some money” problem, by taking all of it. The problem is, Dave isn’t sure that any of the expensive extra work was necessary now that he can see the pipes.

We’ve had issues with our front toilet backing up for years. Typically we’re able to snake the drain, or snake the vent line from the roof, pull up some of the roots, and move on. This year was a bit different, and even snaking didn’t help this time. The toilet would handle fluids, but no solids. When we came into a little money recently, and with a Girl Scout sleep-over due in a week, we decided to splurge and get have the drain cleaned professionally once and for all. So we called Mr. Rooter, and they sent someone out the next day.

[Redacted] and his supervisor [oh man I redacted this one too] came out and listened to the history of our troubles. Standing in the affected bathroom, they quoted us a price of around $300 without ever examining the toilet, snaking it, or even flushing it. They immediately grabbed their video gear and hit the roof to inspect the main line. Since our house is over 30 years old, it came as little surprise when they showed us a “break” in the main line that they said was the cause of the problem. The problem was, [yep redacted] said, not the roots we’d been seeing the previous years, but a full-on break preventing the waste from draining. The pipe would have to be replaced, which meant tunneling under our foundation to get to it.

They advised us that the work might be covered under our insurance, but that we should sign a contract and begin work before contacting insurance, to prevent the insurance company from sending out their own plumber, who might find we were not covered. They sited [sic] a Texas law which declared we could hire whoever we wanted to handle the work for us. They even coached us on what to avoid saying to the insurance company, like “roots” or “corrosion damage.”

So, we signed the contract that night, for 20 feet of tunnel work and repair (it was actually 30 feet, but they were “giving” us the extra footage free), totalling around $9500, so that they could begin work on the following day (Sunday) and we could contact the insurance company on Monday to file a claim. If everything went smoothly, the repairs would be done by Friday, and all the little Girl Scouts could use the restroom all they needed.

Monday came and the tunnel was nearly complete exposing the main line. We contacted State Farm, who advised us that plumbing was not covered under our homeowners policy. This was hard news, but since we had come into a windfall, we took it in stride. After all, this was a problem that ignoring would [sic] solve, and it would be nice to have the toilet working at capacity again.

Halfway through the day on Monday, [redacted!] called to say that they’d reached the “break”, and he sent the video camera in again to see the rest of the line. The remaining line, he said, was not draining properly, and was rotted out where standing sewage had sat for so long. He said the rotting was likely from a previous owner using Drain-O too much, and since the line wasn’t draining properly the Drain-O had eaten the line. He advised us that we should replace the rest of the main line, another 40 feet (but he would only charge us for 30). This added another $13,000 to the bill, bringing us to about $25,000 total. We were in shock.

After four days of inspectors and chip-hammering and our dogs barking at the workers under the floors, [re-redacted] proclaimed the line replacement was complete. They ran a hydrostatic test and verified that the line was not leaking anywhere. He asked me to flush the toilets to be sure everything was working well. The master toilet flushed fine (it always has), but on the first flush with the front-side toilet, it backed up again, flooding the bathroom floor. 080910-002-root_mat.jpg[Redacted] was confused, and tried snaking the drain a few times. He came up with a Wet-knap [sic], but a few more flushes and the toilet was still not draining properly. Finally he unbolted the toilet from the floor and lifted it up, where he discovered a 2-inch thick mat of hair-like roots had grown around the flange and into the pipe, to a depth of about two feet. This was effectively choking the toilet’s drain. He removed the mat (it looked like a thick black loofah), and remounted the toilet. Bingo, the toilet is working great again.

Here is where my wife and I are starting to feel like we’ve been taken for a ride. We hired a “respected” company to find the problem, and fix it. When we were told that the $9500 solution was what we needed, we trusted that they had done due diligence. Now, we felt like they had come out, gone on to the roof looking to find a more profitable problem, and found exactly what they were looking for. We feel that they pressured us to begin work immediately, although we realize we broke some of our own cardinal rules about waiting 24hrs before signing a contract, and getting a second opinion. The pipes are lying in the front yard now among a couple tons of dirt, and none of them look rotted out due to Drain-O use…

We’re due to talk to the franchise manager on Monday, to see if we can work out something to reduce our cost, since we feel we’ve been taken advantage of. We don’t expect to walk away from this for free, but we do feel that the entire $25,000 is outrageous, since this could have all been avoided with a $300 rooter job. The only contract we ever signed was the initial $9500 flat-rate contract, however far that might get us. But I wanted to pass along the story, and remind our fellow home-owners out there some things to remember whenever going into even “small” jobs like this:

  1. Take 24 hours to decide on any big-ticket repairs whenever you can. Don’t let yourself be pressured to sign right away.
  2. Check with your insurance about coverage before signing any contracts. Be wary of anyone who wants to help “fight” the insurance company to get paid.
  3. Whenever there is a change in scope of the job, get a second opinion. A $50 consult is better than swallowing a $13,000 worm.
  4. Just because the company has a “Brand Name” doesn’t mean you can let your guard down.
  5. If you think litigation might even remotely happen, get pictures!

I’ll send an update after our meeting with Mr. Rooter on Monday. Hopefully this won’t have to go to arbitration, liens on my house, or even civil trial. I just wish I had remembered to wear my Consumerist Thinking Cap that first day.

Dave sends an update:

We met with the manager and discussed the case. I’m happy to say that they were very understanding, and just as willing to work this out as we were. We’ve come to an agreement to take care of the bill, and were able to knock off $7500 from the bill. We feel this is fair, and are happy to see the folks at Mr. Rooter were willing to work with us on their mistake. At the end of the day, we live in an old house, and these problems were inevitable.

Thanks also for (almost) all of the comments from my fellow readers. We’ve learned an expensive lesson, but we also learned that we weren’t entirely powerless.

Comments

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  1. E-Jungle says:

    That is a classic technique they use to get more money out of customers, I live in an old house and they will try stuff like that every time I let companies come over to fix something minor.

  2. chiieddy says:

    Plumbers can really have you by the balls, but this gentleman had a spare toilet, luckily. Never sign a contract for major work without 3 quotes. Just like you wouldn’t have major surgery without requesting a second opinion.

    Unfortunately, this is probably going to be an expensive lesson. Only thing you can do is complain to the BBB.

  3. edison234 says:

    What a bunch of crap.

  4. Jason says:

    They did the same to my next door neighbors in October. They moved in, next day toilet flooded downstairs bathroom. Mr. Rooter came out, quoted $200 to snake. This then became a hydrojet issue so another truck was dispatched. Then a video cam was placed in the line. They determined the culprit was toenail clippers from the previous owner and they’d need to dig up the concrete from the sidewalk leading from the driveway to the frontdoor. They busted through the first two portions of concrete to reach the pipe to gain access to the clippers. Around this time, I came over to meet the new neighbors and see what all the noise was about. They showed me, the mess they had. While the Mr. Rooter guys were out to lunch, before they cut any pipes, I took a wire coat hanger, went in through the vent and voila…fished out the clippers along with some gunk. Mr. Rooter came back and gave them a $10,000 bill. It was disputed by the owners as the solution was just fishing the object from the vent. Mr. Rooter dropped the price to $7,500 where it now resides in court from last I heard. Get a second opinion always and ask questions. These companies prey upon people in a bind.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      And this problem couldn’t be solved by a magnet attached to either the snake or camera head? Unless it was plastic nail clippers…

      • Jason says:

        That was actually plan A, but we couldn’t figure a way to attach the magnets to anything stiff. The coathanger only took about 3 minutes of work.

        • BHall says:

          I want to thank you for existing. It is so hard to become an expert at everything right off the bat, neighbors like you are the first line of defense against deceptive contractors. I have hit up everyone I work with and for the most part they are happy to give advice.

  5. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    News at 11: Gullible People Exist, Continue to Stimulate Economy!

    So-called “experts” who give you some friendly advice with a nudge and a wink are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. They stand to benefit the most, and you should never assume that they are working on your behalf. I’m glad the OP acknowledged that he wasn’t really thinking that day.

  6. jsl4980 says:

    When the prices get higher always get second or third opinions. For the initial $300 job I wouldn’t worry too much, but for anything over $2,000 do yourself a favor and get some other opinions and quotes.

  7. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    This is why I only trust Mr. Rooter plumbers to search for ghosts, and not for actual plumbing things and law/insurance advice.

    But seriously, I think if anything is going to cost over 3-4k, you NEED to get a second opinion(and possibly a third), especially before you sign a contract. Also, if they perform a video pipe inspection, ask for a copy of the DVD. Show that to your 2nd opinion guy. Plumbing is one of those tricky systems where fixing something the furthest from the problem can solve it easily, or it can require major excavation.

  8. backinpgh says:

    Plumbers and auto mechanics always want to pull this kind of thing. And once they signed the $10k contract they probably heard the cash machine ringing…any family that apparently has $10k to throw around probably has $25k to throw around right?

    I’m absolutely disgusted. This is a reason I never use those chain type services for things like this. All they are is local franchises getting sales goals/demands from corporate that they meet by taking advantage of as many people as possible. (As far as auto mechanics go, Pep Boys always tries to pull the exact same thing…I went in recently since they were open on Sunday and they tried to scare me into thinking I needed all new brakes and everything else to the tune of $1000. A local mechanic got the needed repairs, totally different ones, for $250).

  9. Skellbasher says:

    Always get quotes from other contractors.

    Roto-rooter quoted me $5500 to replace a damaged section of pipe that was letting roots accumulate. I had already paid them for the snake and camera work, and for the location service to find where the break was. They offered to roll the money I had already paid them into the other work, but only if I did things within two weeks.

    I called around, and hired a local guy to bring in a backhoe to dig up the area where the break was. Replaced the damaged section with PVC (VERY easy to do), and had my city sewer inspectors come out to make sure the work was up to code. They signed off, hole filled back in, done like dinner.

    Total cost? Around $2000, and most of that was the backhoe.

    Never take the first contractors number at face value. Always get second opinions, and select the contractor that you feel most comfortable with.

    • haggis for the soul says:

      Yep. I did the same thing you did. Got a local individual contractor to do the job for 1800 when Roto Rooter wanted 5800 and another company wanted 7800. Roto Rooter has done such shoddy work when I’ve had them out that I’ll never hire them again.

  10. Eat The Rich -They are fat and succulent says:

    You got blued, screwed and tattooed. I would frankly fire them, complain to their head office, refuse to pay them, get a second plumber in there to fix the problem and then sue the crap out of them in small claims court.

    And no, your homeowners insurance wouldn’t pay for damage to the pipe unless an external event caused the issue. And even then it may be excluded. Sorry.

    Finally, never, EVER go with a single bid or opinion on this kind of stuff. Even from a “name” company. ALWAYS get 3 bids. Never submit to a high pressure sales job.

    • Megalomania says:

      You should have consulted for second and third opinions before signing anything, but now it’s time to consult a lawyer. It’s unfortunate you ran into such an unethical contractor (chains usually are; they tend to rely on being known by default unlike the local places that live and die on their reputation) but letting them walk away without a fight is a mistake. Of course, if you’ve signed everything they put in your face, it’s probably too late for that too, but still…

  11. scoosdad says:

    Who has homeowner’s insurance that covers plumbing repairs? I can understand repairs done in the course of rebuilding the home in case of a catastrophe that insurance would cover (fires and the like, pipe breaks causing water damage, etc.), but normal breaks, corrosion, and possible root damage that didn’t impact the integrity of the house?

    The first red flag to me was when they advised signing a contract before contacting their insurance agent. Mr. Rooter knew right then that it wouldn’t be covered no matter how they described the work.

  12. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Also, I think the fact that roots were growing up INTO the house enough to go between the wax seal and the toilet under the floor covering is a sign of a serious problem. The only roots that should be in the bathroom are either from a potted plant or the different colored ones on your or your SO’s head.

  13. Aaron Anderson says:

    This is where we need some consumer protections. This predatory nonsense has got to stop. I’d be getting a lawyer. I’d be willing to bet it’s not the first time this company has been taken to court. Tell them you’ll pay the 300 dollars for the original service that would have fixed it. The rest of the money they’re billing you is due to their own negligence/ignorance/untrained plumbers/scam. Then ask for damages. I bet they’ll settle at a nice number. Take your money and invest it somewhere else.

  14. valkyrievf2x says:

    “They advised us that the work might be covered under our insurance, but that we should sign a contract and begin work before contacting insurance, to prevent the insurance company from sending out their own plumber, who might find we were not covered. They sited [sic] a Texas law which declared we could hire whoever we wanted to handle the work for us. They even coached us on what to avoid saying to the insurance company, like “roots” or “corrosion damage.”

    Maybe it is the way the story is written, but it almost sounds like the homeowners were trying to stick it to the insurance company. The plumbers coached them on what to say. Not saying the homeowners were scamming the insurance company. But it does sound like they wanted to do what they wanted, then have the insurance company pay for whatever ended up happening. As far as the plumbers, I have a feeling they knew the homeowner’s insurance would not cover any of it, so they rushed to sign a contract–thus securing their payday.

    On a less cynical side, it is similar to car repair work. Your car is misfiring, so the dealer replaces the heads, pistons, and distributor. You then have someone else looks at the car and finds the spark plug wire is just cracked. Replaces it and it purrs again. Do you go back to the original dealer and ask for your money back? Your car is now full of a bunch of new parts. Did the house really have all those things that they worked on? Were there really cracked pipes or whatever that the company fixed?

    Agree with everyone else here: should have gotten a couple more estimates.

    • Griking says:

      “Maybe it is the way the story is written, but it almost sounds like the homeowners were trying to stick it to the insurance company. The plumbers coached them on what to say.”

      I read it the same way. Perhaps this was Karma at work?

  15. rpm773 says:

    Of course, everyone knows that the moment you “come into some money”, you tend to also come into some sort of situation that takes that cash right out of your hand.

    At least that’s what seems to happen to me.

    • syzygy says:

      The problem is the “we’ve got a windfall, so we can afford to let our guard down” mentality evidenced by the OP. Not a good idea to think that you can be less careful because you’ve got more cash cushion. I’m glad the OP has learned a lesson, though.

  16. poctob says:

    This may not be true for every municipality, but here in SC, our sanitation company will come out and inspect the line for free. And if they determine that the problem is beyond your property line they will also repair it for free, and they will pay for any damages to your property. Our toilet backed up this past winter and we had to replace flooring on the first floor, carpet, hardwood, base boards to the tune of $10K. Sanitation company found a fault in the sewer line beyond our property and covered every penny.

  17. twinprime says:

    My family has been plumbing in the US since the 1800s and I can tell you that drain clearing chemicals do not rot pipes. The reason some drain lines leak after being treated with chemical solutions is they clear away the grime that was plugging cracks that have developed in the pipes. These chemicals are specifically designed not to harm your pipes and the fact that the Mr. Rooter plumber told you this lie to convince you to use him for the work means you can certainly sue him for the cost of the work and maybe have his license taken away. And don’t feel like you’re ruining his career, my grandfather was an influential advocate of licensing plumbers for this very reason; to keep scumbags from ripping off their clients.

    tl;dr
    the plumber lied to you to get you to agree to do the work.
    you can sue him and he can lose his license.

    also, “Only thing you can do is complain to the BBB.” is very wrong. you have clear legal recourse, but file with the BBB as well

  18. Mr2freak says:

    25k is absolutely insane. I could replumb my entire home including drains, water lines, and pretty fixtures too, for that amount of money.

  19. ColoradoShark says:

    Chemistry lesson:

    Drain-o is a “base” and cannot attack metal and rot it. It cannot attack plastic and rot it. Unless the pipes in the yard are made of something organic like wood, they just made some stuff up about Drain-o rotting the pipes. That is, they lied.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      But if the pipe is cast iron, can’t it encourage/speed up corrosion? Not enough to “eat” through a pipe on it’s own with a few uses, but more than if it wasn’t introduced?

    • Coles_Law says:

      Well, it won’t rot typical plumbing materials (copper, metal, PVC). It can corrode aluminum, for example.

  20. Sian says:

    First warning sign: Pressure to sign the contract and start work immediately.

    Not to say that some of this work didn’t need to be done from the sounds of it, BUT it wasn’t exactly in good faith, so the rooter folks should have to eat any profit they may have gotten from the job.

  21. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I’m not going to say the homeowener isn’t blameless here – they should have done a few things first. But just because you fall into an illegal trap due to your incompetence doesn’t make the illegal trap any less…well, illegal.

    It sounds as if Rooter didn’t do proper due diligence. They didn’t check simple things first, went straight to the complete overhaul option. They pressured them into lying to their insurance, and pressured them into signing a contract right away. All three of those, although I couldn’t tell a specific law, have GOT to be illegal in some way or another. If not, assuredly shady enough to win some damages i court and lower the bill. It puts Rooter in a bad position, too, as media coverage could easily blow this right in their face, illegal or not.

    To the homeowner: Contact the media, because they will eat this up, and could get you a huge reprieve. Possibly without the need for expensive and time-consuming legal action.

  22. floodx says:

    Figure out their at cost $$ – from the description and some assumptions – 2 man crew @ ($15 laborer and $25/hour super before markup – double if rooter pays their employees benefits) + weekly backhoe rental (worst case what $2500) and 40 feet of pipe @ $5 a foot + $300 a piece for a couple rooters and a video scope? So 4 days (8-hours?) for the 2 man crew + materials at cost is somewhere around $6000? 25% profit – so $7500 is reasonable? 10% more for (mis)management of the job if you feel saucy.

    This is of course over simplified – look in detail at their invoice (or request a breakdown) for actually equipment, man-hours, etc but you get the idea – $9500 is probably plenty for a job that didn’t really need to be done in the first place and the contractor was at fault on.

  23. sonneillon says:

    Well if the contract says you owe 9500 dollars flat rate. Then that is what you owe go with that. It’s expensive to dig up the yard and replace a pipe, but 25,000 dollars is ridiculous.

  24. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    I’m sorry – I couldn’t even read this whole thing. I got to the part where Mr. Rooter guys were telling them not to call the insurance company, and “coaching” them on what to say to them if they did. Know your rights, get a second quote, and when you don’t think something’s right (i.e. a quote for $300 with no investigation of the problem outside of staring at your toilet) then say something. Don’t just hand over the PIN to your bank account for crying out loud…

    What the F was this guy thinking, having major work done without getting other quotes? This is insane.

  25. sopmodm14 says:

    you can sign a contract to get things done, but not a contract under duress/stress to get scammed……sue

  26. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    I keep getting postcards (some clear ads, others very deceptive) trying to give me a free camera inspection of my sewer line. I can’t help but think it would be a decent thing to inpsect, but I always have avoided.

    • Jason says:

      We actually hired a company to video our main lines before we purchased our house as part of our home inspection. Was $250 but you never know what you may find when buying a foreclosure.

  27. sopmodm14 says:

    you can sign a contract to get things done, but not a contract under duress/stress to get scammed……sue

    • JMILLER says:

      Duress versus stress are two totally different things. Duress is a gun to your head. Stress is the Girl Scouts coming over. This was signed under stress, NOT duress. There are many things you can do, but stupid decisions come with a price.

  28. italianbaby says:

    talk about being scammed 101
    i would hope that you don’t pay them anything more than the original $300.00.
    let them sue you if need be. a judge will see right thru their shenanigans.
    better yet sue them first.
    after all that, it was a simple fix, and if they (the so called plumbers) knew what they were doing from the first place, you wouldn’t have a $25,000 bill.
    tell them to go F—— themselves.
    classic scam, if i ever smelled one. and it’s smell foul… lol

  29. physics2010 says:

    I always thought most permits were a waste of time and money, but the number one red flag is a contractor telling you you don’t need one. Number two flag is the high pressure sale. The ed fell into a common trap of “well we have the money attitude”. Its always helpful when considering a sale to consider what you would do if you didn’t have the money to spend.

  30. dush says:

    Sounds like it was only one toilet in the whole house backing up. Not even the sink in the same bathroom. The minute they started talking about the main line the workers should have been kicked to the curb.

  31. hmburgers says:

    re: Mr. Rooter and the other “chain” repair or service companies… it’s like inviting Jiffy Lube into your house… they find a 100 things wrong for every 1 thing you actually need.

    You’re much better off getting an individual or a small business for work like this.

    I had a friend who was genuinely surprised when ADT’s “$99 installed” alarm system actually turned out to be nothing but a way to get them into your house and being a pressured up-sell pitch…

  32. JonBoy470 says:

    Sounds like the OP had a number of plumbing issues that Mr. Rooter, in fairness, did effectively, if expensively, address. While it’s discouraging that Mr. Rooter didn’t start by yanking the toilet, the most expedient solution is to uncap the sewer in the basement and go to town on the root of the problem (pun intended). The OP can take solace in the fact that his sewer drain is now probably all set for the rest of his life, or until he sells the house, whichever comes first.

    While Drain-O doesn’t “rot pipes” as such, it can dissolve the crud that formerly sealed the pipe, causing it to leak. Telling the customer “Drain-O rots the pipes” is the most expedient way to descibe this phenomenon to a lay-person. Professionals of all types tell you little white lies like this all the time. The real answer is usually much more complicated, and you really don’t care enough to sit through hearing it, no matter how much you think you do.

    I had always thought well of Mr. Rooter. My mom ran into a similar situation a few years ago, and used Mr. Rooter. Digging up the front yard was the result. Mr. Rooter went to bat with State Farm, and got them to cover the home-owner’s claim (Apparently they had just done a similar job a month prior in the next town over, and that in that case, State Farm had paid out the claim without drama.) They were professional, courteous, and made the process as pleasant as possible under the circumstances.

  33. EcPercy says:

    It’s so easy to pull the toilet out yourself. Home Depot or Lowe’s would have the wax ring your need for maybe $5. If the toilet was bad maybe $150 to get a new one.

    This is a very hard lesson to learn. To be honest. Going with a franchise was probably the worst mistake, but not getting a second opinion was a bad idea.

    $25,000 to fix something that would cost maybe $200 if you did it yourself. It would have been worth checking with a neighbor. Someone you know must be a handyman that would have been willing to help you.

    In the future I would definitely look at a local plumber. Ask your neighbors if they have a plumber they recommend and always get at least two quotes if you aren’t going to do the work yourself.

  34. haggis for the soul says:

    Always, always, always get at least three opinions before embarking on such a huge job. And big plumbing names, in my experience, mean squat. In my case, the big name guys have always given the worst service for the most money. I’m done with them.

    The best way to hire someone to do a job like this is to ask your neighbors and family members who have had similar problems fixed. If nobody has, then get a lot of estimates. This is a very stressful situation, and I think some plumbing companies count on the fact that you’re stressed out and distracted when making decisions.

  35. CarlWilliams says:

    I was having a problem with wet carpet near the vicinity of my dishwasher (on the other side of the wall) I paid $500 for Rooter to come out here and tear out the carpeting and then tell me what I ALREADY KNEW. He said there was nothing he could do and that I would have to just buy a new dishwasher. He even charged me for parking HIS vehicle for the visit. Rooter is just a scam outfit.

  36. Senator says:

    Never trust Mr. Rooter. Never. I had septic tank problems and they offered an elaborate repair for 7+k because they said my system was basically too old to repair. I disagreed and called another local pro with made the repair that passed county inspection for $700.