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.