Sunday, May 21, 2006

Why No AAA for Homeowners?

About a week ago, I found myself in the ridiculously embarrassing predicament of locking my keys in my car -- not once, but on two successive days.

Consequently, for only the second and third times since I had become a member of the American Automobile Association, I called AAA for "roadside assistance" (although my car on both occasions was snugly in my driveway). AAA responded by dispatching Lethal Wrecker -- within an hour the first time, and within 100 minutes the second time. There was no charge for the unlocking of my car, as it is one of the benefits included in my AAA membership fee. The second time also required a battery jump, and that was also provided at no charge.

Yesterday I faced a plumbing emergency: A leak sprung from my hot water heater. (I won't go into the details of how it happened, but it turned into the most expensive "free" lawn-mowing my yard has ever had.)

With water flowing from the hole, I found that I could not turn off the spigot above the heater. Attempts to plug the hole with wine corks turned into comedy, as the water pressure increased and the corks flew 10 feet across my crawl space, with a spurt of water as if Moses tapped the rock with his staff.

I turned to the on-line Yellow Pages for help. I called up four plumbers -- this being about 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday -- and received four very different responses.

One, Virginia Plumbing, did not return my call at all. W. E. Brown called back and, without even surveying the situation, told me point-blank that I would need to buy a new water heater at a cost of $900 to $1,300. (I chose to pay my mortgage instead, and searched on.) Roto-Rooter said they could be here in three hours, and the basic fee would be $200, not including parts or labor.

My savior came in the form of AGS Services of Charlottesville. The plumber who returned my call said he could be at my house in 20 minutes, and the basic fee would be $75. (I called to cancel Roto-Rooter, who helpfully said if the other plumber doesn't turn up, he could still be there in three hours. Thanks, but no thanks.)

In the meantime, I called the City of Charlottesville to have the water turned off. To my surprise, the utilities office answered the phone immediately and a truck arrived within about 15 minutes to do the job.

As it turned out, the AGS Services plumber called back and said he did not have the necessary part for the repair in his truck, but he could pick it up first thing in the morning at Lowe's and be at my place between 9 and 11:00 a.m. I told him that was perfectly acceptable, and he did as he said, finishing the job within about 20 minutes after his arrival.

Last evening, during the calm behind the storm, I sat with my friends, David Brown and Richard Morrison, eating pizza and talking about the day's events.

"Why isn't there a Triple-A for homeowners?," I asked. In more than 6-1/2 years of owning and living in my house, this was the first time I had had to call a plumber. With no experience or knowledge of the market, I had to turn to the Yellow Pages and essentially pick out plumbers at random. I had no time to vet them or learn about their prices and reliability or their quality of workmanship.

David and Richard nodded in agreement with me. Wouldn't it make sense, we mused, for there to be a homeowners' version of AAA? With a large number of members, discounts could be arranged with contractors of all sorts -- plumbers, electricians, glaziers (for that baseball that crashes through a window), tree surgeons, pest exterminators -- who might be needed in an emergency.

This homeowners cooperative -- call it HAG: Homeowners Assistance Group -- could choose the contractors through a thorough vetting process, so that I (and other members) know that whomever is sent to deal with an emergency is trustworthy and economical.

Our conversation moved on to other topics, but the question stayed with me, which is why I am writing about it here.

If there is a homeowners' equivalent of the American Automobile Association, I would like to know. Is there? If there is, I'd like to join.

In the meantime, I would like to thank AGS Services for their prompt, courteous, high-quality, and budget-friendly service.


Vivian J. Paige said...

When I moved nearly 7 years ago, I got one of those homeowner 1 year warranties. I've renewed it every year since and it has been a godsend when things like this come up. The company is American Home Shield and they have their own list of vendors that they use. Well worth the cost and it covers just about everything.

Rick Sincere said...

The plumber from AGS Services replaced the part that had caused the leak, and told me my water heater is good for another four or five years.

David said...

Coupla notes:

1.) Before moving to America's Third World County, we lived in a mid-sized (something over 100,000 pop) city that had at least two businesses that offered maintenance contracts to homeowners for just the kind of problem you ran into. Older homes (have no idea how old yours was) sometimes have problems with home owner warranty programs but can do well with home maintenance contracts with rreputable firms. The problem is finding a reputable firm...

2.) Last weekend, my son and I did "the water heater installation from, well, purgatory, at least. All was well until an ancient part (probably original to the house) refused to budge. Solution was either to cut the offending part off, use a pipe threader to cut threads to install a new joint and go on from there or simply go back to Lowes the next day and buy small parts to bridge the problem. Since I didn't have a thread cutter, we went without water that night and made option 2 work for us.


Having a third world county plumber do the work was... not an option. Seriously. Not. An. Option.

rennratt said...

I have been blessed in this particular area. My friends are married to a plumber, a mechanic and a subcontractor.

All are very willing to give advice on how I can fix things myself (saving money). If I am unable to complete the job, I ask them. If they are unable to do it (time, etc) they recommend someone to me. I realize that this sounds like I am taking advantage, but in all cases, they VOLUNTEERED. I always pay for time and parts.

I would recommend meeting your neighbors - you may have a plumber right next door. The bright side is -you would spend time with them one on one - and find out whether they are trustworthy or not.