I'll use this story of a homeowner's journey to buying a new HVAC system. The O.P.E. Method - "Other People's Experience" - I'll provide commentary where necessary.
Here's the story in their words:
Our home is 22 years-old, a relatively young age for a house, but not so for a furnace and air conditioner. For years now we've had our furnace checked before the winter season and we've been told "it has one or two years left in it." This year, when the AC was checked, we were told it had a few (minor) issues and that the furnace "has something major wrong with it -- I wouldn't ever start it again." Whether or not it was in this bad of shape, we knew that the time to replace it was not that far off. And since the federal government is offering a $1,500 tax credit when a new furnace is purchased (with certain requirements, of course), we figured that this was the year to replace the unit and the AC as well.
My comments: I congratulate them on doing some pre-planning to make the purchase. Too many wait until it fails at an inconvenient time. If we had "checked your furnace for years" I am very confident we would've earned your trust to simplify your purchase.
If You Don't Have A Relationship With A Trusted HVAC Contractor
The story continues:
The Quoting Process:
"They all said that our current system was way too big for our home (162,000 BTUs). No wonder it sounded like an airplane was taking off every time it started up. :-)
They all recommended relatively the same furnace/AC set-up (95% efficient heater, 13-SEER AC, 100,000 BTUs -- heating is what's most important up here in winter country).
The first guy was a very slick marketer and was all schmoozy with us (at least I thought so, I'm sure my wife thought he was nice -- she's always seeing the good side of people). Anyway, his price was way over the top -- around $9,000 before the government tax credit. He also quoted $192 for annual check-ups.
The second guy seemed very informative and business-like. His pitch was different in that he would repair ANYTHING on the unit for ANY reason for 10 years if we committed to two annual check-ups totaling $278 (the others simply had basic manufacturer's warranties). His price for the units were $7,500 before the tax credit.
The third guy was the only one I wasn't there for. My wife really liked him because he would 1) talk to her in plain language and 2) tell us if we really didn't need this or that. His price was $7,400 before the tax credit and he had annual check-up costs of $135."
Give Us a "Firm Estimate".
"So my wife set up an appointment and he came out to our house, made some more measurements, and counted the registers in our home. Then he left and we didn't hear anything back from him for two weeks. We finally called him and he said he'd lost our number. Yeah, right. Then he gave us his revised/firm cost and it was $8,700! Yikes! It was $1,200 more than what his original bid was (and notice how it was similar to the amount we'd gotten him to come down on the annual fee over 10 years?) With this sort of change, we decided to re-look at our options.
We thought that maybe we'd misunderstood and that everyone had given an estimate rather than a firm number. So we called company #3 and asked if the $7,400 was a firm cost or an estimate. We were told it was a firm cost. But their number didn't have a whole-house humidifier in it, so we got that added in and their new number came up to $7,932 before the tax credit -- $800 (or over 10%) cheaper than the next closest competitor. So we decided to go with this company. Even if the guy we'd originally selected had come down in price (we didn't ask), we felt like we couldn't trust him anymore, so we decided to move on."
"We told the new company that we wanted to go with them but would like three references from them. They provided the names of current customers and my wife called and checked with them. Of course they gave rave reviews (we wouldn't have expected anything different), but with $8k on the line, we didn't want to leave any stone unturned. (FYI, this company also received the strongest positive recommendations from our friends, so we had good confidence in them already.) With this done, we decided to proceed with this company."
Two guys came out and installed the furnace and AC over a two-day period. I was only there for a bit of that time (stopped home for lunch with the family and to see how things were going), but my wife reported that it was mostly smooth sailing (their work did uncover an unrelated house issue that we'll need to look at, but nothing major -- I think.)
When I arrived home on Tuesday night, the system was up and running. I programmed the thermostat to be at the temps we needed when we are/aren't at home (it was a very simple exercise.) The system is soooooooo quiet -- we can't even hear it when it's on (very nice, indeed.)
My Comments: Avoid all of this time consumption and deliberation in your buying decision when you establish a relationship with a credible HVAC contractor. Hopefully, you choose us!