Can these repairmen fix a simple water heater leak or will they try to sell us an expensive replacement?
Inside Edition rented a house in Montclair, New Jersey, for an entire month, tricking it out with cameras and then calling the fix-it guys to see what happened. The footage was transmitted in real time to a remote command post.
In Inside Edition's second installment in a special series of investigations, we called in Steve Siara with Anas Plumbing and Heating, John Heine of Heine Plumbing & Water Treatment and president of the New Jersey Association of Plumbing – Heating & Cooling Contractors, and Bill Diamond with William C. Diamond Plumbing & Heating to check out the home's hot water heater. All said that, although it's older, it's in top condition.
“It’s definitely not broken,” said Diamond.
“It’s in great condition,” said Heine.
“This is in perfect working order,” said Siara.
Next, Diamond created a tiny leak water leak by loosening a nut.
"The only water here is coming from this nut," Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero said.
"Just a slight tightening of the wrench and problem solved," Diamond replied.
Inside Edition called a variety of different plumbers to see what they would do. Seven of them quickly discovered the leak and fixed it with a simple turn of their wrench. One of them thought the problem was so simple, he suspected someone was setting him up. Another didn't even charge his service fee because it was such an easy fix.
But not everyone seemed to find the problem immediately. One repairman delivered bad news without even thoroughly examining the water heater.
"It's broken for sure. Cracked for sure," he said.
"Couldn't it just be a leak from somewhere else?" asked Guerrero.
"No, usually it'll crack from the top, it'll crack from the side, it'll crack from the bottom," he answered.
The price for a brand-new water heater? "Somewhere around $1,500," the repairman said.
Guerrero then showed him the quick fix.
"See this wrench, all you have to do is tighten this and the water stops. Isn't that amazing? Isn't that what you should have done to begin with?" she said.
"I mean I really didn't want to fidget with anything, c'mon," he replied.
Siara said he believes that's a lame excuse. "His goal today was to sell a hot water heater and that's unfortunate," he said.
The repairman later told Inside Edition he was a new technician and made a mistake.
Another plumber was also quick to hand out bad news.
"Honestly you need a new water heater," he said.
"You could tell that already?" asked Guerrero.
"Yeah," he said, adding the heater is "definitely, 100%" broken and estimating that the cost of a new one is about $1,700 all told.
But back in the control room, the repairman had no idea Inside Edition was watching as he appeared to fix the leak. Nonetheless, he continued to claim the home needed a new hot water heater.
Guerrero then revealed who she was and showed the repairman the fix, but he insisted it was still broken.
"In my professional opinion, it needs to be replaced," he said.
Diamond strongly disagreed with that plumber's assessment. "It's absolutely 100% wrong because that's not the case," he said.
Here's how you can protect yourself when it comes to home repairs:
• Check if the contractor is licensed and/or a member of a recognized association that requires certain education and professional standards.
• Check to see if they are listed on the BBB to see what their rating is.
• Get multiple opinions and estimates.
• Ask about any service fees prior to scheduling an appointment.
• Do not pay upfront, prior to the job being completed.
• Make sure they accept credit card or check. Don’t accept cash-only deals.
• Get everything in writing.
• Avoid those who don’t dress or act professionally.
• Avoid contractors who pressure you to make a quick decision.
• Avoid door-to-door repairmen or those who solicit you.
• Look into their online reviews.
• Remember - you get what you pay for. Coupon deals that seem too good to be true usually are.
• Avoid companies with unmarked vehicles. Make sure the contractor you contact is able to tell you the official name of their business.
• Discuss the work you’re looking for before the contractor begins the job. Make sure they know not to proceed with any repairs before discussing the price with you.
• Don’t leave valuables out in plain sight.
• Make sure someone is home during any work that’s being done.