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January 16, 2010

Choosing not to ask

Today I had two opportunities ripe for asking.

I passed them up.

I wasn't sacred or lazy, but I decided it was better not to. Read on, as I am curious to hear your opinion: Was I right? Should I have pushed those prices down, after all? When do you think it's better not to ask?

Here's the first situation:

After an ongoing battle with my bathtub drain, I caved and, once again, called a pro. He is my mom's contractor and an all around stellar person. I've know his family for years.

He charged $100 for a major unclogging job, which involved replacing fixtures, bringing out three snakes and fishing out a hairball that would make any cat tremble in terror.

I totally could have asked for a break. He's a friendly guy and a good business man. But I figured that so many people overcharge. The first plumber quoted me $187 for the simplest kind of procedure, and who knows how much this more complicated one would have cost. The plumber I ended up hiring for the first attempt, back in December, charged $50 and didn't solve anything. Now here was someone who got the job done. He took his time, he was thorough and determined, gave me advice for avoiding future clogs and charged what I believe to be a fair price, based on the two above cited rates.

Why not vote with my wallet, give him a signal I appreciate his fairness, by not asking him to reduce that price?

Now that I'm not asking absolutely daily anymore, I have the latitude to choose. And I'm liking it.

In fact, an hour later I did it again.

I drove to someone's house to pick up a set of drawers we desperately need in the bedroom. I've been looking for a while, but nothing was the right size, price or look. This one had it all. I spotted it on Craigslist the day before: antique, four drawers, a beautiful warm color, for $40.

I showed up, tested the drawers, asked about its history (it was the seller's as a boy, so it's at least 40, he said), and I said I'll take it.

"You said $40?" I checked.

"That's right," the man answered.

"Ok. I won't even try to haggle. I'm saying this because I always ask for discounts. I think you're the first person in years I haven't tried to negotiate with, on Craigslist. But I love it, it's exactly what I was looking for, the price is good, and it's just simpler that way."


Then things got a little tricky.

I started loading it in my car when it became clear it wasn't going to fit.

"Don't worry, I can play around with the seats or maybe stuff it in the trunk."

"Where do you live?" he asked.

I told him the neighborhood.

"You know what? I'll just load it into my truck and take it."

"What? No! That's not part of the deal." I offered to pay him more or still try to make it fit, and he answered he was eager to get rid of it and that was that. His wife was coming home in 20 minutes and they had to take off, so how about we left now so he could be back in time?

Yes, reader. He ended up packing it into his truck and making the half-hour round trip to leave it at my house. If you recall, something similar happened this summer, when I bought a massive bed frame and discovered it didn't fit inside my car. I didn't enter either situation hoping or expecting such help. Yet people stepped up.

Did this happen because I didn't negotiate and seemed generally stoked to buy the furniture he'd once loved but finally outgrew? Was it because I was a woman handling heavy lifting on her own? A combination?

I gave him a bottle of wine to say thanks.

This brings me back to a wistful thought I keep having: how nice it is when we don't have to ask, demand, threaten or implore. If salaries were even, if airlines didn't leave people trapped on runways, if prices and fees were reasonable, if people met their ends of bargains and didn't leave others hanging, if fees weren't levied for absurd reasons, if politicians were forthcoming and people were considerate and steaks were always cooked right and the like. Today I got a small taste of that. A day that ran smoothly without asking.

What a treat.
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