If you unexpectedly got a bill for $26,000, would you be able to pay it? Me neither. But that’s exactly the situation I found myself in recently.

The Often Massive Cost of Home Repairs

We were working with an engineer to wrap up the final repairs on our home before selling it — a full two years after moving out of the home! On his final visit to verify that all the repairs had been completed properly, he noticed something odd. He checked the leach field (the area that the septic tank drains into) and saw that it wasn’t draining properly. It was full of water, when normally it should be mostly dry and empty. It was a big problem, and it had to be fixed.

We panicked. We were three days from closing on the home. There was no chance that any repair would be done in that amount of time. Nevertheless, we called up a local contractor, sent over the report from the engineer, and asked for an estimate of how much it would cost to fix.

Someone called back the next day with the estimate: $26,000. They wanted to replace the entire septic system with a brand-new, state-of-the-art, aboveground system specially designed for the kinds of difficult soils that our home was built on. We just about had a heart attack.

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In a panic, we called up another company for a second bid. This time, the company consulted personally with the engineer. Then they decided that digging a draining ditch to the side of the leach field would fix the problem just fine. They could do the work — and some extra improvements to the property — for just $1,830.

By taking the time to seek out a second opinion, we saved $24,170.

Unfortunately for us, the buyer decided not to wait for the repair. He rescinded his offer on the home. But now that the home will have 100 percent of the repair work completed, we’re hoping another buyer will come along soon.

Should You Get a Second Opinion?

The whole reason we moved out of the home was so that my husband could attend school in another state to study construction management. In his program, he’s learned that it’s standard practice to seek out three or more bids for each major job. It’s one of the many ways that companies use to control costs in new construction projects.

It’s a handy rule of thumb that even homeowners can use, but it’s especially helpful if the repair is large. In our case, $26,000 was the largest repair bill we’ve ever faced. So, of course, it was worth getting a second opinion. Even for small repairs, it would probably be worth the time to call around and check.

Be careful, though. Some companies charge to come out and physically inspect the repair work to be done, and they’ll charge you for estimates.

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If that’s the case, it’s probably best to wait until you have a very large repair to be completed. The amount of money you could save could be well worth the estimate fee.

Another good reason to seek out a second opinion is if you don’t trust the company, or haven’t worked it them before. We’re not really sure why the first company thought it was necessary to put in a whole new septic system. We didn’t need it at all. Looking at it from their perspective, though, they could have made a huge amount of money.

Although we saved a ton of money in this case by getting a second opinion, part of me wonders how much we might have lost by not getting a second opinion over the past two years. Since moving out of this home, we’ve spent about $30,000 in home repairs. But I try not to think about it too much, as that would seriously disturb my sleep pattern.