Friday, October 26, 2007

Locked Out; Locked In

The other day, K and I got locked out of our apartment. We were in no mood to be locked out of our apartment, and it was late. We called a 24-hour locksmith.

They said they'd charge us $55 plus labor, and that they'd have someone at our place in forty-five minutes or so. K, broke, looked dismayed. I said I'd cover it out of my emergency fund.

Then, less than ten minutes later, we got the door open. We called immediately to cancel.

A few minutes later, we got a call. From the "cancellations department." The guy said he wanted to charge us a $55 cancellation fee, but he'd work with us, and bring it down to $35. We certainly had not been told that there would be a cancellation fee; then again, we didn't expect to be canceling. I asked where the locksmith was coming from. It was less than two miles from my apartment. "So, the idea is that he walked ten blocks, and I'm going to pay you $35?" The response? "He's in a van." Ridiculous. But they had dispatched a guy, and I was really relieved to be inside my house. I said I'd give them twenty bucks. "Look, I'm trying to work with you, here," the guy said, before counteroffering: "Twenty-five."

I took it.

Afterwards, I had the overwhelming feeling that I'd just been ripped off, and a fear that I'd given my debit card number to a conman. So far, though, only the one legit(...ish) $25 charge has turned up on my bill. And I suppose they probably had to pay the guy they dispatched something for his time. But presumably, his hourly rate isn't $220 (15 minutes=$55). I could just have refused to give a card number, I guess, but then again, a locksmith to whom you just gave your address is not exactly the guy to piss off.

So, was this fair? What should I have done? Just refused to give my card number at all? I definitely could have done a better negotiation job, but as a chronic negotiation-phobic, I'm a teensy, weensy bit psyched that I didn't just go, "oh...okay."


emily said...

Well, baby steps. If you did better than you normally might have, that's great. Just learn your lessons about what you could have done better and be even better next time. :)

Anonymous said...

There was nothing in the verbal contract about cancellation. But it may be understood, as least in court, about cancellation fees. Tow truck companies have similar fee arrangements, I think. If the tow truck is there, ready to get your car, and you show up, you still have to pay. Same thing if the parking police have already started writing up the parking ticket. If you did call, and they have dispatched someone, then you are responsible for something.

VixenOnABudget said...

Not to be a wench, but I concur with anonymous. You had called and the guy was already on his way. He has to be reimbursed. Not to mention the dispatcher getting paid for their time as well.

mapgirl said...

As far as being on foot or in a van, some of those mobile services will cut you an extra spare key on the spot. If they damage your lock while unlocking it, they have spare parts and can put them on for free. I had a guy do this when he bent the hell out of the plate that fits on the door jamb.

So you were right to be charged a cancellation fee, but you were also right to try to negotiate him down.

Anonymous said...

This summer, I screwed up the lock on the automatic pool cover at a house I was housesitting. The locksmith came, saw it was a pretty expensive house, and started telling me about how he was going to have to dismantle the system (to the tune of at least $200) and get into the house to turn off the circuit breaker. He then asked me what the owners do for a living and when they'd be back. I was freaked out. I told him to leave, and he refused unless I paid $40. I argued for about 5 seconds until, being a kind-of-small 26-year-old female alone with a much larger man in an area where few would hear me scream, I paid. Not all locksmiths are super-creep-tastic, but in situations like mine and perhaps yours, what you're buying is piece of mind. Consider yourself to have gotten that piece on sale.

Anonymous said...

Use your credit card, not debit card! It's one thing to have funny charges on your credit card, but on your debit card...

Anonymous said...

I think you handled it really well by negotiating him down more than 50%! The one thing to do differently next time is given him a credit card, not a debit card. You could pay the credit card charge out of your emergency fund if it looked OK to you, or disputed the charge with the credit card company if they tried to overcharge you.

Lucky for you, they only charged the agreed $25. Banks do not have to reimburse you for overcharges made on debit cards.

Chris Douglass said...

Perhaps there is a point to be had in that the man must be reimbursed for being dispatched, but I don't really think it has a lot of merit. It's merely precedent.

Personally, I think it must be nice to work in a field where your work is guaranteed, after a fashion. That said, I'm pretty sure I would have told him to stuff it. :-)

Little Miss Moneybags said...

Did you consider calling the locksmith's office today and asking them what their standard policy is? You can be nice about it, just say that you weren't aware that there was a cancellation fee and it would have been nice if they'd informed you. If you get a "Oh, we never charge a cancellation fee" then start a major complaint.

Otherwise, I think you did the right thing. The guy was dispatched, you gave him something for his time ($25 for 15 minutes and no actual work is not bad at all), and you negotiated them down more than 50%. An expensive lesson, but we all have those.

Do you plan to make a copy of your key to leave with a trusted friend/safe hiding place/extra in your bag or someplace now? My roommate's dad has keys to our place; I learned my lesson after having to pay a locksmith $50 to jimmy my door with some tinfoil.

sandy said...

I'm sorry to tell you but you got ripped off. There is no such thing as a cancellation fee for locksmith or roadside assistance services. I should know, I worked for several roadside assistance services. I would try and get a refund if I were you.

beth said...

My dad used to work on-call as the software engineer for a computer company. He used to have to travel on business. He'd be a little bit annoyed if his company told him to go to {another state}, but on his flight there the customer called and said, "Nevermind. We forgot to plug the computer in" and wouldn't reimburse his time/flight.

So, it's not that the locksmith did anything, but rather that you called for his service.

On the other hand, I agree with negotiating the cancellation fee. (And service companies often have those fees--it saves every Tom, Dick, and Jane from calling for every little thing, and calling back in five minutes and canceling. If they know they're going to have to pay a cancelation fee, they might try to solve the problem themselves.)

living off dividends said...

$25 for piece of mind is acceptable.

Esme said...

I locked myself out in my PJ's once and called a locksmith from my neighbour's. Since I don't have my wallet I didn't give them any credit or debit information.

If I did I would probably have done what you did. Kudos on negotiating on the cancellation fee. You are right, I wouldn't want to piss off a locksmith who knows where I live.

Lana said...

Let's say the locksmith had another appointment lined up, and you paid him $25 for you to cancel. Then he picks up and heads over to another house across town where he makes another $55 in the same time he would've been fixing your lock. Does it change your idea of what was worth it if we assume he had other work to do? In that instance, you're basically paying him to change direction.

We feel bad for him under the assumption that he must've just turned around and gone back to his lonely little shop where he wasn't turning a profit. Bunk. I wouldn't have paid. No service, no fee. It's not like he was even counting on that appointment for more than ten minutes, so he couldn't have been too put out.

GG said...

EM: I was looking at your blog tonight, reflecting on how quickly you're making progress on your funds at right. Then I all-of-a-sudden wondered: what is an emergency fund?

I mean, I get what the money's for and why it's being put away. But where are you putting it?

An ING? A savings account? Something else?

I feel so dumb to be asking this now and tried to find an answer in our archives. Help!?

Keith said...

Very often we find out about our mistakes only after we did them, but at least we won't do them twice and can share our experience with other people. But I think locksmith company could give information about cancellation fees near the place where they place their contacts. Because i didn't hear that all of them take cancellation fees.

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