There are many ways to lower the cost of an inground swimming pool. You can go with smaller dimensions. You can use cheaper materials. You can do some of the work yourself. Then there’s the obvious: You can negotiate a lower price with the pool builder.
Or can you?
The question posed in the title of this article is a contentious one, and unfortunately, it doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. The truth is, you can always try to negotiate a lower price for your pool project, the same way you an try to negotiate over any other sort of custom home improvement project. Whether the pool builder is willing to play ball is another question, and it depends on a few factors.
When You Should Negotiate
Different pool companies have different approaches to the bidding process. However, it’s safe to say that a builder will only negotiate if they need the business and can still make a fair profit at a lower price. Here are four things that would be great to know before deciding to haggle over a pool bid.
Builder Reputation. More established pool builders often have all the business they can handle, and are therefore less likely to accept a lowball offer. Prominent builders are also protective of their reputations, and may not be willing to compromise on project quality to get the price lower. You can usually get a sense of the builder’s reputation by doing some basic research and checking their references.
Bidding Tactics. Regardless of reputation, a pool builder may submit a highball bid with the expectation that the final price will be negotiated lower. This is the scenario that tends to bother prospective pool owners the most, because no one wants to be the sucker who says yes to a purposely inflated quote.
The Market in Your Area. If the demand for pools in your area is high, you’ll likely have a tougher time getting a builder to come down on the price. Other market factors include the cost of labor and materials, which limit how low a builder can go while still making money on your project.
Timing. This is basically the same point as above, with the dimension of time added in. In general, you’ll have better luck negotiating at a time of year when business is slow.
So, how are you supposed to get all this information? Well, you could quiz other pool owners in your area about their experiences. However, there’s a simpler way to protect yourself from overpaying for an inground pool.
The Three Bids Rule
Yep, you guessed it. The cure for those nagging pool-haggling doubts is to get multiple bids on your pool project.
While three bids is the rule of thumb, the BBB and others recommend at least three. The more bids you get, the better your chances of convincing your preferred builder to come down on the price. That’s because builders who might resist negotiating in a vacuum are often more receptive to a counter-offer that’s presented as a “price match.”
The key is to get an apples-to-apples comparison between bids. That means asking each pool builder for an itemized bid on the same pool design (or at least one that’s very similar). Bids are bound to differ in many details, but if you can make a case for a lower price based on a side-by-side comparison, you’re more likely to be successful.
Of course, it’s always possible that the builder you like the most comes back with the lowest bid. This is where the old saying “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” applies. Accept the offer, and be glad that you don’t have to wonder whether you could have done better.
The Downside of Haggling
While you can potentially save thousands by negotiating over the price of a pool, there are also risks involved. For one, you could overplay your hand and offend the pool builder that you really want to hire. That could leave you swallowing your pride and accepting the initial bid, or going with your second choice.
You might have even more trouble if your lowball offer is accepted. A builder could try to cut costs by choosing inferior materials or hiring sketchy subcontractors. Or they could drag things out by making your project a lower priority on their schedule. Unlike the more familiar case where you’re negotiating over a new car, you can never be sure you’re getting the same quality product when you haggle aggressively over the price of a pool.
Put it all together, and it’s clear that the smart approach is to be honest with the pool companies that bid on your project. Tell them that you expect their best offer (in an easy-to-understand, itemized format), and that you’ll be comparing it against other pool builders in the area. If a builder’s offer seems high, you can always ask for a lower price – just make sure you have a fallback plan in case they say no.