We base our posts on the questions our customers ask most often, and we are often asked about the best time to buy an air conditioner. Those of you who have read our articles before, know that All Systems Mechanical is a small, U.S. Veteran-Owned air conditioning and heating company in Southern California, and we pride ourselves on giving people straight, honest answers to their questions. Of course, the standard answer is that the winter is the best time to buy an air conditioner. And while it is true that some companies offer large discounts in the winter to generate more business, typically this is not the case. In this article, we will discuss the true best time to buy an air conditioner, how to choose the right company, and finally, I will teach you how to negotiate your price with an HVAC contractor, making any time, the best time to buy an air conditioner.
The Best Time to Buy an Air Conditioner is Off Season.
Why Winter is Not the Best Time to Buy an Air Conditioner.
When researching the best time of year to buy an air conditioner, article after article will tell you, “buy in the winter…that’s the best time to buy an air conditioner!” Here’s an example of such advice from Frugal Living (honestly…this is not meant to pick on them): Best Time to Buy an Air Conditioner. This is, in my humble opinion, poor advice. Sure, it’s true in some sense – in that it isn’t typically as busy as the summer – but it’s not really true if you are trying to get the best deal on your air conditioner.
Keep in mind, most of these articles are written by people who are not in the HVAC industry, and should be taken with a grain of salt. Let’s take a quick look at why that might not be true.
In the winter, a legitimate air conditioning and heating company will be almost as busy as they are in the summer, only this time, the market will be primarily driven by furnaces instead of air conditioners; even in Southern California. And, if I am out there replacing your furnace, why not just package the deal and have us do the air conditioner at the same time while we are out there? It is significantly cheaper to do both your furnace and air conditioner at the same time. So in actuality, unless we did something wrong with our marketing strategy, we are busy installing air conditioners in the winter too. Therefore, winter is not the best time to buy an air conditioner. So, summer is out, and now the winter is too…let’s talk about the HVAC industry’s actual off season.
The Best Time to Buy an Air Conditioner is in the Off Season, Not the Winter.
The real key to getting the best price for your air conditioner, just as with any market (i.e. the stock market, the new Los Angeles housing bubble, etc.), is to work opposite of the market. You should be buying your air conditioner in the off season:
- The best time of year to buy an air conditioner is in the off season, which, in the HVAC industry, is the time between winter and summer – aka, spring and fall.
In the spring and fall, the weather is beautiful! It’s not too hot, and it’s not too cold – great for outdoor activities, and bad for the HVAC industry. Why? Think about it – if the weather is beautiful, do you run your air conditioner or furnace? Of course not! Why would you? And how can you know that something is broken if you never even turn it on? But the off season is exactly when you want to start shopping for your new AC system. So, the best time to buy an air conditioner is in the spring or fall to gain the most leverage. What’s leverage? Funny you should ask…we’ll talk about that a bit later.
Which HVAC Contractor to Choose, and What to Ask.
Who to Buy an Air Conditioner From.
More important than the best time to buy an air conditioner, is figuring out who will do the work. Spending a great deal of time talking about who to buy your air conditioner from is outside the scope of this article, but it is important to note before we get into the negotiation section. There are some very important things that you will want to educate yourself on prior to buying a new air conditioner, one of which is how to choose your HVAC contractor. Remember this; I say it all the time:
- Who you have install your air conditioner is more important than any other question you will ask on this project.
I know that your are looking for the best time to buy an air conditioner. And if you are reading this, then you are obviously looking for the best possible deal, and that’s fine. I get it, and before you even think it…no, this is not a shameless plug for ASM-air – use someone else; I don’t care, but please pay attention…as a word of advice, mechanical contractors (aka air conditioning contractors) are not something that you want to skimp on. This isn’t a coat of paint, it is a mechanical engine that needs to be installed and tuned properly. Negotiate a good price, sure, but the cheapest bidder is never the best answer. I’m just saying…I’ve seen it far more often than I’d like to, and the consequences are ugly.
To give you a reference, about 25-30% of our residential business comes from customers that went with the cheaper bidder; the AC system was installed completely wrong, and now they have to pay us $3,000 – $4,000 to uninstall and reinstall EVERYTHING. Just do your research and go with a good contractor with a solid reputation. Trust me.
Do it right. Here is an article that will help: How to Choose an HVAC Contractor.
What Questions to Ask When Buying an Air Conditioner.
We are getting closer to our tips for negotiating the best possible price, and you already know the best time to shop for an air conditioner. We have discussed the best time to buy an air conditioner, but now it is important to discuss what type of things you will want to read up on.
Now, there are things that you want to read up on, and there are some things that are just too much for a customer to be involved in. Do you ask your surgeon which type of scalpel he is going to use? No, of course not. There is a point at which you just need to trust your contractor. Remember, that’s why we spent our time doing research on the best contractors and didn’t go with a cheap one! You get what you pay for…
Now, here are some things that you do want to be educated on, so you can give your HVAC contractor a better idea of what you are looking for:
- What size air conditioner is right for my house?
- Which brand air conditioner should I choose? Top 10 Air Conditioning Brands.
- Air conditioning installation cost.
- Special features you’d like, such as a zoning system.
- Does anyone in your house have asthma or a compromised immune system? Also see: Your AC Can Help – How to reduce asthma symptoms.
Make Anytime, the Best Time to Buy an Air Conditioner – How to Negotiate a Better Price on Your Air Conditioner.
I know that this article is about the best time to buy an air conditioner, but let’s be honest…that’s debatable. I would argue, that the question you are really asking is, “how do I get the best price on my air conditioner?” That’s what we will discuss in this section – how to make any time, the best time to buy and air conditioner. Simply put, to get the best price, you will need to conduct a successful negotiation.
I always thought of myself as a poor negotiator because I was too honest. After all, I spent 11 years as a Naval Aviator – what is there to negotiate? We’re going in…whether you like it or not!
It wasn’t until I took my negotiation course at The Wharton School that I finally realized my true potential. Mainly, I realized that there were a few misconceptions that I had about successful negotiations. So, let’s take a look at the cornerstones of a successful negotiation:
- A successful negotiation is one in which both sides walk away happy. The idea that you will just get everything that you want without giving the other side anything is a fallacy. That’s how you piss people off…do you really want an angry contractor installing your air conditioner?
- Honesty is not a disadvantage, it’s an advantage. Real negotiations are based on trust, and trust stems from honesty.
- Negotiating is not confrontation. In fact, the best negotiators in the world are friendly, affable, and even enjoyable to do business with.
- EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE. Period. “But Tim, what about th…” “No, that’s negotiable too (interrupting voice).”
The Power of Leverage
So, we can all agree…more important than the best time to buy an air conditioner, is how to get the best price. Let’s talk negotiation – all negotiations are based on leverage. In it’s simplest definition, leverage is defined as such:
- The person who is more willing to walk away from the negotiation, has the most leverage.
So, you never, ever want to put yourself into a situation where you HAVE to do business with someone. That’s why the best time to buy an air conditioner is off season. If you read my sections above about off-season buying, you might have realized that what I was doing, was showing you how to put yourself in a position where you have the most leverage you possibly can. Unfortunately, many of the dishonest contractors instinctively know this, so they push you to sign the contract on the spot, before you think about it. But, if you sit back and think about it, who has the most leverage when you are buying a new air conditioner?
- You don’t need a new air conditioner, you’d like one. The HVAC contractor needs business to stay afloat.
- You don’t need to use this contractor, there are others. He wants you to use him.
In the world of air conditioning, you – the buyer – have all of the leverage, and therefore, will likely win the negotiation. The contractor can only take leverage from you if you let them take it.
How to Use Your Leverage to Reduce the Air Conditioning Installation Price.
First, a note: please don’t call and try these moves on me. Remember, we are the ones that taught you the best time to buy an air conditioner! Second, let’s take a look at how to use your leverage and make anytime, the best time to buy an air conditioner:
1. Unless you trust the contractor, always mention that you are taking bids from multiple contractors, and you would like their best price. Tip: if a contractor asks if you are taking other bids, the answer is always, “yes,” because you should be. Unless he is honest, what he is really asking is: “Am I giving you my marked up price, or my competitive price?”
2. It never hurts to ask. All they can say is, “No.” So ask, “Is that the best you can do?” You’d be surprised how often that will lead to a discount, especially if you are negotiating during the best time of year to buy an air conditioner – the Spring or Fall.
3. Never sign “on-the-spot,” unless you are absolutely sure that this is the contractor for you. Many contractors, unfortunately, use high pressure tactics to get you to sign up with them, just like car salesmen. They will tell you, “right now is the best tie to buy an air conditioner!” But, the answer is always, “Let me think about it.” There is no magical, one-time-only sale that will disappear unless you sign today, and no, they are not that busy. Think about it – if they were really that busy, would they need to be high pressure?
At ASM, we typically have a one-week waiting list in the off season, and two or three weeks in the summer – we don’t need to be high pressure because we always have business. Why do we always have business? I’d like to think it’s because I’m so good looking, but in reality, it’s probably because honest contractors are rare in our area. Sad but true. Regardless, the moral of the story – the real contractors won’t be high pressure, so don’t succumb to high-pressure tactics!
4. Always tell the truth…slowly. Just as in poker, don’t tip your hand. For instance, we typically don’t negotiate our prices because we make it our business practice to give a competitive price to start with, but would we include a thermostat for free? Possibly…it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Let’s look at an example of how we could apply what we’ve learned to decrease our installation price. In this case, let’s say you don’t need a new thermostat because you have one that you like. Here’s how the negotiation might go, first from an amateur standpoint, then from a pro negotiator:
- You – “I don’t need a new thermostat, will that discount my price?”
- Contractor – “Well, we wrote our quote for a basic thermostat, it’s about $60 off, why don’t you just install a new one for $60?”
- You – …awkward silence…
- You – “I like the thermostat you included; is it expensive? In other words, how much would it cost to have it installed separately later on?”
- Contractor – “Yea, they are fantastic. They typically cost around $250 for us to install them by themselves, but we are including it for free in your bid today! Sign now!!!”
- You – “I do like it, but I think I’m ok with the thermostat that I have. Since we don’t need a new thermostat, would you mind deducting $250 from the final price?”
- Contractor – “Uhm…well…uh, (scratch head, avert eyes), yea, I guess…”
Notice, in the first example, you tipped your hand and told them that you didn’t need the new thermostat, so they reacted appropriately for their end game. In the second negotiation, however, you asked them for the price of that component before tipping your hand, and gave yourself an advantage in the negotiation, aka leverage.
Thinking about thermostats now? Try: Nest vs Lyric Thermostat Review
- If the contractor comes down a lot in his price, this may sound fantastic, but it’s not. Reconsider using them…if they came down that much, then they were overcharging you to begin with – not an honest trait – choose someone else.
- Use a contractor that installs all major makes and models of air conditioners, not just one (i.e. “your local Lennox Dealer,” etc…). People who push one brand typically have lines for everything, and it is in their best interest to press their product on you, not the best product for your home.
- In a negotiation, you can tell when they are getting closer to their bottom-line price when the increments in which they are decreasing their price drop way down (i.e. price reduced by $400, then by another $400, then by $50…the negotiation is over – that’s their best price).
Final Words on the Best Time to Buy an Air Conditioner.
You could spend months discussing different negotiation techniques, and driving yourself crazy. If I were going to narrow it down to three pieces of advice, it would be this:
- Do 75% of your research on the contractors themselves, not the best time to buy an air conditioner – who do you trust, and who has good reviews? (Avoid Yelp…edited reviews)
- Don’t go with the cheapest contractor – they are cheaper for a reason – you get what you pay for when it comes to the installation of mechanical systems.
- The best time to buy an air conditioner is in the spring or fall, but an honest contractor should have comparable prices on or off-season. Spring and fall are considered “off-season” for HVAC contractors, though, so it will give you more leverage.
Don’t drive yourself crazy. If you do your research on finding the honest contractors, you won’t have to worry so much about the best time to buy an air conditioner – you’ll get a fair price either way. And don’t listen to people who tell you that the quality of workmanship will increase off season either (presumably because they aren’t rushing as much). They should be guaranteeing their installations no matter what the season is…period. I wouldn’t want someone who is going to rush in any circumstance – it is very easy to make a mistake in air conditioning, and you don’t want to foot the bill! I hope this helped, please leave us feedback, and if you live in Southern California, then you might be in our service area – click below to find out – we’d love to hear from you: