As cold weather begins to set in Romania, itinerant chimney sweeps begin to make their rounds. They’ll come to the gate and offer to clean your chimneys, or they’ll use lines like “We’re here from our head office, we’ve been sent down to check and clean your chimneys,” which of course is a bold-faced lie. Chimney sweeps mostly work alone, they have no companies, and no headquarters. It’s been that way for centuries. Sometimes, as an added bonus, they’ll reek of cheap wine. And almost always, they’ll be of Roma (gipsy) origin.
The keyword when using their services is CAUTION. If you don’t exercise caution, you do so at risk to your wallet and some of your smaller and perhaps valuable belongings. I’m not stereotyping here, I’m summarizing popular wisdom. I’ve met honest, hard-working gipsies, but they are few and far between.
If you ask them what it costs to clean a chimney, they’ll give you a quick look-over (if they haven’t already), and since they’ve already checked your house from the outside, they’ll quote a price that’s in line with your neighborhood, your house and your clothes.
If you say okay and bring them into your attic to start cleaning, you’ve got to be very careful, because they’ll often double their prices. They’ll say, and I speak from personal experience here, that your chimney is too tall, and they’ll need to charge double. At this point you have two choices: pay the extra money, or begin to escort them to your gate so you can kick them off your property. You should ALWAYS choose the second option.
What’ll happen next is they’ll back down and try to haggle a new price, somewhere between the one they quoted at the gate and the one they quoted in the attic. NEVER back down. Stick to the quoted price or kick them out. They’ll usually give up and agree to the original price.
Make sure they come equipped with all the equipment they need. They should have an adequate chimney brush, not a make-do one, and they should have a mirror, to look up the chimney and ensure that it’s clean. If they don’t have a mirror and ask you for one, make sure to check around when you get back to make sure nothing’s gone. Also make sure to monitor their every move while they’re in your attic/house. Something may just disappear when you’re not looking.
Finally, when they’re done, make sure they give you a stamped and signed receipt which states your full name and address, and also a certificate which states that your chimneys have been checked and are working properly — you may need the latter in your dealings with Romgaz and its subsidiaries, the only (can you say unfair monopoly…) natural gas company in Romania.
If you happen to live in a nice neighborhood and have taken care of your house, then beware of the initial quoted price, it may be higher than what their services are worth. Try to halve it, then negotiate up to 65-75% of their asking price if need be, or try to get it down to 50%. For example, one price I heard lately (fall of 2010) was 30 RON per chimney. I think that’s adequate, but it could be negotiated down to 20 RON if your budget is limited, or if you’ve got lots of chimneys (5-6 of them, for example). Use your judgment and exercise caution.