Expensive Private Investigator

There are several reasons why law firms, businesses and individuals aim to hire the cheapest private investigator possible.

It makes perfect sense.

Why would you pay $1,000 for a background check when you can do one online for $50 for what appears to be the same thing?

Or why would you pay one firm $225 per hour as opposed to $100 per hour for another firm? After all, you can get more than twice the work per hour from the cheaper investigator.

But what if I were to tell you that the $225-per-hour firm was able to get the result you were looking for in less than an hour’s work, while the $100-per-hour firm had taken weeks to do the same job?

An attorney client called a few weeks ago looking for some help in a legal dispute. He needed to track down two critical witnesses and interview them. Our longtime client was working with another partner who had his own investigator, but was hoping that we could assist as well, based on some work we had previously done for him. Ultimately, the other partner decided to go with the other investigator because he was a former police officer and charged half the hourly fee that we did.

On both points, I totally respect their decision, although I have said this on the blog before: police officers don’t necessarily make better private investigators. But I digress …

With regard to the fees, I understood. After all, it’s hard to argue that hiring someone to conduct a pretty ordinary request such as locating and interviewing a witness or two would require paying twice the fee. It’s more understandable when you have a complex matter with moving parts. Besides, one of the people they were trying to track down had such an uncommon name that it couldn’t have been that difficult to find him. But, as with nearly every case that we receive, nothing is really “ordinary.”

Three weeks later, the client called me back and said that he was having a “surprisingly” difficult time tracking down the guy with the really uncommon name. The client authorized us to spend a few hours looking into it.

Within an hour, we found the guy with the uncommon name, his cell phone number, home address and his “real” name. Turns out the name he commonly used was a nickname.

The client was thrilled. Three weeks of work by the cheap investigator was completed in less than an hour by the expensive private investigator.

But that’s not the only lesson here. I can tell you countless other stories.

Like the $50 per hour investigator who was tasked with making some human intelligence inquiries in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, only to come back more than a month later with an unintelligible report and little useful information.

Or the time when that cheap online background check came back sparkling clean, only to find out later that the person was actually a convicted felon who has been arrested six times.

Or the potential client who balked at hourly fees when they could pay $75 per hour and get three times the amount of work — only to crawl back to us weeks later when the other investigator couldn’t find anything.

Is hiring a more expensive investigator always better? Absolutely not. But there are reasons why some firms command a higher rate. After all, there is not much of a market for firms that charge astronomical rates and consistently fail to deliver results.

When your sole focus is price, you are missing out on the big picture; the end game is to have a successful outcome, not spend the least amount of money.

Cheaper is not always better, BUT better is always cheaper.


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8 replies
  1. George Babnick
    George Babnick says:

    Very few clients have unlimited budgets and cost is always a consideration. Generally, you get what you pay for in this business. But, hiring the most expensive investigator is no guarantee of quality work. Some PI’s are primarily interested in getting the most they can out of a client as quickly as they can. This is a business model that might work for some, but a business model that I reject. My rates are about in the middle of the pack for my area and I always give a client more than they bargained for. Quality work, customer service, and reasonable rates have been the key to my success and bring repeat business and referrals.

  2. Private detective manchester
    Private detective manchester says:

    The main problem is that most people have so little experience of employing an investigator, that they don’t know the going rates. We all know what we expect to pay for everyday things, like a cup of coffee, so we can gauge what is expensive.
    In the UK the normal rate is £40-£80 per hour, yet I’ve seen people charge as little as £7 per hour fully inclusive. You could easily use that much fuel in an hour!
    If you’re going to pay for an expert or a professional, at least expect to pay an appropriate fee

  3. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Good article Brian, rings true everywhere. Also, I am former law enforcement.. 5 years.. and that didn’t make me a good PI. It’s much different..

  4. Thomas Velasquez
    Thomas Velasquez says:

    Good advise from the wise. My name is Tom, a retired special agent, former officer of the court and now private investigator. I enjoyed reading your story and believe me everything you said is true. If you charge more, the client thinks you are taking them for a ride. If you charge cheap, they still get what they need but, you end up putting money from your pocket if the expenses come out than you thought. Especially if you have agents working for you. There is two sides to every story and the one most important is no one is ever satisfied.

  5. Chuck Swarthout
    Chuck Swarthout says:

    I have been doing background investigations for almost two decades now (probably 20,000 or more on a full time basis). I will add here I was a cop (police chief) and really was ignorant about background investigations. And the ones I got involved in were very invasive because the the federal requirements for casino vendor and gaming licenses. In the private sector I have some clients who have a very high employee turnover due to the nature of their seasonal business and I do offer some reasonable (okay, cheap) backgrounds that do the basics including actual criminal records. As a purist, I agree one gets what they pay for but I still try to offer something that will honestly find actual criminal records and probably as importantly try to fulfill their “due diligence” requirements. I was mentored by an ex-CIA agent who taught us that back ground investigations were “not an exact science”. I loved it when we could do live scan fingerprinting directly to the F.B.I and get results back almost immediately! And that would many times include outstanding warrants. Good times! But even that was only as effective as local jurisdictions got their print cards into the F.B.I. and it was amazing how many didn’t! Side note here, I was required to do personal references (three per individual) and I guess I have done about 50,000 by this time. I only remember TWO actual negative references; they are basically worthless (developed references are much better). I enjoy reading your your blogs, Brian, keep up the good work.

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