Who Owns Your Funeral Home?
Like many people, you’ve probably passed the same funeral home on your daily commute for years. It could be a familiar name in your community, a place where you’ve attended funerals for friends or family. Many of these locations proudly state, “serving the community since …” with dates going back before you were born. Since the name has stayed the same, you might assume it is still owned and run by the same people or family that started it.
The reality is that what you thought was an independent funeral home business might be quietly owned by a larger corporation that operates a portfolio of funeral homes with different names all across your city. Look closely again at your neighborhood building and you might find a second sign on the wall or the door that has the name of a chain.
With the vast majority of funeral homes independently owned, the funeral industry has been uniquely fragmented. But that is rapidly changing. The largest funeral company now owns a portfolio of almost 1,500 funeral homes. Like law firms, newspapers, grocery chains, retailers and many other businesses, larger corporations often purchase smaller independent outlets to quickly extend their footprint.
According to CNET, “A large part of the business model for these companies involves buying up small funeral homes; trusted family-run businesses used by the community for generations. They keep the name and inject their salespeople and astronomical costs.” Forbes predicts that more independent homes will sell to the larger companies after the stress of the pandemic.
Why it matters
While these larger corporations optimize the operations of the funeral home, consumer advocates say that the efficiency that has benefited the companies has not trickled down to help the families they serve.
“Consumers should know that some of the large chains are often significantly more expensive than independent funeral homes. Consumer stories also indicate that some of them use high-pressure sales tactics more commonly found in retail sales,” explains Josh Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance which found corporate prices consistently higher than independent funeral homes.
Starter packages and add-ons
Without adequate transparency, consumers are pushed into more expensive “packages” without awareness of the options and total cost, Slocum says. “Our experience indicates the large chains may sometimes push expensive all-inclusive packages while downplaying the availability of a la carte, pick-only-what-you-want options.”
While the FTC Funeral Rule gives you the right to know what you’ll spend for a funeral, consumer groups say the industry is only “lightly regulated.” They’d like to see all funeral homes post a General Price List online. Now, only California requires online posting, and even there, the consumer groups have found the larger players have exploited loopholes. Not surprisingly, the more transparent companies had the lowest cost in price surveys.
What you need to know
One reason consumers end up at these more expensive funeral homes in the first place is that family members may have used them in the past and they are unaware that the funeral home has new ownership and new pricing models.
“The only way to know if you’re getting good value for your dollar is to compare funeral ‘dealers,’ just the way you would for any other purchase. The price range in one city, for the same service, can vary by 200 to 300 percent depending on the funeral home you choose,” Slocum explains.
Many funeral homes advertise low starter prices and add extra costs, like transportation fees, removal of implants and delivery of remains, making it difficult for families to know the actual final price.
Slocum says families should compare individual items (not package prices) to get an “apple to apple” price, and be sure to make sure it is the “final” cost, not just a starter price with surprising add-on fees.
At Solace, we encourage you to shop around and ask for “the final price.” Ours is $895 for every customer. We believe families should choose arrangements that fit their needs. There’s no better tribute to a loved one than finding the right choice for your family.