WILMINGTON – Ed Michael Reggie says that just like you shouldn’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, families shouldn’t shop for a funeral home when they’re grieving and likely to spend more than they might otherwise.
That’s particularly true in the Wilmington area – including New Castle County and Cecil County, Maryland – which Reggie’s funeral home price-comparison website determined is the nation’s 10th most expensive for funeral prices and sixth for direct cremations.
“Wilmington funeral homes average $8,469 for a single service, which is 14% higher than the national average,” said Reggie, the founder of Funeralocity.com. “Additionally, cremations in Wilmington cost $2,921, which is 37.5% higher.” In Wilmington, traditional burial costs range from $6,430 to $10,185, while direct cremations range in price from $1,195 to $5,000.
Those prices are noteworthy as the percentage of cremations, 56% nationwide today, is expected to increase to 63% by 2025, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). That compares with just 40% in 2010.
The internet has taught consumers how to shop for everything from laundry detergent to books to automobiles, Reggie said, but few people shop when a family member passes away.
“About 86% of people only call one funeral director; nobody makes a second call,” Reggie said, adding that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that 41% of Americans live in a state they weren’t born in, meaning they may not have a trusted local funeral home.
Michael Platt, the president of the Delaware Funeral Directors Association and a licensed funeral director at Krienen-Griffith Funeral Home in Elsmere, disagrees with the notion that families don’t shop.
“As an industry, we try to educate people on preplanning,” Platt said, estimating that 30% of funerals are preplanned, higher than in previous years. “You do see people shopping. We get a couple of phone calls a day asking about prices, and if someone goes into hospice, they’re advised to preplan.”
Platt added that people who preplan their funerals tend to be more cost-conscious if they’re making the decisions for themselves.
“Most people die in the same way they live – somewhere in the middle -- with regards to their spending habits,” he said.
“Some people will always be loyal to the funeral homes that have buried family members, even if they live out of town,” Platt said. “That 41% number is kind of odd. It used to be that if you died on a Monday, you’d be buried by Wednesday. Now it’s more likely that it will be held a bit so families can get here.”
Only 27% of funeral homes with websites post their prices online, according to a 2018 survey of 211 funeral homes in 25 cities by the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America. And only 16% posted a full general price list.
According to the NFDA, less than 25% of funeral homes list their prices online. There are more than 100 homes in the Wilmington area, and most do not list their prices on their sites, Reggie said.
Funeralocity is taking advantage of what is known as the Federal Trade Commission’s “Funeral Rule,” which requires funeral homes to give prices over the phone and on paper in person when asked, but it doesn’t require funeral costs to be provided online or by e-mail.
So, Funeralocity makes the calls and, when needed, visits funeral homes in person.
Funeralocity began testing the concept of collecting the information in Atlanta in 2017 and launched nationally in April. Reggie said he now has pricing data on 17,000 of the nation’s 19,000 funeral homes in his database.
“There are price inefficiencies in the market,” Reggie said. “This isn’t like having two gas stations across the street from each other that set their prices within pennies of each other. Our goal is to encourage rationalization of pricing and make the market more efficient.”
Platt denies that funeral homes try to inflate prices by not advertising them online, but rather do so to educate consumers on their options.
“One of the reasons we don’t put our price sheets on our websites is so that we can try to understand their needs so we can highlight some of the pricing on the sheet we send out,” he explained.
Neither Reggie nor Platt could give a reason for why funeral costs and cremation pricing is higher in Delaware than many other places beyond noting that the ranges could be skewing the statistics.
“I got into this business 15 years ago as a preplanner and I’ll agree that shopping around is the most important thing,” Platt said, adding that the prices on the Funeralocity.com site are “in the ballpark” for his funeral home. “There are lots of different approaches, but it’s best if you can talk to people about what they really want.”
By Peter Osborne