Be careful of dishonest HVAC contractors. There’s no magical formula to see if an HVAC contractor is scamming you, unfortunately, but remember that they typically do this in one of two ways: first, they are charging grossly low prices (far below everyone else), or second, they aren’t including what everyone else is. In the first situation, they will charge you change fees, other hidden fees, or they stole the equipment and are passing themselves off as legitimate contractors (very common in California these days). In the second situation, they are charging you a very fair price, but aren’t including what the other contractors are (i.e. charging $10,500 for the installation which is fair, but not including the ductwork which is a scam unless there is some other, complex stuff going on there).
Deciding if central air is worth the cost depends on your needs and local housing market. If you live in a hotter climate, it can definitely be worth the price. Not only can it keep your home at a comfortable temperature, but air conditioning can even save lives during extreme heat waves. But in a milder zone without severe temperatures, window units, fans or the breeze from an open window could be adequate.
Whether or not central air adds value to your home depends on your location. You probably won't recoup the entire cost for the installation, as it is an expensive project that isn't as flashy as something like a new deck. But this invisible upgrade can help you sell your home if you live in a hot climate. And many buyers are willing to pay a bit more for a working AC.
Do you live in a historic home and want to tie your new system in to work with existing features? The price will go up to do the job right. All of these things add up to slow down the HVAC company, which takes more time, which costs more money for labor and parts. This is especially true if they are a legitimate company which is licensed, bonded and insured. Simply put, this is the “X-Factor” in your HVAC installation cost. Again, you could get people to do it for cheaper…but you won’t be happy with the results, I promise.