So over the years, I’ve read many publications from various pool builders. Each has its own spin or take on what direction the writer is trying to take the reader. For the most general parts, most books and guides will jump over many very important aspects of the process and fast forward, missing some of the most critical items that need to be addressed.
I believe that before any smart consumer can even think about moving forward with a project on this scale, much research must be done. This guide is intended to help the consumer focus on the critical steps prior to selection of the pool builder. So you say, how do you know who to trust and who will deliver you everything you wanted for what you agreed to pay? Who has the product I am looking for? Who will be respectful of my property?
These are all great questions and fortunately today we have a powerful tool in the internet to help a smart consumer navigate through, however the internet cannot always be completely trusted as many of the articles written and information placed out there, were written by the sellers of that particular product or service so be careful in how much stock you place in these articles. Having said that, there are ways to search for a company or individual. Google is in my opinion the most powerful way to start the investigatory process of looking into a company and or individuals. I group individuals into the mix as it is important to know who you are dealing with. The internet is not the only way of finding a reputable company; word of mouth is often times a great way of finding the right builder, after all, if your neighbor had a pool installed and they were very happy with the results, this can go long way in establishing creditability and favorability.
But sometimes, you need to look for signs of problems. While I am not a big fan of government agencies, I think it is well worth the effort to contact office’s such as the Attorney General’s office, The Department of Consumer Affairs as well as the office or office’s that regulate any state licensing or registration to see if any complaints have been filed in the past and what the outcome has been. The BBB is another source, however generally not effective especially if the company in question is “accredited”. Companies accredited have paid a fee to the BBB and I have seen cases where companies with multiple complaints still maintain an A+ rating. Angie’s list is a good place to look as well, however because the consumer must pay to provide reviews and look at perspective contractors, I think the results will not give you a complete picture. There are other websites like ripoffreport.com and others where angry consumers can post there negative experience. Remember, there are always two sides to a story, and it is up to you as the smart consumer to sift through the findings to find the truth.
So, after careful and through research, you have found 3 companies that seem to have the kind of reputation you are looking for, what now? Well, consider yourself now like an employer looking for the right employee. It is time to call, or e mails the companies to set up interviews. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat. You now contact all 3 companies and 2 get back to you within 24 hours and after 3 days, you still have not heard from company #3. I would give them one more contact and the benefit of the doubt, however if after another 24 hours with no response, take them off the list and don’t look back. If they are not willing to pay attention to you when you have a fistful of dollars in your hand, they surely will not be there later if there are problems.
So now you are down to 2, and it is time to begin the interview process for you and the sales presentation for them. Pay attention to the details, Does the representative from the company arrive on time? Are they dressed to impress and professional? Are they well versed in the subject matter and are they prepared with a neat package including a list of references you can contact? Are they just a salesperson, or are they the owner? Are they knowledgeable in your backyard noting details and making comments about conditions, access and elevations? Do you like him or her, in other words, is the person pleasant to deal with and make you feel as if you will be in great hands with this company. Do you find them honest, genuine and trustworthy? Do they do fiberglass pools exclusively or do they do many kinds of pools? How long have they been in the business and how many projects have they completed? We have found that each kind of pool requires a unique set of skills; I often say you wouldn’t have your plumber do your electrical right? The same is true with fiberglass pools, companies that have vast experience in this field are going to greatly increase your chance of a great outcome.
During and after each interview make some notes about positives and negatives in the process. Make sure to write this stuff down so you can refer to it later, you will find it useful when making final evaluations. Make sure as obtain pricing and various packages you are actually comparing apples to apples so to speak. Make sure you understand completely what is included and what is not.
Earlier, I mentioned individuals and it is important to understand this. In many states salespersons require registrations to sell things. It is important that you verify with your state the requirements on this. I have seen countless cases where the salesperson promises the world to get the sale, only to have issues later in the process. As an example: let’s say that you are looking to hire ABC Pool Company and a representative John Doe comes to your house and does an in home sales presentation. John Doe seems very knowledgeable; however something seems just too good to be true. The family is excited, the summer is near and there is a sense of urgency from John to sign on the dotted line. This is where common sense needs to prevail. Don’t be suckered into the “if you sign tonight I can give you a free blank”. Just don’t do it, tell them respectfully you need a few days to review things and digest them before making the commitment.
So now you have come to the point where you are ready to make the plunge so to speak. This next section could not be more important. The contract or agreement that the builder should provide. I have seen far too many consumers sign away on a single page agreement that basically offers them no protection or recourse if problems occur. Contracts or agreements are the framework in which things are stated. Most states have minimum guidelines for contract language. The following was taken from the Massachusetts Consumer affairs and Business regulation page:
Contracts – all contracts over $1,000 (One Thousand Dollars) must be in writing.
The law requires the following FOURTEEN items to be included in any contract between a homeowner and a registered home improvement contractor for home improvement work subject to MGL c. 142A:
- The complete agreement between the contractor and the owner and a clear description of any other documents which are part of the agreement.
- The full names, federal I.D. number (if applicable), addresses (NOT P.O. Box numbers), of the parties, the contractors registration number, the name(s) of the salesperson(s) involved, if any and the date the contract was executed by the parties.
- The date on which the work is scheduled to begin and the date the work is scheduled to be substantially completed.
- A detailed description of the work to be done and the materials to be used.
- The total amount agreed to be paid for the work to be performed under the contract.
- A time schedule of payments to be made under the contract and the amount of each payment stated in dollars, including any finance charges. Any deposit required to be paid in advance of the start of the work SHALL NOT exceed one-third of the total contract price or the actual cost of any material or equipment of a special order or custom made nature, which must be ordered in advance of the start of the work to assure that the project will proceed on schedule. No final payment shall be demanded until the contract is completed to the satisfaction of all parties.
- All parties must sign the contract.
- A clear and conspicuous notice stating:
- That all home improvement contractors and subcontractors shall be registered and that any inquiries about a contractor or subcontractor relating to a registration should be directed to:
Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
Ten Park Plaza, Suite 5170
Boston, MA 02116
Phone: (617) 973-8700
- The contractor’s registration number must be on the first page of the contract.
c. The homeowner’s three day cancellation rights under MGL c 93 s 48; MGL c 140D s 10 or MGL c 255D s 14 as may be applicable.
d. All warranties on the owner’s rights under the provisions of and MGL c. 142A.
e. In ten point bold type or larger, directly above the space provided for the signature, the following statement:
DO NOT SIGN THIS CONTRACT IF THERE ARE ANY BLANK SPACES.
f. Whether any lien or security interest is on the residence as a consequence of the contract.
- An enumeration of such other matters upon which the owner and contractor may lawfully agree.
- Any other provisions otherwise required by the applicable laws of the Commonwealth.
- Permit Notice: Every contract shall contain a clause informing the owner of the following:
- any and all necessary construction-related permits;
b. that it shall be the obligation of the contractor to obtain such permits.
c. that owners who secure their own construction-related permits or deal with unregistered contractors shall be excluded from access to the Guarantee Fund.
- Acceleration of payment: No contract shall contain an acceleration clause under which any part or all of the balance not yet due may be declared due and payable because the holder deems himself to be insecure. However, where the contractor deems himself to be insecure he may require as a prerequisite to continuing said work that the balance of funds due under the contract, which are in possession of the owner, shall be placed in a joint escrow account requiring the signatures of the home improvement contractor and the owner for withdrawal.
- No work shall begin prior to the signing of the contract and transmittal to the owner of a copy of such contract.
- Arbitration: If the contractor determines that in the event of a dispute, the contractor wishes the dispute to be settled by arbitration, this fact must be signified on the contract and both the contractor and owner shall sign this clause separately. The following format is acceptable (in 10 point type or larger);
“The contractor and the homeowner hereby mutually agree in advance that in the event that the contractor has a dispute concerning this contract, the contractor may submit such dispute to a private arbitration service which has been approved by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and the consumer shall be required to submit to such arbitration as provided in MGL c 142A.
There is also a 3 day right of rescission document which should be attached to the contact. This offers the consumer a 3 day period in which the consumer can resend from the agreement, typically with written notice to the seller within the 3 day period. If your contract or agreement fails to contain for mentioned, or the minimum required for your state, do not sign the agreement. It also good opportunity to have a lawyer review the terms during the 3 day right of recession period.
Let’s talk now about permits, this is another critical item. Always make sure that your pool builder obtains the required permits required under their scope of work. If the town is doing its job, an official from the inspections services department will visit the site to insure work being performed to any applicable codes. In many states, contractors, pool builders, etc. will pay fees into a fund that may be available for a consumer through the state in which the work has taken place. In order to qualify for this, if there were a dispute, the contractor must be on record as the permit holder. If the permit is obtained by the homeowner, and in the homeowners name, will be excluded from access from the fund. See #11 in the for mentioned Massachusetts required language. So I can be clear on this, it is allowable for a contractor to ask the homeowner to help in securing the permit as long as the contractor has signed the permit application and provided there information such as license and registration numbers.
While all of the information provided is no guarantee of complete satisfaction, it clearly places you in a position much more likely to have a favorable outcome. The vast majority of consumers who follow these steps will have found the right pool builder. Now it’s time to relax and allow the pool professional to craft there trade.