MARK POPE: Buyer Beware! [OPINION]
When was the last time you had an unpleasant experience with buying a product or commissioning a service for your home or automobile? I can tell you from experience when you get burned, it is not a pleasant experience. Let me provide you with some personal experiences which might help you steer clear of the entering the doldrums of having to fight for your consumer rights.
Experience One dealt with me replacing the roof on my home in 2017. We had a “storm chaser” in the neighborhood going door-to-door to remind residents of a rare hail storm in early 2017 which roared through Lafayette dropping golf-ball sized hail. Roofs were damaged, the roof salesman told many residents. “We can get your roof replaced, and it will cost you next to nothing,” was his common pitch. Many residents commissioned this out-of-town company to replace their roofs. I was approached with a proposal, and it sounded good . . . probably too good to be true.
Leave it to the women in our lives to bring us back to reality. The proposal from the carpetbagger sounded too good, so I asked for a written proposal with pricing included. My wife simultaneously looked the company up on the Better Business Bureau website. There it was, big as day, and long as a doctoral thesis – a complaint detailing the sweet, syrupy appeal to lock a neighbor into using the roofing company to erect a new roof. Then, once the contract was signed, the salesman disappeared and did not answer his phone. The resident complained that when problems arose with the agreed roof replacement deal – procedures were not being adhered to – the salesman stated after finally answering his phone, “I don’t have time for this, besides you’re not paying enough money to raise such a complaint.”
Obviously, we hired one of Lafayette’s premier roofing and home improvement companies. The company is Roofing Louisiana. I got excellent service from start to finish. I specified only the best roofing material, and these folks went to work. I got follow-up calls before, during, and after the job was complete. As BBB will tell you, check references of the company you are considering, check the BBB website to see if any complaints have been lodged against the company, and get everything in writing. Also, double check that any contractor is in good standing with the Louisiana State Board of Contractors.
My next experience was at an automobile repair shop. Now, I was a trusting person to a fault. That has been shattered – I’m now jaded. I paid big bucks for work on an antique car. I used the shop based on their early reputation from years ago. The shop used to do good work for a reasonable price, they used to be organized and accept only work they could get out in a reasonable timeframe. When the price tag on my job rose to a very high level, I asked for receipts and invoices for parts used on the car. I was told, “I don’t do it like that.” So I could not review what car parts I paid for. The owner’s refusal to provide an itemized invoice seems to be a violation of state law, governing how auto repair shops are obligated to charge their customers. I was able to look at labor sheets, but such worksheets are hard to decipher because of abbreviations, jargon, etc. And this shop lost multiple parts which were definitely in the car when it entered the shop. I located and ordered the lost parts, and the owner paid for the parts. Come on though, only a poorly organized auto shop could lose four parts. And many parts disassembled from the car were not labeled. Attaching hardware was not “bagged and labeled” as it should have been. Time is money, and the helter-skelter methods employed at this shop certainly cost me more in labor time than it should have.
So do your homework before purchasing a big-ticket item, or contracting with a service company to do a big job. Check with the Better Business Bureau, and get references from the company. Ask around, talk it up. The BBB has a website with is very easy to use, it’s BBB.org. And follow the advice of Ronald Reagan from 30+ years ago: Trust but Verify.