Ahhh….the sounds of summer. Lawn mowers, birds chirping in the trees, dogs barking behind the fence, and the inevitable knock on the door from door-to-door canvassers selling something.
House painting? Check. Windows? Check. Solar panels? Check. Roofing? Check. Almost every homeowner has answered the door in the last 12 months to one or more of those home improvement product or service offers.
So we do they keep coming back every year? The simple answer is that door-to-door sales work. (You may be shaking your head, thinking, “Well, I would never buy from a door-to-door salesperson.”). While that is the most common response we hear when discussing field sales with customers and friends, statistics show that not to be the case.
In the home improvement business, research bears out the fact that 30 in 100 homeowners are open to door-to-door offers, 15 in 100 will actually ask for a proposal and 3 in 100 homeowners will complete a purchase that starts with a knock at the door.
When those numbers diminish to zero, then companies will quickly stop spending the time and money sending representatives out on the street. Both legitimate local and fly-by-night contractors, in the meantime, will continue to use door-to-door sales as a means to meet potential new customers. That creates a real source of confusion for homeowners.
If door-to-door Sales are here to stay, the relevant question is: “As a homeowner, how do I protect myself against the crooks, predators and shoddy workers who rely exclusively on canvassing Sales to stay in business?” Here is a list of 10 recommended steps to help you separate the wheat from the chaff:
1. Never be pushed into a hard sell
Legitimate companies were here before they came to your door, and they will be in business tomorrow. Take your time in making a decision and make sure you feel comfortable working with your field representative.
2. Do your research with the BBB
There are lots of sites that do reviews of businesses these days (Angie’s list, Yelp, Google +, Houzz, Home Advisor, among others). However, the BBB is the gold standard for evaluating companies, and look at their licensing, contracts, practices and history before assigning a score. In addition, they are also the only group that contacts reviews to confirm that they are legitimate current or former customers.
3. Read customer reviews
While it is true that no service provider can make all customers happy all the time, it is both important and insightful to read about the experience others have with a service provider. If you read a negative review, the company should have posted a response on it. If you don’t find it, ask about it before moving forward.
4. Check the driver’s license, general liability insurance, workman’s comp insurance and auto insurance
Lots of overnight companies will migrate to work in your area for the season. A simple check of driver’s licenses will let you know if both your representative and the company are local. Also ask for current insurance, both for the labor, the company, the vehicles and the workman’s comp. Since it generally pretty expensive for companies to maintain their workman’s comp insurance, this is a great way to gauge which companies are serious about the safety of their workers and their projects.
5. Ask to see copies of professional licenses
Many companies tell you they are “experts,”or ”professionals,” or “the best.” Oh yeah? Ask them to see their professional license to perform trade work. This usually involves not only testing, but also background checks. As a result, the lower tier providers either cannot or will not spend the time and money to be licensed.
6. Ask for detailed proposals in writing that explain any and all costs
You can tell a lot about a company by the amount of information they prepare and share with you. If their estimate is 1 or 2 line items, it is time to move on. A proper estimate should include all items, measurements, unit costs and totals, and should address all code and permitting items upfront. Regardless of whether your project is retail or insurance-related, a good contractor is not afraid to do his estimating job upfront and share those details with the customer.
7. Spend time reviewing product information, warranties, and any contracts
Not all installations are equal. If the contractor has not taken the time to discuss and show materials to you, he may be trying to hide something to save on his costs.
8. Make sure a permit is pulled. Every time!
Make sure your project is permitted, so not only do you get an independent assessment of quality and code compliance, but you also have documentation in case you sell or refinance your home. A good contractor not only wants the city or county to inspect his work, but also realizes that open permits may jeopardize his licensing.
9. Never pay deposits!
This is the SINGLE biggest problem that customers face with contractors. There are laws governing when a contractor can take deposits; ie, never before materials are dropped and/or services are performed. More importantly, the need for deposits is a good indicator of the financial well-being of that contractor. If they refuse to start your work without a deposit, they may be using your funds to pay for the job ahead of you. Make sure your payment terms are clearly written out as a part of any contract, and be sure that each payment is preceded by a milestone to be completed by the contractor (materials delivered, work completed, depreciation or funds released from insurance company or mortgage company).
10. Know your rights as a consumer
Understand what your rights and responsibilities are as a homeowner during the process. For the roofing industry, for example, contractor behavior and responsibility to customers is outlined in Colorado SB 38. (Click on this link to learn more: CO SB 38 ).