Emotion and fact: (How we received a ‘free’ $8,000 roofing job)

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This posting is a combination of a report about a successful consumer complaint, and a major marketing (business) fail. It is autobiographical. In light of my policy not to publish negative information about individual businesses or organizations, the company I’m describing here escaped this mess lightly. I believe, if I decided to break my rules, the permanent reputation damage would be far more costly than the $8,000 roofing job its owner refunded in full.

We live in a neighbourhood where houses are getting older, and roofs are reaching the end of their useful lives. It is upper middle class, and people around here have enough common sense to take care of problems before they get out of hand. So, about four years ago, roofers started working on houses around us.

Two years ago, my wife decided we needed to take action, and called three roofing contractors for estimates. All said the work indeed needs to be done right away. Skeptically, I called a fourth contractor, which belongs to the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (for which my business has published the internal newsletter for almost two decades). This contractor’s estimator took the time to carefully inspect the roof. His conclusion: We don’t need to do the job. He proposed a modest $500 patch up and a recall in a few years.

Meanwhile, more neighbours got new roofs. I called the reputable contractor again last year. He looked more closely and, perhaps realizing we were ready to go, suggested that now may be the time, but the work could wait until next season, as well.

Now, it was time to proceed. I decided prudence called for me to cross check this contractor’s price against one competitor, so asked my wife for her thoughts on the three contractors who originally quoted the work two years previously. She suggested one of the three, which had the lowest price and seemed to have good marketing materials.

I called that contractor’s representative to have a revised quote, presented the reputable contractor’s quote (removing all price references) and asked him to quote on the matching job. His price:  $2,000 less.

Now, I had a challenge. Should I go with the less expensive contractor who purportedly would match the specifications of the more expensive provider or give the contractor who encouraged me to defer the job another chance, by asking him to requote his job. I considered the latter would be disrespectful, and if I really wanted to go with the lower price, unfair in time and resources for the more expensive contractor. I swallowed my pride, and took the savings, giving the work to the cheaper contractor.

The low-cost contractor’s crew arrived on site. They didn’t overwhelm us with professionalism but equally, they seemed to be following safety rules, and appeared to know what they were doing. They completed the job, and we were set to pay the bill. I had arranged ahead of time to pay half by cheque on my personal account and the other half by credit card associated with my business. I gave my cheque but asked for a proper invoice for business for the credit card. The contractor’s billing department had some trouble generating the correct paperwork. By the time they sent the correct bill, my wife asked me:

“Does something seem ‘not right’ about this roof to you?”

I said, “yes, the colour seems strange — but I can’t pin down what is wrong.”  Our son agreed. So we emailed the contractor to express our concerns.  The owner showed up.  He looked at the roof, heard our concerns, and said we were simply perceiving something from an angle of vision. The shingles were installed properly, he said.

My wife objected. I thought, “well, it doesn’t look right, but just because it doesn’t look right doesn’t mean it is wrong.” But I didn’t anticipate my wife’s resourcefulness.

She reviewed the shingle manufacturer’s website, and observed a video providing installation instructions that also showed contractors what not to do. We looked outside the lower garage roof overlooking our son’s bedroom, and realized, indeed, the contractor had done the “what not to do” by “racking” the shingles, rather than cutting them at the appropriate levels.

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Can you tell what is wrong here? 

We sent a follow-up email to the contractor saying we would withhold the final payment until we had an independent home inspector view the work, and called the inspector.

He climbed on the roof, and with our guidance regarding manufacturers’ instructions in hand, cross checked. Indeed the contractor had failed to complete the work properly.

Accordingly, I couriered and faxed this note:

Dear (company owner):

We explained in our correspondence of Sept. 16 that we were concerned that the roof shingles on our home had not been installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

On Sept. 20, Dan Slee of Absolute Home Inspectors closely inspected the roof and compared the work to the shingle manufacturer’s installation instructions.

He reported:

“The roofing shingles have NOT been installed according to: GAF Timberline INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS as illustrated by the measurement of the actual first five courses above on both the garage roof and the main upper roof.

“It is recommended that the Owner contact GAF Timberland (sic) to seek their opinion of the effect of this shingle installation on the roof cover warrant.

“It is recommended that the Owner contact the roof cover installer and state the shingles were NOT installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and therefore be replaced and installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.”

I have attached a copy of the inspector’s report.

The correct course of action will be for you to completely redo the job by removing the improperly installed shingles, and underlay, ensuring there are no holes or damage to the roof structure, and then relaying the shingles in accordance with the manufacturer’s’ instructions.

We would like this work to be completed in a timely manner. Upon completion of the work to manufacturer’s standards, we will then provide you the credit card information to settle the balance of the account owing according to your company’s estimate of July 25, 2013, and your invoice for $4015.00 dated August 20.

Failing that, we expect a refund of the $3898.50 already paid by cheque, plus the inspection fee of $150.00 from Dan Slee, to facilitate our contracting with another roofing contractor to complete the work according to specifications.

Please advise us by Sept. 30 of your decision either to refund our money or to set a time to complete the re-roofing according to the specifications of GAF Timberline.

Yours very truly,

Mark Buckshon

Attachments:

Copy of letter dated Sept. 16.

Copy of inspection report

cc:

GAF Timberline

Technical Services and Guarantee Status Office

1361 Alps Road

Wayne, NJ 07470

On Sept. 27, the roofing contractor’s owner phoned me. He offered to redo the small section of the roof over the garage to manufacturers’ specifications, and write off the $4015.00 credit card payment that would have been due. I insisted that he either complete the entire roof properly, or refund our money. Within a week, the company sent the refund.

I don’t think our new roof will fail within the next year or two (or perhaps five or six). It still doesn’t “look good” though. However, if we had relied purely on our emotions, we wouldn’t have gotten very far.  We won this battle with facts, objectively derived from the manufacturers’ instructions.

The contractor, it seems, has decided it is less expensive to give away the “free roof” rather than take the time and expense to do the work properly. This, to me, is a signal that he doesn’t consider quality workmanship to be the most important consideration in his business. He presumably would rather spend the money on marketing or profit rather than take what would be a modest materials and labour cost loss in making a bad job right.

Lessons learned here:

  • Gut feel is important. We sensed something wasn’t right. This started us on the search for answers.
  • In the end, the best way to address a problem is with factual and objective information.  I’m confident that our package outlining the deficiencies would have held up very well in small claims court, if the contractor had declined to respond positively to our request for redress.

Reputations are won or lost in any job. In this situation, I could have elected to break my policy of not speaking negatively about individual businesses and caused some real reputational harm. As it is, I contented myself by pocketing the refund, and posting a three out of 10 rating on one of the review sites. (I gave the contractor a three rather than a one because, after all, he refunded our money.)

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