Educational Consumer Tips

POOL & SPA - CHOOSING A CONTRACTOR

Author: Better Business Bureau
Published:

As the days of summer approach, many homeowners will find themselves looking to install a swimming pool. A new pool is not a cheap endeavor. With the prices of pools running into the tens of thousands of dollars, this is an opportune time for a refresher about how to find a reputable pool contractor. As with any industry, there are true professionals and craftsmen who are ethical, and there are bad apples looking to make a quick buck. The latter leave homeowners with shoddy or incomplete work, empty wallets and anguish. Issues often stem from customer service problems and the failure to complete work or honor warranties.

Before employing the services of any pool contractor, it is wise to verify the full name of the sales representative you’re dealing with, the name of the company’s owner, the physical location of the business and phone numbers. Look at the company’s Web site and marketing materials. Is the contact information conspicuously displayed? A reputable company won’t limit the ways you can reach them. You’d be surprised at how often consumers have only a first name and a cell phone number for a company contact. Presently, Texas does not require pool contractors to be licensed. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t check on the licensing of their subcontractors. Find out who is doing the actual work and check their licensing status.

For information about an electrician, contact the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. For plumbers, contact the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners (TSBPE). Don’t forget to check for insurance coverage. Confirm the contractor has liability and worker’s compensation insurance through his carrier or agent.

The BBB maintains records on both accredited and non-accredited businesses. Either way, you want a business with a satisfactory record. Companies that are BBB accredited also have been in business for at least two pool seasons. If a company advertises it’s accredited, this is the time to verify that the information is true. There are non-accredited pool contractors who exploit the BBB name and logo in order to gain a consumer’s trust. If you find a business lacks the integrity to tell the truth, it’s a company you’re better off not doing business with. 

In your search for a pool contractor check out industry trade associations. The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP) offers an online list of its members who adhere to a code of business ethics. The trade group also promotes professional development through education, certification, standards, research and safety. Its Web site is www.apsp.org.

When it comes to testimonials, there’s no telling where they came from. Instead, look for a pool contractor willing to provide references and find out if the references can be contacted. A former customer who is happy with the work performed usually loves to brag about the contractor and the good job done.

Obtaining several written estimates helps to ensure you’re getting a fair price. And remember, the cheapest bid is not always the best offer. See what types of materials are going to be used and how the materials differ in price and quality from one bid to the next. If you encounter difficulty in getting an estimate from a particular contractor, move on.

High-pressure sales pitches and scare tactics aren’t acceptable. Don’t feel guilty for refusing the sale if you aren’t comfortable. It’s your money and ultimately you are the one who has to live with the final product. If you find yourself facing a contract that’s confusing, don’t sign it until you understand what it is you are agreeing to.

Speaking of contracts, it’s important the contract contain a full description of what work will be done, the materials that will be used, a timeline, a payment schedule, and details of the contractor’s warranty. Make sure any changes or promises that take place during the job are made in writing. Keep these documents in a safe place.

As for payment arrangements, avoid paying in advance and avoid paying in cash. It’s better to pay the contractor once services are complete, and you’ve found the work acceptable. At most, you can elect to pay in one-third increments. If you must finance the project, be cautious of financing offered by the contractor. Compare fees and interest rates of the contractor’s lender to those offered by your bank. Your local bank may offer you a better deal.

The BBB provides these additional tips to aid you in your search for a reliable pool builder:

1. Do the contractors you are considering have business addresses and telephone numbers? Check to see if the companies are listed in the current telephone directory. This will tell you if the companies have been in business for about one year or more.
2. If you get several different bids, make sure they are based on the same specifications.
3. Be certain that the quality, brand, grade weight, color and size of materials to be used are stated in the contract.
A good contract also should include an appropriate date to start installation or construction; a completion date with appropriate understandings regarding any delays; written understandings as to the consumer's responsibility regarding costs such as hitting solid rock or water or the moving of utility lines; written specifications for the size, shape and equipment; total costs, including scheduled payments with the last payment tied to the completion of the project; and a description of any aftercare service. Also, have an attorney review the contract if you plan on spending a great deal of money.
4. Always get receipts for any money paid. If full payment is made in cash, be sure to obtain written verification of payment from the contractor with a list of the labor and material charges covered by payment.
5. Is the guarantee or warranty disclosed? Is the entire job under warranty or only certain materials? Is labor included in the guarantee? Who will make good on the guarantee - the dealer or the manufacturer? And, of course, remember that a guarantee is only as good as the firm that gives it.
6. Does the company provide liability and workman's compensation insurance to protect you in the event of an accident on the job? Insist on a statement of coverage from the contractor's insurance agent.
7. See that all of the work conforms to local building codes and regulations. If a permit is required, be sure that you comply with all specifications. See that all construction conforms to building and contract requirements.
8. Do not sign the completion certificate before the work is finished in accordance with the terms of the contract. Be certain that the contract contains all topics discussed and promises made.
9. Ask the contractor for a list of customer references. Contact the references to learn what their experiences were before, during and after work was done.
10. Before making final payment on the project, request a completed lien release form from each contractor and material supplier. You have final responsibility for seeing that all bills are paid even if you have paid your contractor in full.