March 22, 2009

How Referrals Lead You Astray: The Big Lesson from a Wet Basement

April showers bring May flowers. March rain and melting snow brought a wet basement. Water has started leaking in through the cold storage room. Not a flood but enough to warrant repairs. Who to hire? We don't know any waterproofers. So we asked around and learned a big lesson.

W1: Referral 1 (Quote 1)
I paid too much for it, but it's worth it. 
W1 (not a real name) is known in our neighbourhood for excellent work for premium prices. We got a quick inspection, a verbal quote and a business card. Nothing in writing. No brochure. 

Work could start the say after we decided. We planned to hire them based on the recommendations but decided to get two other quotes to be sure.

W2: Free for $50
By coincidence, we received a letter from W2, offering a free 10 point inspection of our internal plumbing. Normal charge? $250 but free for three days for 12 households in our neighbourhood. Maybe they did waterproofing too. Anyway, an inspection couldn't hurt. We phoned. Guess what? A $50 charge for the free inspection. We declined. 

W3, W4: Charge For Quotes
We called a couple of companies from the weekly flyers that "flood" our mailbox.

These firms charge for quotes. Forget that. We see free quotes as part of their marketing process. A quote only takes a few minutes.

Who knows? They take 2-3 days just to arrange an appointment.

W1 Revisited
After pricey W1 did waterproofing for a neighbour, leakage continued!?! W1 redid the work. They stand behind their work, but why did they do a poor job the first time? And one of the workers showed up drunk (and was promptly fired). We took W1 off our list even though they where our preferred choice. This shows that well-intentioned referrals can fail badly.

W6 Referral 2 (Quote 2)
Other neighbours were shocked at the quote from W1. A relative of theirs used W6 last year and was very pleased with the work and price.  They also have a wet basement and were getting a quote from W6. We got a quote too.

After a careful inspection, the quoter came inside to sit at our kitchen table. We got a folder with testimonials, diagrams and articles. Plus two business cards, meaning we could pass one on. Viral marketing.

We were advised to get window wells to fix drainage in two other problem areas. The quoter used a business card as a ruler and drew the footprint of our home. He split the quote into four sections so we could select the areas we wanted serviced. We appreciated this since our budget was $0 to start.

Here's the best part. We got samples of the material
  1. a plastic membrane to stick to our foundation (like self-adhesive rubbery wallpaper)
  2. spacers to create an air channel
  3. a reflective layer to retain radiant heat
We were told to be wary of companies that used tar --- cheaper, less durable.

This written quote was 34% cheaper than W1 (the only quote so far). We could see what we were getting. Our neighbours hired W6 without considering any other company. We were ready to sign too but held off since two other quotes were pending. 

W7 (Quote 3)
Verbal quote using tar (12% lower than W6). No business card. Not available for 2-3 weeks. Did not point out other potential problem areas until we asked. Appalling. W6 was clearly the best choice but we decided to wait until the next day for a final quote before signing. 

W8 (Quote 4)
This company advertised in a local flyer. The quoter said our foundation is concrete blocks, not the poured concrete used these days. So we needed the whole wall waterproofed. The other quotes focused on the cold storage area. We did not need window wells because our windows are above ground. Landscaping would divert the water from our foundation. 

Here's the quote
  • Materials: A rubbery membrane that's applied with a trowel, spacers with a cloth mesh to allow air circulation. We can upgrade to a spacer with R14 insulation value (no one else offered this option)
  • Guarantee: From a real insurance company rather than the usual we-guarantee-our-work-as-long-as-we stay-in-business
  • Digging with machines (all other quotes used hand shovels)
  • Holdback: $500 payable several weeks after completion of the work to ensure everything is done properly
  • Payment: cheque (not the pervasive no-tax-with-cash)
The price is about the same as W6 but waterproofs an entire wall and skips the window wells. We decided to hire W8 but waited until the next day to tell them. The other quoters could start work the next day (don't they have any projects?) but W8 is booked until mid-April. We're hoping for light April showers.

The Lesson
Getting quotes takes time and is not much fun. We had time because we were home for March Break. 

We learned that well-intentioned referrals can easily lead you astray. This lesson could have been costly.

We were ready to hire W1 and then W6. Both would have been mistakes. W1 had the highest prices but did not clearly state what they would do or what material they would use. Misunderstandings waiting to happen. With W6, half the money was going towards unneeded window wells, rather than waterproofing the entire wall. 

photo by ontzy


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