Warranty Repair? Unlikely

Consider this a warning from one home-owner to another. If you hire a contractor or service to do some improvement around your property, resist the urge to give them the final payment until everything is absolutely complete and you've inspected to your satisfaction. The only incentive contractors have to do any work is to get that paycheck. Once they have it, don't count on seeing them again for any warranty repair.

I posted a while back about some home repairs I was doing, including tree trimming and putting up a new fence. In both cases, I made the mistake of giving final payment when they were almost finished. The tree trimmer left before clearing out some remaining branches. More disappointing was the fence contractor – Florida Custom Fence.

When I first contacted Jay York, president of the Florida Custom Fence, he impressed me with his professionalism. Then again, so did another company with a better rate. When I called Jay back to tell him that he came in second, he worked hard to get the bid. He matched the other company's rate and was able to start sooner. I liked his attitude and gave him the job.

Most of the work seemed pretty solid. They didn't bring in pre-fab segments, they built the fence board by board. It looked pretty solid, though there were a couple of errors (including a sprinkler head that was now on the wrong side of the fence.

However, they really screwed up the gate. I gave clear instructions that I wanted the gate to open into the fenced area, and I wanted to lock it from that side. The previous fence worked that way. However, this seemed to confuse the fence builders a bit. They ended up putting the hinges on a different side, and it had a hard time closing flush to the fence. They also had a problem installing the latch, and there was no way to lock it because the latch was up against a 4×4 post. When I called about it, they came out a couple days later with a circular saw and cut a notch into the post.

A few weeks later, the wood on the gate started warping and it certainly wasn't flush. The top leans back and the bottom extends forward from the rest of the fence by several inches – enough for my smallest dog to wiggle out. That sort of defeats the purpose of spending a few thousand dollars on a new fence.

When I called back, there was a new voice on the phone. Someone named Hunter took over the customer service. Ok, it took several calls before Hunter managed to come out to inspect the fence. Several calls and a couple of weeks, and at least one missed appointment. When he finally arrived, Hunter was friendly enough. He agreed the fence wasn't up to their standards and they needed to fix it.

That was the last I ever saw or heard from Hunter.

I called Hunter several more times, another week or so passed. Finally, I e-mailed Jay York. A few days later, he e-mailed back to agree that the problem was covered under warranty. Someone would be out within a week to fix it.

That was a two weeks ago, and it was the last I've heard from Jay York, president of Florida Custom Fence. The professional attitude I admired so much when he was trying to earn my business was completely gone now.

There's no profit in warranty work. It's an expense that a small business just doesn't want to make. For all I know, the time it takes to do it right for the second time may eliminate whatever profit margin he made from me. I already gave him a concession by allowing him to bill me for a check instead of using my AMEX card so he could save the percentage he'd have to pay to the card company.

Now I'm getting ready to search for another set of contractors. One to do some drywall repair and paint inside the house, and another to fix the gate that Florida Custom Fence botched.

Learn from my mistakes. That final payment is your final leverage.

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