Hard lesson learned – the hard way

Jill and Gary got scammed, not once but twice

By Francie Healy

Never make assumptions. Jill Gordon learned that the hard way.

Several years ago she and her husband, Gary, decided to start replacing the wood-framed casement windows in their house.

Although they were aware of some of the “big name” window companies in the area, they assumed “big name” equaled “big price” and were probably unaffordable.

Around that time, a new window business set up shop in their neighbourhood and began advertising aggressively. So Jill and Gary decided to visit the showroom.

“It was very attractive,” Jill recalls. “Sample windows opened and closed beautifully. I couldn’t wait to replace our old wood-casement windows with these fresh new vinyl-clad, double-hung beauties that would be so easy to clean from the inside.”

The window company assured them that, although the company was new to the region, it had been around for years. They manufactured the windows at their factory near Gatineau. They said the installation would be done by their own dedicated crew, not by subcontractors. They promised prompt service if Jill and Gary needed it after the windows were in place.

Jill liked the sound of that.

“I realize now we should have demanded something in writing to support all their guarantees and assurances,” she says. “We assumed they were telling the truth.”

And there were problems.

“My first disappointment happened when the installers arrived and they were labourers from some construction company, not the window company. So they weren’t ‘their own’ installers as we had been told.”

She was further annoyed when the workers laid the new windows flat on the lawn − during an August heat wave.

“By the time they eventually picked them up,” Jill says, “there were large brown patches of burned grass on our otherwise well-cared-for, green, front yard.”

But there was more.

“I’m not a renovator, but it appeared to me that two of the four windows were too big for the existing openings. The fit was so snug in the family room that it was almost impossible to raise or lower the top part of the window. In fact, the hand rail (for lowering or raising) snapped off after just a few attempts.”

Worse still, Jill and Gary could see the vinyl siding and trim pulling away from around the window frame. Now there was a gap – a sure invitation for moisture. The workers didn’t even seem to caulk adequately around the new frame.

Jill immediately went to the show room. She was assured someone would be right out to inspect the problem.

No one came. No one called. So she went back to the show room.

But on her second visit, she was mortified to see it was empty. Sign gone. Not a soul in sight. She tried the phone number. It was out of service. It seemed the company was no longer in business and had fled in the night.

In the months to follow, rain and snow did get in. Water damage ruined the wallboard in the dining room.

“As a quick fix,” recalls Jill, “we used strips of duct tape to ‘close the wound’.” But that was temporary, at best. And ugly.

They called in a handyman to assess the situation and suggest a solution. He had two ideas. One was costly. The other was over-the-moon expensive. They went with the less expensive one.

“It still looks dreadful,” says Jill. It didn’t solve the problem. Now she thinks maybe she was scammed by the handyman as well. He’s no longer in business, either.

She says she could kick herself for making assumptions, not inviting several companies for estimates, and not getting anything in writing.

There are so many stories like Jill’s. John Manzo of Tego Design & Installation Centre in Ottawa says there are “thousands of renovators out there who don’t belong to any organization.”

He says the best renovators are members of RenoMark®, and if homeowners just chose someone who carried that logo, stories like Jill’s and Gary’s wouldn’t happen.

“Half the people out there who call themselves renovators have no clue what they’re doing,” he says. “That’s scary.”

If Jill had called a RenoMark® company in the first place, she would have gotten her new windows without a problem. And even if there was a problem – mistakes do sometimes happen, after all, even with the pros – there would be people “on it” immediately. Jill would have had everything in writing and the comfort of knowing the company is well insured.

“Renovating can be a tricky business,” says John Manzo. “Renovators have to know what they’re doing.”