Remodelers live in dread of that client who calls six months after completion of a job, complaining about something that has gone wrong. “We jump right on it, no matter how small the problem,” says Pat Hurst, owner of Hurst Construction, Middleburg Heights, Ohio. “If the client sees it as a problem with our work, we want to correct this perception.”
Like many remodelers, Hurst takes the necessary steps to disclaim manufacturers' warranties and specify a time limit for call-backs in his contract (see “Limited Warranty,”). But if a product that he has installed is defective, Hurst can hardly say “That's your problem. Call the manufacturer.” Instead, Hurst insists he'd much rather fix it himself.
“Even if the manufacturer's warranty clearly covers the alleged defect, I think the contractors should still investigate the owner's complaint and assist the owner with correcting the problem if at all possible,” advises construction attorney Gary Ransone, author of The Contractor's Legal Kit (JLC Books). “This is simply good customer service.”
Remodeling contractor and construction attorney Quenda Behler Story, of Okemos, Mich., concurs. “If it's a small thing, it's often easier to fix it yourself. And if it's an expensive defect, you're better off investigating the problem first.” Story recommends documenting what's wrong, taking pictures, and perhaps asking other contractors and suppliers about their experiences with the same product — whatever can be done to help a homeowner identify the problem, which they often cannot do themselves. “Demonstrate that you care. Because in many cases, the manufacturer is likely to say that you installed it wrong anyway. If that's the case, you want to have the customer on your side.”
Hurst, who started his career in the trades as a roofer, points to roofing as one of the most problematic warranties to enforce. “There are too many outs for the manufacturer. They can scrutinize the installation and always come up with something to say you did it wrong.” For this reason, Hurst advocates a premium warranty program, such as GAF's Golden Pledge or Certainteed's SureStart, which offer non-prorated replacement, including labor and materials, for up to 12 years. “A customer has to buy into it, but we often offer it at cost, or marked up 20%, which is low,” says Hurst. “I look at it as an added value for us, as well as for the homeowner.”
The most common roofing problem Hurst has encountered is discolored shingles. Black, dark brown, and white shingles may have a slightly different cast, even among bundles that come from the same dye lot. In many cases, the problem is only noticeable after installation — and then only in a certain light. In Hurst's experience, the manufacturer has always made good on these cases, even without a premium warranty in place. But, without the additional warranty, he covers the cost of replacing the bad shingles.