By Jim Cory. Usually a warranty ceases to be in effect when it expires in writing. That's not the case at The Wills Co., Nashville, Tenn., where warranties never really lapse. Two years ago, the company made a promise in its marketing materials that for as long as clients own their homes, the work is covered.

"If we've done anything to cause the property to deteriorate or in some way not perform to standard, we'll fix it," says president/owner Ridley Wills. "For instance, we won't guarantee a roof beyond the manufacturer's warranty, but if we've installed it improperly, we'll repair it five years from now."

Wills says he makes note, in contracts, of products that are "not made to last that long. We're not going to warranty that." Clients are made fully aware of any products that aren't covered by the "lifetime" warranty.

Wills says his company always followed this policy in practice. "We just didn't say we did."

The Wills Co.'s two-year-old handyman division makes it a little easier to keep those promises, "because we're not pulling people off a major job," Wills says. When handyman division technicians perform such repairs, clients are sent a bill--for $0. "That's so that they know we've done it and we're not charging them."

So far, the biggest project in which the company has had to make good on its lifetime warranty was a second-floor terrace. The terrace wasn't flashed properly, and water leakage eventually caused some joists and subfloor to rot. The cost to the company was somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000.

Wills says warranty/repair work is about half a percent of company sales. That is "on the high side," but not excessive, compared to that of other companies in a peer review group Wills belongs to.