Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What We Learned this Weekend (AKA The Longest Post Yet)

Be Warned: This is a longggg wordy post. But, there's lots of valid information that we found out that I wanted to share. This post will be why we went with the company we did. A later post will entail more about the products we went with and the company that is doing the work. Also, remember that we are first time home buyers. This isn't a definitive guide about how to pick a roof company especially since this is our first time doing it- this is just what we learned and experienced.

As I mentioned on Monday, we spent the weekend speaking with many different roofing companies. We'll call the top three Big, Local and Specialty, as I don't feel the need to smear anyone's reputation (though they deserve it) and I am not going to give a full review on a company until the project is complete.

Before going into this weekend, Nate and I had pretty much decided we were going to go with the Specialty company that focused on Metal Roofs. If you've never done research on Aluminum roofs, I highly recommend it. They're great for older houses, they lower energy bills and you never have to replace you roof. EVER.

We knew it was going to be more expensive going into it as you're paying for 200+ years of a roof up front. We really enjoyed speaking to that representative. He was honest, told us what would and would not work for our house, what the best value for our neighborhood was, and got it down to a price where if Nate passed a certification course, he could install our roof himself and be in our price range.  The scary thing is, we have a 12/12 pitch at the top of our house. In other words DANGEROUS for inexperienced people to be up there. It is very steap, and a very weak roof, so letting Nate go up there and spend 2 months putting a metal roof on himself was kind of daunting. So we actually started leaning towards maybe no.

Because both of our parents were confused about the whole "metal roof thing" we decided to get an asphalt quote for comparison. We called two companies; a local company, in our neighborhood that has been providing neighborhood jobs for the last 40 years, and a big corporate company that promises to beat anyone's prices.

After meeting with the Local Company's owner we had a really good rapport. He was honest, very thorough in discussing what he thought was best for our neighborhood and for our house (not pricing us out of the neighborhood but still keeping others motivated to do their homes as well) and after doing a free inspection on our house told us the big news: our roof still has the original 110 year old cedar shakes attached.


We knew our roof was bad when we bought the house, which is why we got it for so cheap- No one could get a regular mortgage on our home because the roof didn't pass state inspection and there was no owner to replace it.

I mean, I knew it was bad. But...110 years old bad?

We asked him what the top layer's age was, and he said the type of shingle on our roof hasn't been manufactured in over 30 years. He said there's also about 6 inches of roofing material up there ranging between 30 and 110 years old.

An example of T joint shingles, or what we have on our home currently. Source
Jeeze louise.

We really enjoyed talking to the Local company and they gave us a very reasonable price. He made us feel comfortable with the agreement we came to, and he even made us feel good about not going with the expensive Specialty roof. But, being first time home buyers, we wanted to see if the Big company would match or even beat the local company.

This is where I will say, I am all for staying local. I try and shop local as much as I can, but I wanted to compare prices to see if I could save several thousand dollars.

The immediate difference I saw between the Big Company and the others we met with was appearance. The Specialty and Local company showed up in work attire- which I expected. I'm sorry, but if you're a contractor, I expect a gruff looking guy doing the whole "dirty guy trying to look nice" thing. You know what I mean, Polos under Carhardts. The Big company's salesperson was young and I mean really young. He also toted into the house with 15 bags of crap and after sitting at the table immediately whipped out his iphone and ipad for a "presentation" he also mentioned that they had scanned our house via satellite so he didn't need to take any measurements or do an inspection.

Anyone else REALLY freaked out by that?

He said that after we reached an agreement that someone would come out for a formal measuring and inspection.

Red flag #1: How are you supposed to know what is wrong with my house if you don't climb up there and look?

But, we carried on with the "presentation" to see what the company had to offer.

Red flag #2: The bells and whistles. He was obviously there selling us something, whereas the contractors we spoke to were passionate about their work, they knew that to recommend for our home and they weren't selling "prepackaged" deals.

After about an hour or so of bullshit "touch this" and "try to rip this" he gave us his price.

It was almost double the Local company.

I sat there flabbergasted for a moment. When it comes to stuff like this, I am the negotiator- Nate feels bad for people spending so much time with us, whereas I will sit you there and squeeze every last fucking financed penny out of your ass.

I guess you could say I'm kind of a brutal negotiator.

But at the end of the day, I got the guy talked down $6,000 and we were getting a "better" product and warranty than the local company was offering. I felt really really good about it. I figured I'd forgive the pony show.

We had 3 business days to change our mind with no penalty so we shook his hand to reserve our price and sent him on his way.

Then all weekend, I had that horrible sinking feeling. You know, the one that makes you feel like this?

The deal with struck with the Big company seemed too good to be true, not to mention, why were the originally okay to screw me over on price, only to come down when they knew I had another company out? I started talking to people , looking at reviews online and generally feeding my own paranoia.

I didn't like what I found.

  • A long history of people getting screwed with interest rates and financing (not relevant to us, but nevertheless it speaks for the company)
  • Over 70 negative responses on the better business bureau (do you know how hard it is to get one of those published?!)
  • a long history of subcontractors (which means a lack of quality control)
  • high employee turnover (roofing is not these people's careers. It's something they're doing for the year and they'll eventually move on to another sale's job)
  • marketing pyramid (once you sign your contract, you never see your sales rep again)
  • Fun stories like project managers getting arrested for working while under the influence
The whole thing was sounding fishier and fishier to me. Then the local company called me back to ask me how I was feeling about everything, I told him that we'd decided to go with the other company. He asked me why.

My first reaction was "oh god, he's going to talk me out of it to go with him, blah blah blah"

We spoke for over 45 minutes on the phone. Then after preparing a few more quotes for us to compare apples to apples with the Big company, he personally dropped them off at my house.  Then we spoke for over an hour about everything. We talked fireplaces to bathrooms to plans for the house, what his company has done for the neighborhood- everything. It was really really nice speaking to him.

He also told me that while he didn't want to trash other companies, he would be happy to give me the name of a company he felt comfortable with me working with. It wasn't so much that I wasn't going with him, more that I was going with the company that I'd chosen.

I appreciated his honesty. I appreciated the fact that I'd tried to get a hold of the Big Company six times that day and no one had even returned my calls, yet the owner of this company was willing to come sit on my couch, scratch my dogs and tell me exactly step by step what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, and what to expect.

Needless to say I called and tried to cancel my contract with the Big company.

After trying to get through 3 more times, I finally spoke to someone.

They were rude, condescending and said that it was a "waste of time" to come to my home to speak with me again (I had additional questions- I wanted to give them a chance to explain what I found) and what pissed me off the most? The sales rep didn't remember who I was or what I ordered. 

Listen, I can understand not understanding a name or the exact specifications that I ordered. But if I agreed to give you a substantial amount of money then remind you "Oh, I'm Emma in Lansing, we met on Saturday for a couple hours" you should remember something about me or enough to pretend that you do to make me feel better as a consumer.

After being so rude to me on the phone to the point I basically hung up on him and wrote an email to the company stating what had happened and they damn well better not cash my check, Nate and I had a talk about everything we learned this weekend.

  • You need to find someone who cares about you, your home, and your family. 
    • If someone is going to be working on your home, especially when you're gone, doesn't it make you feel better to know they know you and they know what you need done? I have three dogs- please clean up every night. A company that subcontracts out is sending a crew you've never seen before to your house- they aren't going to know you have specific needs.
  • You need to find a company that is invested in your neighborhood.
    • These huge companies have no idea what is best for your neighborhood. They are going to oversell you products that can easily price you out of the neighborhood because they know nothing about the area they are in.
  • You need to find a company where you know exactly where to go if an issue arises.
    • In the amount of time I spent TRYING to get a hold of someone who knew who the hell I was, the owner of another company was already at my house ready to speak to me face to face. If shit hits the fan, I know I can go straight to the top.
  • Warranties are pieces of shit.
    • More companies we met with were trying to sell the warranty on their roof more than the actual roof itself. In hindsight, this means they're protecting themselves from the fact that they know something isn't going to be done properly. It is more important to know exactly what's going on there and who is doing it than what that piece of paper says
  • You need a roofer- Not a company. 
    • Yes, your roofer needs to have insurance and safety equipment, etc. just like a big company, but a company that is set out to have "the latest and greatest products" may not be the best product for your home. Some of these big companies have prepackaged deals that someone is taught how to sell. I'm sorry, my house is 110 years old- she doesn't fit in your "standard package"
  • You need to trust your gut.
    • I knew the minute that guy walked out the door that something was wrong. Did I listen to it? No. Trust your gut.
  • Don't finance with these big companies!
    • I hope this is an obvious one for everyone. By telling the Big Company guy that we had our own financing in place, he all of a sudden was able to "find" $4000 to take off- even though his company was supposed to have free interest. They don't. They just build it in up front at an AMAZING rate.
  • If you find a good company, Go Local. Ask questions about what they do to help the neighborhood.
    • Our neighborhood is currently up for Lansing's Urban Revitalization grant. The city is trying to bring our neighborhood back to it's former glory. If we'd gone with the big company, our money would have gone out to a CEO's boat. By going with Local, they told us every employee has health benefits, no one makes minimum wage, they only use local companies to get their materials and they never give a job to subcontractors. Our money is staying in our neighborhood and helping people that directly influence our way of life. I certainly would prefer to see that money help the lumberyard down the road than one somewhere  else. 

I'm sorry this was like the longest post ever. But as you can see, we learned a lot about ourselves and the people we are willing to spend money with. As a DIYer, it is really odd to discuss money with someone who's name isn't on the bank account.

What suggestions do you guys have for people looking for a bid on something like this?  

Please do not name companies if you're saying something negative. This is an exercise in us sharing information, any direct company bashing won't be published.


  1. I've been a homeowner since February 2010. In October 2010 our roof started leaking, no idea why because the inspection showed the roof was "fairly new". Decided to go with a metal roof (which we now love) but I didn't investigate the company enough. The lead worker went to jail, didn't tell his boss, and my "2 week" install turned into 4 months. It was a horrible experience and if I would have researched I would have probably gone with another company!

    1. Metal is an amazing product. Once we're for sure in our forever home I will definitely be doing a metal roof! I'm glad everything worked out in the long run. That long wait time was one of the reasons I didn't want Nate doing it! If you're paying someone to do it it should be done FAST.

  2. I think you did a really great job with this post and outlining what you learned- I read every single world :) Thank you.

  3. My experience in Minneapolis has taught me that there are independent crews of laborers who are hired by many different companies to actually do the work, even the smaller, local companies use the subs like this. You should always ask the guy giving the quote if he will actually be the one up on the roof swinging the hammer. You can sign the contract with any company you like, it's the same group of half a dozen immigrant workers who are going to be doing the work anyway. Even when the salesman himself is on site working, he's probably hired the same half-dozen day laborers to help him that the other company would have hired too. Still, you should go with whomever you're comfortable with.

    1. Hi Reuben, it's true, many companies do use day workers. The company we decided to go with actually has a staff that they employ and will only use them- they have been in business for 40 years and never subcontract.

      Always make sure people that speak your preferred language will be at the site. My aunt has a situation where there was a language barrier between her and the workers and they couldn't understand her when she said there was water in the house. Before they got someone that could understand her her whole downstairs was ruined!

  4. This was a great, great post Emma. Well done!

  5. I hate those pushy, bullying sales people. I guess it must work on some people or they wouldn't keep doing it. Lots of great advice (though I hope I don't need a new roof for a long time!)....glad you found someone you're comfortable with!

    1. I HATE pony shows I feel like it is a waste of everyone's time. It all comes down to rapport!

  6. I'm just like you. I can't stand sales people. Aaron got really frustrated with me when we had guys come out to estimate replacing our windows. But it is SO important to follow those guidelines. Great post!

  7. I think the roofers I contacted all did the satellite imaging measurement. Or something from the paperwork as I was buying the house. I then chose one and then they came out and did actual measurements and showed me the metal that would be used on my roof.
    As a Floridian, I chose the metal roof as it's rated to 140 MPH and I opted for white/energy efficient.
    So, was the metal significantly more than shingle there? I am pretty sure the difference in price wasn't that large which is why I opted for it (and a new roof wasn't that cheap).
    Even though a team of engineers/architects came to my house to evaluate my home for sound proofing, they stilled "googled" my address.

    1. Those energy roofs are fascinating! Up here the difference between installing it yourself and having them do it is about a 70% increase. I can't speak for a lot of companies, but some that we were quoted were 2-3 times more than a traditional roof.

    2. Wow on the quotes! Looking back it was 7400 for shingle and 2-3k more for the metal. IIRC the shingle estimate was a very rough estimate (eg giving my house square footage) and then my actual invoice.

      So, the type of roof affects resale value? I think here, having a newer roof adds value but not necessarily type. BUT age and type affects insurance premiums especially when you're in the hurricane zone (less than 5 miles from the ocean).

      The metal was subcontracted out, somehow... Because I got a notice about being liable for paying the subcontractor if the roofing company didn't or some such crap (it's a FL thing that automatically goes out. The roofers paid the metal company but I was freaked out initially).

      Glad your husband is not DIY.

    3. Oh, my roof came with 35 year manufacturer warranty, and 10 year material & labor warranty from the roofer.
      For the flat roof energy efficiency (coating) it is 10 year manufacturer and 7 year workmanship. Then after 10 years, it can be recoated and another 10 year warranty.
      Odd they were trying to sell you a warranty.

      Fascinating the regional differences :)

    4. It wasn't so much that companies were trying to sell warranties as it was that they were talking more about the warranty than they were about the roof. It was very odd that we were speaking more about when things go wrong rather than what they are going to do while they're doing my roof to prevent anything from going wrong.

      In Michigan, a metal roof does add to the value of your home- partially because the next owner will never have to replace it and because of the energy savings.

  8. Great post Emma! Such valuable lessons learned early in your life as a homeowner. My first "horrible incident" with a company happened last spring after owning a home for 20 years--they sent their subcontractor out to do the quote and the work so we never realized that he wasn't the owner. Only when trying to contact someone (other than the sub)to tell them we were stopping payment, did I realize he wasn't the owner. Most owners don't have 1/2 hour swearing tantrums that threaten physical violence and require the customer to call police. Only then did I think to check the BBB. Never again will I allow someone into my home/property that I haven't fully checked out. The point was driven home when this subcontractor told me "I know where you live."

    1. Thank you very much! I am so sorry you had to go through that! That is terrifying! I know it sounds weird because I post pictures of my home on the internet, but I am so paranoid about the whole "I know where you live thing"

  9. Ugh, Big Company sales guy sounds like a guy my fiance had to deal with recently.

    His place of work caught on fire a couple of weeks ago. Random electrical fire, no one was hurt because the store was closed at it was 2am, but because it was 2am and no one was there it went on for a few and the store is tore up from the floor up...

    My fiance described the cleaning crew as "one white guy with a white hard hat who was in charge and a bunch of Hispanic people in blue hard hats." My fiance happens to have a manager who is Hispanic (we're in Southern Ohio, it's not like it's a common occurrence). The guy in charge of the cleaning crew looked at my fiance's manager and asked him if he needed a blue hat. Needless to say a bunch of the managers yelled at the guy for not knowing who he was bringing into their store and a whole number of other things.

    1. That sounds awful! I'm sorry to hear that.

  10. Nice job of explaining what happened. Bottom line, always trust your gut! Good for you both!!!

  11. Good story. I think you'll be a lot happier with your decision.

  12. Loved your post. I learned so much! I have dealt with my fair share of contractors and I am continually surprised by how big a difference there is and also how rare it is to find someone with pride in their work. Oh the stories I could tell you! It sounds like your local guy is a gem! Thanks for the great read!


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