How to…..deal with a home improvement salesman

The door-to-door home improvement salesman is a magnet for bad press – the Office of Fair Trading cites some of the most common complaints about door-to-door selling as: being pressured to have work done which you don’t really need, being overcharged, losing your deposit to rogue traders and work being left unfinished as traders go out of business.

However not all home improvement salesmen are bad guys – most of them are just trying to earn a living! So instead of slamming the door in their faces or hanging up the phone, here are five easy ways to deal with a home improvement salesman and an explanation of your rights as a consumer.

1 – Take the pressure off
Never be pressured into getting home improvements which you don’t need, just because the salesman is standing there on the doorstep. A salesman putting too much pressure on you to make a decision is a bad sign – the company may only be in the area for a few days touting for business, which could void any guarantees and make it difficult to track them down if things go wrong. A genuine home improvement salesman will give you time to make your decision – by law, if the salesman’s visit is unsolicited (i.e. you did not invite him round for an appointment), you are entitled to seven days’ thinking time. During this seven day period you can consider the offer, get quotes from other builders to compare deals or even change your mind completely.

2 – Be patient
Never sign the contract on the initial consultation – even if you are tempted by special offers which have to be signed for that day. Take the seven-day thinking period to read over the contract, even if you do not think you need to – make sure you read all the clauses and the small print. Once you have signed the contract, you have limited cancellation rights – contracts are legally binding and you cannot back out of them just because you have changed your mind. Most importantly, never sign the contract just because you want to get rid of the salesman – it’s far better to listen to half an hour of sales patter than to enter into a contract for thousands of pounds which you can’t get out of later.

3 – Your right to cancel
In certain cases, where a salesman has visited your home uninvited and you have signed a contract, you can get out of it if you act fast. However this is a risk – a contract is legally binding and there are criteria in place to stop you breaking your end of the bargain. You are only protected if the salesman called at your house totally unexpectedly and you signed the contract on that first visit in your own home. Secondly, the goods or services which you have bought must amount to over £35. If both of these criteria stand, then you have seven days to back out of the contract under The Consumer Protection Regulations 1987 (commonly known as the Doorstep Selling Regulations).

You must cancel your contract in writing to the trader and the cancellation takes effect at the time of posting. It is a legal requirement for traders to inform customers of their cancellation rights – those who fail to do this cannot enforce the agreement. Note that responding to a telephone call asking you for a consultation, an advert in the local paper or a leaflet through the door for home improvements all count as inviting a salesman into your home, and automatically void the cancellation criteria.

4 – Make a short-list
Comparing more than one contractor is perhaps the most important part of home improvements. Even if you still decide to go for the salesman who called at the door, it’s still vital to get quotes from three or four other companies. Get as much literature from the door-to-door salesman as you can and then ask friends or neighbours if they have heard of the company or know any examples of their work. Also ask your friends if they know of any other builders whom you may have missed off your list. Always look for contractors who are members of a local trade association and who have premises in the area, and drive past it if you can – anyone can put an address onto a business card which is not really a builder’s yard at all. Beware of cards which have only a telephone number and no address and of cold callers whose business details you cannot find in the local directories or online.

5 – Preference Services
Door-to-door and telephone sales are still viable ways to get good deals on home improvements – most salesman are working for local building firms and offer the same quality services at competitive rates. However if cold calling just gets on your nerves and you know you will never use those sellers, there are preference services in place which, if you enrol, makes it illegal for unsolicited callers to contact you. www.tpsonline.org.uk is the official website of the Telephone Preference Service, where consumers can register online to exempt both landline and mobile numbers from sales calls. Most local councils will provide homes with signs and stickers for the front door which bars sellers from knocking. Preference services make it illegal for any company or sole trader to contact you unsolicited.

At the end of the day
There are three main consumer rights connected to home improvements. Regardless of where you buy, you have a right that the work be completed with reasonable skill and care, within a reasonable time frame and be provided at a reasonable cost.

photo credit: Home Improvement Quotes

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