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Dale Investigates: Deck Done Wrong

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It happens far too frequently. A homeowner hires what they think is a reliable contractor to do some work on their home. But after the work is finished, it becomes clear that the contractor was not all they claimed to be. Shoddy workmanship, poor customer service, and dangerous additions are some of the common results. But how do you avoid it? These homeowners thought they were doing it right. Here’s the story of one homeowner who got swindled and how TrustDALE was able to help make it right.

A “Reliable” Reference

Rose and Robert Merrick wanted to build an addition to their deck. They didn’t know any contractors personally, so they decided to look for a reliable reference to get started. Their search led them to Thumbtack.com, a referral site for all types of professionals. Thumbtack’s message is clear: use them to find any professional you need quickly and easily. This is what they say on their website:

No more cold calling. No mystery pricing. No asking neighbors if they “know a guy.” 

It sounds great. But apparently some of the “professionals” who use the Thumbtack service and somewhat less than professional.

An Unprofessional Professional

The Merricks found Mike Murray, who claimed to be a contractor who could build their deck extension. But as soon as he started work, it became apparent that he was not what they expected. The Merricks told our investigative team that Murray was constantly smoking on the job, creating unpleasant smoke around their home. He also made a mess, with tools and materials all over the place.

But that was just the start.

When Murray was done, the Merricks had what could only be called an “amateur” job. First of all, the work was sloppy. Measuring marks were left on parts of the deck in plain view. Screws were placed haphazardly, and joists were installed crooked. This certainly didn’t look like the work of a professional.

On further inspection, the work was even worse. Murray had failed to build to code. One of the main support beams for the deck was incorrectly sized. Where there should have been a sturdy 6”x6” post, Murray had installed a 4”x4” post. That left the whole deck in danger of collapse. In other spots, screws were installed with missing bolts. In some cases, important screws that were supposed to connect to a supporting joist completely missed the mark. The deck was so poorly built that the only solution would be a complete teardown and rebuild.

Terrible Customer Service

When the Merricks tried to complain about the work, Murray reached out to them by text message. But his demeanor was far from conciliatory. In fact, Murray sent a flurry of messages peppered with obscene language in which he threatened physical violence against the professionals who had evaluated the Merricks’ deck. That’s about as far from customer service as you can get.

By this point, the Merricks had just about reached their limit. It looked like the TrustDALE team was going to have to find a way to make this right, even without Murray’s participation.

A Partial Resolution

In the end, Thumbtack took some responsibility and did what’s right. They gave the Merricks a partial refund so they could get the work corrected. In addition, the TrustDALE team brought in one of our certified deck construction professionals, Robbie Boyd of Ben Hill Renovations. He took a look at the deck and quickly realized that this was going to be a complete teardown and replacement.

Robbie told the Merricks and us that he sees this kind of situation far too often. In fact, he’s tired of seeing it. To make things right for the Merricks, Ben Hill Renovations agreed to do the reconstruction at cost. The Merricks would only pay the actual cost of the materials and labor, with no markup. All that they asked in return was that the Merricks pay it forward by letting people know about this issue.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

The Merricks thought they were being responsible. They went to a website that seemed to be professional and well-regarded. And in the end, Thumbtack did take responsibility for their poor referral. But all of this could have been avoided by taking a few precautions.

Whenever you hire a professional to do some work for you, take time to do a little research. Start by looking at reviews. Any reliable professional should have plenty of online reviews. Check the poorest reviews to get an idea of what problems people may have had and how common they are. Sometimes bad reviews are just the result of a disgruntled customer, but if you see problems coming up again and again, steer clear.

Even after you check the online reviews, ask your potential professional for some real-life referrals. Get the names of some previous customers and actually call at least two or three of them. You can also check the Better Business Bureau. A reliable professional should have an A or A+ rating.

Of course, if you want to be sure you are getting the best professionals with the best prices and best service, there’s nothing better than TrustDALE certified pros. You can search for the professionals you need right from our homepage.