Category: Caveat Emptor


USPS Not Helpful

December 10th, 2013 — 8:15pm

I sent three items priority 1-day mail at the post office at a cost of $5.60 each. Two of the items took four days to go about an hour’s drive. The other took six days and was routed through New Jersey. I heard I could get a refund, but when I tried, I was told priority 1-day mail is not guaranteed. It’s really just best effort. So basically, it’s totally worthless. I could have spent about 0.50 and had the same results. At least my experience wasn’t this bad. Hey! Mine went through the same NJ distribution center!

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A place to sleep (continued)

July 19th, 2012 — 7:09pm

See last post.

VCF set a time. They called the day before, but it turned out they wouldn’t go to my address. After hanging up, I did some research and found out that there was another store close by. I had to make numerous calls to two different stores. Every VCF seems to have a different system for handling calls. Store 59 has a particularly obnoxious call waiting sound. It’s a loud beep every few seconds. I guess they really don’t want your call.

Eventually, I thought that they were going to call back to set a new time, but after calling a couple of times, I thought maybe they were avoiding me instead. So that evening, I sent a nasty email through their website. This may have been a little premature.

Hello, I waited a week and a half to have a service person sent out to fix my new sofa. Then I was told store 59 doesn’t go to [removed]. After several more phone calls, I found out that store 74 does service [removed]. I’ve called twice and was supposed to receive a return call.

Please take a look at the wonderful quality of this Value City Furniture product! I was not expecting luxury for under $1000, but is it too much to ask that it at least be functional? These photos go up on my blog next week.

In the mean time, I spent a lot of money on this nearly functional sofa bed, and I plan to use it. It’s really wobbly though; I hope I don’t get hurt. I don’t suppose you know what jury awards for product liability torts go for these days? It’s probably a little more than the three dollars in gas it will take to send the service tech out here. Anyhow, give me a call.

I provided links to the following images.

I called again the next morning and they finally agreed to send a service technician. There was also some whining about how they weren’t really supposed to do this since I picked the sofa up myself rather than paying for the delivery fee. Later in the day, someone called about the email I had sent. I told him store 74 had agreed to send someone out; he sounded relieved. Now we’ll find out if they can actually fix the problem.

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A place to sleep

July 18th, 2012 — 9:30pm

My girlfriend followed me to Maryland. She hired MBM Moving Systems to move her stuff. For the most part, everything went fine. But her sofa showed up with oil stains on it. She didn’t pay for an extended insurance policy, so her damages were limited to 60 cents per pound, or $180 for the sofa. This covered slightly more than the cost of having the stains removed.

Unfortunately removing oil stains from fabric is really hard, and the company she hired to do it wasn’t very successful. We decided to flip the cushions over and live with the remaining stains. They weren’t that noticeable. But then we got a big surprise. The bed in the sofa was wrecked beyond repair. I have never even been able to figure out how it was damaged so badly. It must have taken some immense force, like say dropping it a story, yet somehow the exterior of the sofa was not damaged. In any case she was screwed.

But it gets better. In order to get the $180 for a sofa that cost around five times as much, they made her sign a document that said they had no further obligations and that she would not report them to any reporting agencies such as the BBB. And she had to get it notarized. I doubt that such a document would hold up in court if it was challenged, but they still withheld her money until it was signed and notarized.

I needed a cheap sofa for my house. So I bought her a new sofa bed, and took her still-functional-as-a-sofa sofa bed. Value City Furniture (VCF) has lower end furniture that you can get at good prices. We found a sofa bed that I thought was comparable to, but maybe not quite as nice, as what she had, and it was on sale for $500. When we picked it up, I made sure it was intact and that it included the bed. It was possible to buy the same sofa without the bed for $100 less, so I need to make sure they didn’t screw it up. Everything looked good.

And yet it wasn’t. After we set it up and attached the feet, I found out that the top of the bed was three to four inches higher than the bottom of the bed. Basically, it was unusable. I don’t understand how such a thing ever could have even left the factory. It would have take 10 seconds to pull it out and look at it and see that it was not fit for sale.

By now I’m getting upset. She spent around $900 for a sofa that only lasted a few years. Then she spent another $100 on an air mattress to replace the bed. I invested another $500, and we still don’t have a working sofa bed, never mind the time we’ve invested. I drove all the way back to the store to verify the demo model they had shown us did in fact have a bed that was level with the ground. I was told to have the service department have a service technician come out and take a look.

More to come.

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Take Caution with New Technology

March 14th, 2011 — 9:21pm

When I was in high school I needed a method of backing up data. Standard 3.5″ floppy disks were too small. This was around the time that zip drives were becoming popular. I bought a Sony HiFD thinking I was being clever because it was backwards compatible with 3.5″ disks. It never worked correctly. Within a year or so, it vanished; everyone was using zip drives.

Since then I’ve decided I don’t want to be an early adopter. Don’t get me wrong — I love technology. I just don’t want to be the one to suffer through all the bugs and failures. I usually prefer to buy the previous generation of technology. That way I know it’s at least somewhat stable.

A few years ago I was bitten by a similar problem. I replaced my thermostat with a programmable ritetemp. It only cost $50-$60, and it was almost entirely electronic except for a few buttons. I wasn’t really worried about it failing. Due to problems with my heat pump the programmable features were never used after the first month following installation.

For the most part it worked for about two years, although all the features confused some of my roommates. Then it failed. Actually, it appears to me like it’s still working, but the HVAC guy who replaced it said it was the cause of the heat not turning on. I estimate the installation, diagnosis and re-installation, plus the two devices cost about $500. And I got absolutely nothing for that $500 except another (non-programmable) digital thermostat that might fail. The old one had probably been there since the house was built in the 1980s. The cost of the device was no big deal. The problem was the labor.

If you’re going to install new technology (or even old technology) in your house or your car, you have to consider not only what the cost of installation is, but what it will cost to get it replaced if it fails. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. So often, it’s true!

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Check Your Receipt

March 13th, 2011 — 2:59pm

My parents meticulously check every penny of every purchase on the receipt. The compare the receipts against the credit card statement. They check utility bills, etc. And they are frequently finding mistakes.

I rarely check receipts and bills closely. I understand that I’m probably being slightly overcharged on a fairly regular basis, but I have decided that the time and energy it takes to carefully audit every single receipt and bill is not worth the money it might save me. On the other hand, I do attempt to at least make a quick estimate of the correct amount of the receipt or bill. It takes only a few seconds to decide whether or not the total is at least in the ball park. I usually spend about 30 seconds scanning down my credit card statement to make sure there is nothing suspicious on there. Twice I’ve discovered that I was double charged. The first time, I disputed the charge with the bank and was eventually credited that amount. The second time, I called the company and they credited the amount back to my card. A few seconds of work can save you money.

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Sometimes A Warranty Is Important

March 3rd, 2011 — 11:11pm

I’ve purchased warranties on relatively low cost items before.  It wasn’t something I gave much thought to.  I was asked “do you want to warranty on those tires?”  I said yes.  Then ten minutes later I thought to myself: Gee, that was a waste of money.  Even if something had happened to the tire during the the warranty period, it would have been cheaper to go to Walmart and have the hole plugged than to pay for the warranty.

On the other hand, sometimes that warranty is an important insurance policy.  I don’t have enough experience to know when you need a warranty and when you don’t, but I can say that I’ve had bad experiences with HVAC.  HVAC labor is probably the most expensive I’ve had to pay for.  And that’s when things go as planned.  When things go wrong, watch out!

My 23 year-old heat pump failed about a year after I bought my house.  I was given a few estimates, after which I decided not to go cheap.  The estimates seemed to come in at about the same price for the same heat pump, but only one of the companies made any attempt to do everything by the book.  Britts Mechanical (I think was the name) made all the measurements to determine the correct heat pump capacity.  They offered a one year warranty and said they would pull all the necessary permits.  Even though they cost a little more, I didn’t want to take any risks.

Almost immediately after getting the new heat pump and air handler, my electric bill went way up.  Now remember, my ancient heat pump from the 1980s probably had about half the efficiency of the modern one.  I was expecting a bill that was 20%-40% lower.  Unfortunately for me, I have a lot of self-doubt, especially when I don’t understand something very well.  And I don’t have a clue how a heat pump works or what a normal August electric bill in North Carolina is.  Also, I only had one data point; the high bills disappeared as soon as it cooled down.

In any case, I still complained to the owner that I believed something was wrong.  He said he could come by and take a look and told me to contact the electric company to get information about average temperatures.  Well I was doubting myself even more after that, so I declined and said I would keep an eye on it.  So the next summer I lost my job and moved to Maryland.  I got two very large electric bills during the summer but assumed it was because my roommates had simply turned the a/c way up (which was true) while I was gone.  What I didn’t realize until the following summer was that they had turned the a/c up because it wasn’t working (and of course they never said anything about it).

Two years had passed, and I now had tenants living there.  They were having problems with the a/c and eventually received a ridiculous electric bill.  My warranty had, of course, expired by this point, but I contacted the company that did the HVAC work.  Apparently they had gone out of business, but I didn’t know this yet.  More about that soon.  I was given the number for Air Experts, which at the time, I believed was the same company that had done the original work.  The lady on the phone insisted that the problem was due to the high temperatures.  After discussing it for a few minutes, I finally caved and accepted her conclusion.  I gave my tenants the company’s contact information and went on vacation.

My tenants had the company come out more than once.  Apparently the first time they couldn’t find the problem, so they did some maintenance instead.  Eventually they found a few problems.  The air handler wasn’t draining, and the heat sequensor was stuck which was causing the auxiliary heat to run continuously (whatever that means).  It had obviously been this way since they installed it.  I have no idea whether they did the installation wrong or if they just sold me a broken heat pump.

Many weeks went by without a bill ever appearing.  I assumed they were embarrassed over the whole thing and weren’t going to send a bill.  This had already cost maybe $1000 in excess electric bills, and I would think that for the two summers the thing was running with serious problems, its life span was probably shortened.  Since I was partly at fault, I didn’t push the matter.

Then the bill did come.  Apparently they had sent it to my tenants’ address instead of my current address.  I felt like this was adding insult to injury.  How many times am I going to have to pay for another person’s screw up?  So I sent a nasty email.  This was when I was told that the two companies were actually not the same.  One had bought the assets and hired the employees of the other, and so they technically had no obligations to me.  Sounds fishy, right?  Ultimately, they agreed to drop most of the charges.  Why I still had to pay for maintenance that I never even asked for, I don’t understand.  I was irritated again a few months later when I received a letter that went out to all their customers stating that they the two companies had merged.  To this day, I’m still not sure if one of them really ever went out of business.  However, I was lucky to get any concession at all since the warranty had expired.

So I guess the lesson behind all this is to not only get a warranty, but make sure you use it.  Don’t sit on it until it’s too late!  I think you can see how you can quickly have costs mounting into the thousands of dollars.

That was the first bad experience.  I had not learned my lesson yet.  At almost the same time this was going on, the a/c compressor in my car failed.  It cost around $750 to get it replaced.  Here again, the labor was not cheap.  I noticed almost immediately that the new one didn’t seem to be doing as good a job as the old one.  However, I had just changed jobs and was only driving two miles to work, so I assumed it was just taking a while before it started cooling.  I know, I know, I should have figured this out.  I don’t even think a/c takes any start-up time like heat.

After a few months, I drove to North Carolina on a very hot day.  I learned very quickly that the a/c was not working at all.  I ended up making 10 trips in total to the mechanic (5 there and 5 back).  On one of those trips, the company that sold the compressor, SPI Distribution, sent the wrong compressor, according to the mechanic.  Ultimately, I wasted about a day’s worth of time making trips back and forth, and it cost me an extra $222, again for mistakes that were 100% another person’s fault.  This time there was no warranty on the labor, and I wish I had thought about that before they did the work.  I never made an attempt to get any of the money back.  I had no warranty.  I hadn’t directly done business withe the company that sold the part, and I couldn’t even get my mechanic to give me the receipt.

In the future, I won’t pay for any labor or parts that involve heating or cooling systems without a warranty.  If it’s just duct work, maybe that’s OK, but expensive mechanical equipment needs a warranty.  Perhaps I’ve just had some bad luck.  What are your experiences?

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