Home improvement training video; Legit?
March 16, 2009 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Is 40% off a kitchen renovation to be used in training videos and advertisements too good to be true? I'm looking to the hive to help me ask smart questions that will suss out a scam.

So last night while making my patented green-chili burros, I got fed up for the last time. My kitchen sucks. It's about 50 years old, half the age of the house. Mrs. Butterstick and I love the old house, but the kitchen needs to go and the bottom floor needs to be opened up. We planned on doing this ourselves next year after some savings, but an interesting opportunity may have presented itself.

This weeks Val-pak of coupons included an ad for a company called Landmark Home Improvement which claimed that they were looking for houses in need of improvement. So after smashing my knuckles on the radiator that is flush with the open oven door for the Nth time, I called the number and left a message. That was last night.

10 minutes ago I got a call back. Apparently Landmark is looking to make instructional videos and advertising materials from home improvement projects in my area. Like it says on the tin. The price is supposed to be 40% off of materials and labor, and the project would be completed within 60 days. They are sending someone from the "executive staff" over to evaluate the situation. They had an opening TOMORROW NIGHT and so I took it.

So how do I make sure this isn't a scam? I'm planning on just telling them what we were planning on doing, and how much we were planning on spending, and seeing if they can give us something comparable. My concern is that if they see this as a showcase for their products, they might not be as concerned with preserving my 100 year old home's character. That would be a non-starter for most people though, so I can't imagine we wouldn't get some sort of sign off on the design. We have a family lawyer for real-estate deals and such; should I bring her in on this to look at any contracts involved, or is that more of a game day call?

Is this realistic, or do they just inflate their prices by 40% and try to sucker people with the "I'M GONNA BEE ON TEH TEEVEE!!!" angle?
posted by butterstick to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you talking about these guys?


Sounds like a scam to me, personally. It's all happening waaaay to quick, and the video part just sounds like a line to me.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:44 AM on March 16, 2009

ya i found this: http://www.merchantcircle.com/business/Landmark.Home.Improvements.Inc.609-567-2828

looks like a scam
posted by patnok at 7:46 AM on March 16, 2009

If it's too good to be true, it's not true.
posted by NekulturnY at 7:48 AM on March 16, 2009

magstheaxe yes, that is the company in question.

patnok i'm not sure one horrible review weighs quite enough here. I will be asking about the sales rep they mention though.
posted by butterstick at 8:01 AM on March 16, 2009

1- Yes, it could be a scam. Either there's some kind of "catch" in the fine print, or it's just old fashioned Irish-Traveler style "give us your money and we'll rip out your kitchen and then "discover" some hidden issue and try to soak you for more $$$ because you now have no kitchen" deal.

2- It could be a scam, in that the whole "promotional video" thing is fake, and they are just using it to drum up business. They show you the MSRP for all the stuff they are going to put in your house, and then show you how they are then only charging you 60% of that. But in reality, you are paying the same thing anyone else would charge you. Or they show you the MSRP for more expensive stuff, and install nearly identical but way cheaper stuff.

3- It could be real- you'd think lots of people would jump at this kind of unique discount, but people are often cynical (see above) and just ignore their ads. So they have to advertise and jump quickly on any leads they have.

4- It could be real, but *their* needs might only match very specific projects. Maybe they need a kitchen of a certain size to work with, maybe they don't want to mess around with moving walls, etc. So the offer might be perfectly legit, but not apply to very many situations.

My advice- Don't tell them how much you were willing to spend. Do some quick due diligence. Come up with a quick design of what you wanted, go to Home Depot and price out what it ought to cost. This many cabinets, that many square feet of tile, x gallons of paint. Suss out a broad estimate of what labor might be- one hour for each cabinet unit, one hour per square yard of flooring, an hour per wall painted, maybe 12 hours for demo. Just have a really ballpark number with which to mentally compare with their number. If their estimate is way off from yours, have them explain in detail how they determine their number.

Second, let them make their pitch, and have them give you a copy of the proposal and contract, and tell them you'll make a decision soon. If they start doing any of that "you have to sign tonight to take advantage of this deal!" bullshit, send them packing. If they seem cool, get another estimate or two from other regular contractors. Have your lawyer look over their documents, and then make an informed decision...
posted by gjc at 8:05 AM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

You could always get a second estimate from another company.
posted by amtho at 8:12 AM on March 16, 2009

I agree with gjc's first two scenarios - I've been to more than one business where everything seems to be 50% off all the time.

Also, regarding going to Home Dept for an estimate to compare - HD was over $1000 more for kitchen cabinets than the place I got mine from for the same thing. (The cabinets were $3400 vs $4500 at Home Depot.) So weigh that when you price things, that by shopping around, (I only went to three places) I was able to save a lot.
posted by artychoke at 8:25 AM on March 16, 2009

Yeah, elaborating on what gjc said, I suddenly remembered a few of the interviews I did a long time ago with hardsellers (the "coffee is for closers" kind).

How to spot a hardseller?

1, They will never talk about the price (until the very, very end). They will build your expectations, and always talk about anything but the price. The idea is to make you think "this will be horribly expensive" and then when you hear the price you think, ah, that's not too bad.

2, They will try to form a personal rapport with the mark. This is not the guy who comes into your kitchen and says: ok, a stove, a dishwasher and a few cupboards, that will be 3000 $. Instead, they will talk at length about You. Your fine taste. Your beautiful house. The quality of the neighbourhood. The importance of a good home. The joy of pets. The worries of a parent. Any safe subject where you can give someone the impression of agreeing with them by mumbling cliches.

One of the most used techniques is the "yes"-technique. The idea is that by getting people to say 'yes' a lot of times in a conversation, they will be more inclined to say 'yes, we'll order the kitchen'. That's why they'll be asking a lot of inane questions at the start of a conversation. 'Isn't the weather cold today'. Yes, sir, it is. 'Is this your home?' Yes, it is. 'Wow, it must be lovely to live here.' Yes, it kind of is. 'Boy, this is really something. I bet you were chuffed to find a home as lovely as this'. Yep, we were. 'And look at that beautiful garden.' Yes, look at it. 'Oh, my, this kitchen, I bet you'll be happy to see it go'. Yes, we will.

3, To build rapport, they usually employ a version of the "Friendly Boss" routine. The 'Friendly Boss' is someone who outranks the seller and tells him (either in person at the scene or by telephone) to give you a better deal because of who you are rather than objective reasons. Because you're a sympathetic couple. Or because you have the same dog as the 'Friendly Boss'. Any reason will do. If you hear something like: "I just called my boss and guess what, I can shave another 5 % off the deal", you can be sure that it's a scam. 'Just before I left, I had a meeting with our Chief Marketing Officer USA who happened to be in town and he gave us the new prices: guess what, another ten percent cheaper.' Yep: scam.

The idea is that you will be so flushed with positive emotion ('We were Chosen! By the Chief Marketing Officer USA!') that, out of gratitude, you'll let yourself be scammed. And it is a very, very effective technique, so be acutely aware for any variation of this.

4, Pressure. This is the most important thing. A hardseller will try to close as soon as possible. When he enters the house, he wants to leave with a signature in his order book. You will try to give signals that you're fed up with him, and he will just be sitting there forever. He knows you want him out of the house, but he won't leave without a signature.

He is counting on you not saying the words: "get out of my house NOW", because you're polite and courteous and - after all - you invited him into your house. He will tell you that he can't "guarantee" this great price tomorrow. He'll tell you: 'We have this huge project at that big hotel that's going to start soon, and all our teams are going to work on that, but I think I can just squeeze you in before that'. There is no huge project at a big hotel. There are no teams. He just wants you to sign. Just tell him in no uncertain terms that you won't be signing anything, and that he needs to leave your house.
posted by NekulturnY at 8:35 AM on March 16, 2009 [18 favorites]

NekulturnY & gjc have the most helpful responses. I'll treat this with extreme skepticism and arm myself with as much market knowledge as possible. I should probably pre-empt the discussion by stating that there will be no signature till I compare prices. And ask for referrals.

Thanks all. I'll mark one as best after the meeting.
posted by butterstick at 8:44 AM on March 16, 2009

I'm not sure what "home improvement videos" they're claiming to make but I can tell you that Mr. Kangaroo is a television cameraman who shoots a lot of stuff for HGTV, and for various corporations, many of which are DIY-type productions, and none of them use ValPak coupons to find homes to shoot. This seriously sounds like a gimmick to snag new customers in slow times. NekulturnY is so right. They're going to tell you that your home is PERFECT for their remodeling videos. They feel SO LUCKY to have found this most wonderful home to renovate. Everyone wins!

They had an opening tomorrow night? I'm not surprised. This stinks to me. Even if you decide not to go with these guys (and I hope you don't) I bet they'll hound you for months.
posted by Kangaroo at 8:45 AM on March 16, 2009

Reminds me of Danny Devito in Tin Men. They were selling aluminum siding. Scam.
posted by pointilist at 8:47 AM on March 16, 2009

NekulturnY: That is a fabulous analysis of the hard-sell. For some reason, Java isn't working reliably on my Ubuntu box to allow me to mark as favorite.
posted by Goofyy at 9:07 AM on March 16, 2009

In my experience, any contractor that utilizes a sales force (rather than having the contractor come talk to you directly) is going to end up overcharging you to cover the cost of the salesman. Get references from your neighbors and co-workers, or Angie's List if it operates in your community. Don't hire for a job this big and expensive from the Val Pak.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:14 AM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's the BBB listing on Landmark. You'll note their sales practices irked someone so much that the consumer was forced to file with the Better Business Bureau.

Since it's gone so far to 10 on the skeptical meter, it's almost like a social experiment at this point.

I'd imagine it's going to be much like going to a car lot and dealing with a car salesman, except it's on your turf. Don't tip your hand by acting too enthused about anything. Don't say how much you want to spend. You're simply interested in some info, but you could take it or leave it, and there are other car lots (contractors) that you plan on checking out anyway. And if you get pressured in any way, say something like you were chatting with your lawyer about another issue, mentioned this appointment and your lawyer definitely wants to go over the offer/quote/paperwork. That will back him the hell off.
posted by jerseygirl at 9:29 AM on March 16, 2009

I can't add to the brilliant dissections of sales techniques listed above, but I did want to ask that you come back and tell us what happened, please!
posted by dejah420 at 1:27 PM on March 16, 2009

Oh yeah...forgot to add: I've done a lot of remodeling on houses, and it's really important up front to make sure that you're dealing with a licensed, bonded, INSURED General Contractor. Lots of people can say they do remodeling, but GCs actually have to pass a test, and have state licenses and insurance.

Do not let anyone, ever work on your house without verifying their insurance papers and making sure their license is valid. Trust me on this one.

Landmark looks to me to be a "clearinghouse", where they get orders, then they job the work out to subcontractors. There's so many liability issues there. You want anyone who walks in the door to be licensed, bonded and insured. I cannot stress this enough.
posted by dejah420 at 1:31 PM on March 16, 2009

I would be very careful about dealing with this company. I am an attorney who represented a customer of another company that operated out of 3100 White Horse Pike, Hammonton, which may be the same facility, with a different mailing address. Garden State Remodelers, Inc, who used non licensed individuals to do electrical work as part of a renovation, and did not insulate an exterior wall, amongst a whole host of other problems. While we won the trial, we have yet to collect the judgment. I would be very interested in seeing any marketing materials that they supplied you with.

Last week, the court appointed a receiver over Garden State Remodelers and Garden State Sunrooms. Landmark may be another corporate identity for the same owners and employees. BE CAREFUL about dealing with them, and check the BBB ratings on the two other names that I have provided.

There are many good contractors out there, just as there are many good lawyers, unfortunately it is the few bad apples that stain the reputations of everyone. Any contractor that trys to sell the job based on your monthly payments, as opposed to the cost per item, such as $425 a window for Anderson window model #----, should really be watched carefully.
posted by WRobbGraham at 7:12 AM on November 13, 2009

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