A blog to record my experience in getting a new garage built in Chicago by the company Garage King.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Signing the contract

This will be in two parts: the contract signing process, and then a reflection on it.

The salesman's Garage King pitch seemed thorough, and raised issues that I wouldn't have otherwise thought about -- things like thickness of the slab, tearing up the existing slab vs. putting the new one over the old one, wire mesh vs. rebar, etc. -- I will outline some of these in a future post.

However, once we got into the actual contract signing process, other things came to the fore.

First, we decided to get part of the sidewalk from the house to the garage re-done -- it was breaking up in a number of places (always amazing what little plants can do), and we hadn't shopped that around. The price the salesman gave us seemed reasonable, so that got added on to the total.

If I was to do this over, I think I would have gotten another quote on just the sidewalk, just to have a sense as to how much that kind of thing cost.

Second, when we picked siding for the garage to match what was on the house, it turned out to be one of three colors that were "extra". I have wondered if this was some sort of scam, that whatever kind we picked would have been "extra", but we could easily have backed off of that to a close color, so I don't think that was the case. However, it would have been good to know up-front that some sidings cost more than others. When the salesman first came by, I should have indicated the color we wanted (my wife wasn’t there when the salesman came by the first time, so colors were deferred to the contract-signing day).

If I was to do this over, I would have picked the colors out when the salesman was here the first time, and asked if there was any additional charge for the colors picked.

Third, while the salesman seemed to be very thorough in going through the contract, at the very end of the first part of signing the contract, after I thought we had arranged on a price, he threw in that we also had to pay sales tax. This was a bit of a shock -- a hidden price that I had not heard about until then. And I must say I thought that it was very unethical? Dishonest? Deceptive? Just plain uncool? How this extra cost got tossed it. Since sales tax in Chicago is 9%, this is not a trivial amount. And here is where the whole process started to turn sour.

Up to that point, everything had been painless, straightforward; the information we were given was helpful and plausible. The extra cost for the vinyl was a bit disconcerting, but par for the course. But not to have been told from the beginning that the prices did not include sales tax seemed just plain sneaky, and has injected an element of distrust into the whole process -- what else am I not hearing about? What other surprises await us? Call me naïve, or a fool, but up to then I saw the salesman as an ally, not a mano-a-mano who will get the best of the situation kind-of-thing. In retrospect I can be amazed at how quickly a relationship, such that it is, can turn.

I asked why there was sales tax on a garage, and the salesman backed off a bit, remembering that it only applied to materials. The back of the contract, the fine print stuff, says that 75% of the cost is (rather arbitrarily I would say) assigned to materials. So the sales tax really only needed to be applied to 75% of the total, which knocked some off of the price. I did actually check with the city of Chicago, and the state of Illinois Dept of Revenue, and they confirmed that sales tax should be collected from the vendor for purchased materials, and that that cost was basically being passed along.

I still complained about how this was being raised at the last minute, and the salesman agreed to knock $100 of extra cost of the siding. We shook on it, although even now I get this sickly feeling, like I swallowed a large rock and it is stuck in my chest, about the whole thing.

If I was to do this over, I would clarify when we got the quote whether sales tax was included or extra, and how much it would be if not included. At signing time, if any other significant charges were introduced, I think it would have been prudent to stop the signing, confirm with my wife, and if need be say we needed to think some more about this and re-schedule the contract signing. Ah hindsight!

There were several other forms to sign. Two things in retrospect have thrown up caution flags. First, there's a form to say that we will pay $60 per inch of concrete for the slab, above 8 inches, if needed. The salesman insisted that this only applied in hilly terrain, where a retaining wall might be necessary for the garage. But I am concerned now that he wasn't completely straightforward as to how much concrete we are going to need for our slab. Our garage today sits below the level of the alley, and so will collect water. The salesman insisted that they would build the floor up to above the alley, and grade the slab slightly so that water in the garage would drain to the alley (the common example is if you wanted to wash your car in the garage, you would want the water to drain out). But my concern at this point is that the eight inch foundation they would lay -- 4 inches of rock and 4 inches of concrete, may turn out not to be enough. This is a bridge still to be crossed.

If I was to do this over, I would get in writing exactly how concrete was going to be necessary to for my garage, even if that meant having the concrete subcontractor come out and tell me.

Finally, and this was just silly to agree to this, I think the final electrical work is only done after Garage King gets their final payment (payment is in thirds, 1/3 on signing, 1/3 after the concrete work is done, and 1/3 on completion of the carpentry, which as I understand it does NOT include the electrical work). So the risk here is that there is some dispute over some aspect of the work, Garage King might not send the electrician out until we pay up.

If I was to do this over, I would not deliver final payment until ALL of the work was complete. Maybe structure the payments as 1/3 signing, 1/3 concrete, 1/6 carpentry, 1/6 completion, or something like that.

These last few worries would not have even entered into my consciousness if it wasn't for the sneakiness about the sales tax. It's not that I mind paying the sales tax in general (never mind what the hopeless Cook County government does with it, or the padded payrolls in Chicago, etc.), but that it was sprung at the last minute. I would rather have no surprises. At this point, in the limbo between contract-signing and work beginning, the mind can play devilish tricks as to what is to come. But when I step back, I realize that a lot of that is due to the distrust that the sales tax ambush left. Why do salespeople do that?

We did check Garage King out with the Chicago area Better Business Bureau, they have a satisfactory record, are a member, with only 9 complaints in the last 36 months. Another Chicago-area garage builder (Danley Garage World), also rated "satisfactory", has had 52 complaints in the last 36 months.

So now we wait for Garage King to get the city permits, which I am hoping/expecting to be done in another week or so. So more then. And in the meantime, maybe some more reflection on the selling-buying process.