DennisBeaverSeptember 30, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Thinking of installing a new automatic garage door opener? Before just calling the first company you find in the Yellow Pages, it might pay to learn from the experience of Los Angeles reader, Ted.

A neighbor recently installed a new garage door opener. I had no idea how much the technology had evolved, as it was incredibly quiet, had two bright lights, automatic reversing safety equipment and a battery back-up. Like a 5-year-old kid, I opened and closed it repeatedly, comparing it with our old, noisy opener. It was a Liftmaster and I called a local company that advertised that brand, and asked them to come out and install one. A price around $400 was quoted. Out they came, but the installer said that they no longer carried Liftmaster, but a different type that did the same thing, only better. I gave the go ahead.

Opening and closing the garage was irritatingly slow! I complained and was told that it is better than Liftmaster because it uses a DC motor and slow makes it safer. But this was driving me nuts, as you had to be within a few feet of the door for the remote to work and I almost fell asleep waiting for it to open! After putting up with frustration for months, I told the company to take it out and install a Liftmaster. They reluctantly did, but billed me $450 – the cost of a new opener – and refused to allow any credit! And, to top it all, they have kept the first one they installed! Unless I pay, the salesman is threatening to send my name to a collection agency or take me to court. What do you suggest? Ted.

Ups and Downs of Garage Door Openers

“If there is any one investment that home owners use every day and seldom research, it is their automatic garage door opener. While they all do the same thing, some are much better than others, and a lot of bad-mouthing of perfectly good products goes on every day,” I was told by the owner of one of California’s largest distributors of openers who requested that I not use his or his company’s name. My discussions with him were a real eye opener on a device we all take for granted.

“It does not take much to go into the Garage Door/Automatic Opener Installation business, and there are too many retailers who do not care about quality. There are a handful of good companies who manufacture quality automatic garage door openers, but in recent years we have seen a number of off-brands of questionable workmanship. The better manufacturers, such as Liftmaster have truly advanced features, but you should never just take a salesman’s word. For example, your reader was told something completely wrong about DC motors. The speed of closing and opening has nothing to do with a motor being AC or DC; the chief advantage of a DC motor is that you can have a battery back-up in case of a power failure. But most opener motors are AC and do a perfectly good job.”

“When told slow is better, your reader was being lied to. In fact, the better openers open and close rapidly, but today all openers must conform to national standards, in order to minimize risk of injury and have a host of safety devices that did not exist only a few years ago,” he said.

Should Ted Pay Twice?

Should Ted have to pay twice to get what he wanted in the first place? Absolutely not!

If ever there was a clear breach of contract, not to mention possible issues of misrepresentation, this was it. But in researching this story, I learned a great deal about the sloppy business practices of a number of companies in this field.

As the sale and installation of the opener was under $500, the company was not required to comply with the Contractor’s License Law, but it should have at least given a Three Day Cancellation Notice, required for what we commonly call “at home” sales over $25. Surprisingly, in checking with a number of other garage door companies, few comply with the law – even where sales of new garage doors and openers push the price to well over $1,000. Most are C.O.D. and when I asked, “What kinds of consumer forms do you bring out?” I often heard, “What? We just install a garage door or an opener and don’t have to do anything else!”

There are significant consumer protections under California Law, and I suggest checking out the excellent Contractors State License Board Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov and reading the section marked “Consumers.” Major changes in state law have recently been enacted, especially in the area of Home Improvement Contracts, and you should be aware of your rights before hiring anyone to do work around the house.

There are two publications available at that Web site, “What You Should Know Before You Hire a Contractor,” and “Terms of Agreement – A Consumer Guide to Home Improvement Contacts.” These are required reading, in my opinion.

Lawyers – or in my case, lawyers who are also consumer writers – should try like crazy to keep the parties out of court. So, I asked Ted, “Considering the company did have to special order the Liftmaster, and do a re-install, do you feel that something is owed them as a good faith compromise?” He did indeed.

The next challenge was, not to speak with the salesman, but the owner in Los Angeles. He was unaware of the problem. “What’s fair?” I asked. His answer, “Just pay $75 and I’m satisfied.” Ted agreed, paid immediately, no one went to court, credit reports remained clean, and then I took a long look at our own, clunky, noisy garage door opener. …


Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.

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