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Picking the Right Replacement Windows for Your Home

And how you can avoid getting ripped off

Window replacement sales reps are notorious for high-pressure tactics. Edward Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Better Business Bureau of Metro Washington, D.C., and Eastern Pennsylvania, warns consumers against dealers who push for a cash-only transaction or up-front payment. "These are red flags," he says.

Other problems he sees frequently: sales reps who mislead homeowners about window replacement-related tax deductions or a window's energy cost savings.

Cold calling is a common practice of dishonest sales reps who often trawl older neighborhoods, preying on people who don't know wood from clad wood. Tucker made the mistake of inviting such a salesman into his home. The man was determined not to leave without a deal, he says. "After two hours, I had to threaten to call the police."

Another tactic some window sellers use is to quote a price that's good only for that day. A variant is to quote a price, then offer to drop it dramatically if the prospective buyer is willing to sign a contract before the meeting ends. In each case, the salesman is attempting to keep the homeowner from getting competing bids from other companies.

The Pitfalls of Installation
The complaints Johnson hears about are not limited to sales reps. Installers often take longer than expected or install the wrong product — whether intentionally or not. Homeowners are often disgruntled over the poor quality of the job.

Industry insiders say the best way to identify reputable replacement window installers is to look for certification by the American Window and Door Institute or Installation Masters. And while it could take some scouring, look for complaints about specific companies on the Better Business Bureau website and RipoffReport.com.

Here are some steps that Tucker took — and you can take, too — to identify which windows are right for you and to avoid rip-offs:

  • Define and prioritize your goals for replacement windows regarding energy efficiency, maintenance reduction, noise control, security and appearance.
  • Gain at least a basic understanding of the properties, costs and tradeoffs associated with various replacement systems (PDF), materials (PDF) and glazing options.
  • Don't assume that national name-brand windows are better than lesser-known brands. Buy only replacement windows rated by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). Also look for products certified by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA). Use NFRC performance data to compare specific window models.
  • Resist unsolicited sales presentations. Seek estimates only from local dealers/installers with solid track records who can provide credible references.
  • Shop around. Don't be pressured into making a quick decision by today-only price offers.
  • Check dealer claims about your eligibility for window replacement tax credits.
  • Before installation begins, compare the brand and model numbers of the windows brought to your home with those listed on the contract. If your installer obtained the windows from a dealer, ask to see the installer's order sheet.
  • Don't make a big down payment. Make sure the payment schedule stipulated in the contract allows you to maintain leverage throughout the installation process. As always, don't make a final payment until the project is completed to your satisfaction.

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