THE FINE PRINT | SEAN P. MURPHY
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Marjan Sadegh began planning to replace the sagging, splintering deck on the back of her Newton home a year ago.
She looked forward to sitting on it during the summer, when her children would be out of school and she’d have a little extra time off from her job as a pharmacist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
A busy single mother of two young children, Sadegh decided to go for the one-stop shopping approach and have Lowe’s, one of the nation’s largest retailers of home-building products, handle the job through its contractor service. She signed a contract in May and, at Lowe’s insistence, paid the total cost upfront — almost $25,000.
The contract said the estimated date of completion was the end of June, in time for the summer. A follow-up e-mail from Lowe’s confirmed that completion date.
Summer came. And summer went. No new deck. There is, in fact, now no deck at all. Just an unsightly mess of torn-up lumber and new materials so unsafe Sadegh won’t allow her children to have friends over to play in the backyard.
“We lost the whole summer,” she told me while standing in the kitchen, overlooking the empty space where her old deck used to be. “It’s been a nightmare.”
The Lowe’s contractor didn’t show up for two months, appeared suddenly in August to tear the old deck down, and then made one last brief appearance to dig holes for footings for the new deck in the wrong place. And that’s the last she saw of him.
On her own, Sadegh discovered problems with the permit and contractor’s papers, and when she complained to Lowe’s the company offered her only a partial refund, deducting $7,400 for the tear-down work.
There are a lot of things wrong with the way Sadegh was treated, not least the request for 100 percent payment upfront from Lowe’s that left Sadegh in a poor bargaining position when the contractor was a no-show. It was only after I started poking around that Lowe’s did the right thing by following through on a full refund, plus several thousands dollars for the aggravation.
Sadegh said she began calling Lowe’s about two weeks after the job was supposed to begin. The Lowe’s representative who was supposed to coordinate the work had a recording on her phone saying she would be on vacation in June. But June became July. The “vacation” recording never changed and Sadegh never got through, she said.
When she tried to get someone else by phone, Sadegh was told to wait for the person assigned to her contract.
By August, she’d had enough. She demanded a full refund. A Lowe’s supervisor responded with a stream of apologies and a promise “to make it right.” To her credit, Sadegh told Lowe’s to throw in some freebies “to make it right,” such as cement pavers, to compensate for the long delay. Lowe’s agreed to the add-ons.
A crew finally showed up at her ranch-style house in the Oak Hill section of Newton on Aug. 8. They tore down the existing deck, which towered about 10 feet over the backyard. The plans called for a new deck nearly identical to the old one, but instead of wood it was to be built with plastic-composite decking, a longer-lasting building material but also much more expensive than wood.
The planned deck measured about 400 square feet, with stairs to the backyard, direct access to the garage, and space underneath to store toys, lawn furniture, and other items, behind a sheath of lattice.
Sadegh said she asked Lowe’s to commit the promise of freebies to writing. But then someone from Lowe’s told her the promise was “void.” After another frustrating round of calls, Lowe’s reversed its position and said it would honor the agreement, she said.
Her time with Lowe’s, Sadegh said, had come to dominate her life.
On Aug. 16, Sadegh returned home to find a crew digging holes for footings in the backyard. She said she was annoyed that she got no advanced warning, especially because she had not yet received her written assurance on the freebies.
And she was doubly annoyed to see the crew had dug holes in the wrong places, she said.
Two days later, Sadegh, intent on stopping the work, went to Newton City Hall to check on the building permit Lowe’s had promised to secure. The paperwork showed that a contractor submitted a permit application on Aug. 14, almost a week after the old deck had been demolished.
Moreover, someone in the building inspector’s office had flagged the permit because the contractor’s worker’s compensation insurance had expired. That means no valid permit had been issued for the work at Sadegh’s house.
A fed-up Sadegh once again demanded a refund. This time, Lowe’s was prepared to part company with Sadegh. Lowe’s would give her a refund, but only $17,600—the other $7,400 was to cover the demolition of the old deck and the holes for footings.
“I don’t know if all this is related to my being a woman or my last name sounding a little weird,” said Sadegh, referring to her trouble getting satisfaction from Lowe’s. Sadegh grew up in Iran and speaks perfect English, though with an accent. She has a doctoral degree and is a licensed pharmacist in Iran, Canada, and the United States.
Sadegh wrote a detailed e-mail to Lowe’s chief executive Robert Niblock. (His total compensation in 2016 was $12.6 million, according to company filings.) No response. In desperation, she took a friend’s advice and called me.
After viewing the wreckage in Sadegh’s backyard, I reached Karen Cobb, Lowe’s corporate public relations manager. She promised to look into the situation, including Lowe’s policy of insisting on full payment upfront, and call back. I’m still waiting.
But Lowe’s did call Sadegh with an offer for full compensation and then some.
Happy ending? Better than some endings, yes. But Sadegh lost her summer on the deck with the kids and she still must find a contractor to build her a new deck. I hope she gets treated better next time.
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