Sunday, June 2, 2019

Taking Complaints to the Next Level

I will preface this post by saying I'm not a lawyer or work in any real estate related profession so this is based on my own experience and what I learned from it. What I am however is an angry Ryan Homes homeowner that discovered I would potentially have to spend money that I would otherwise not have had to spend on repairs had Ryan Homes done what they were supposed to do and told us they would do. I was further angered because instead of them simply agreeing to the resolution I asked for to fix their mistake, I had to waste time and energy going through a drawn out process to ultimately get what I asked for from the beginning.

As I wrote in the previous two posts, we discovered late last year that despite being told by Ryan Homes that they would handle the warranty registration of our HVAC system (extending the warranty from five to ten years) it was never done. When we asked for them for an assurance that they would cover any repairs in the future we were simply told by their service manager it would be done, "on a case-by-case basis." Not willing to take their word for it and on the suggestion of our HVAC contractor I filed complaints with two Virginia agencies, the Virginia Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection and the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. We ultimately got a satisfactory resolution in doing so, but had I not known about these resources the outcome would have been much different. For reference to our particular issue see the first post, Filing a Complaint with the State, for background about the problem and the second post, State Complaint Part II: Resolution, for how it was resolved.

I've gotten the impression most people don't know there are resources out there to help when they've been wronged by companies with whom they've done business. In reading through posts on several Ryan Homes communities most folks seem to just accept that they're a big company and there's no use fighting them so they accept it and give up. Our experience says otherwise.

To that end, the following list is the best I was able to come up with of comparable state agencies based on what I dealt with in Virginia. Outside of there I can't guarantee they are the correct places to file complaints but hopefully they can be a starting place to point you in the right direction.

Delaware Department of Justice Fraud & Consumer Protection Division
Delaware Division of Professional Regulation

Florida Attorney General Consumer Protection Division
Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation

Illinois Consumer Protection Division
Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

Indiana Attorney General File a Complaint

Maryland Attorney General Consumer Protection Division
Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation Consumer Complaints

New Jersey
New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs

New York
New York Department of State, Division of Consumer Protection
New York Office of the Professions

North Carolina
North Carolina Consumer Protection Division

Ohio Attorney General File a Consumer Complaint

Pennsylvania Attorney General
Pennsylvania Department of State File a Complaint

South Carolina
South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs
South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation

Tennessee Attorney General
Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance

Virginia Attorney General Office of Consumer Protection
Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation

West Virginia
West Virginia Consumer Protection

Some additional advice I can provide based on what we learned through this experience:

-Read your warranty book carefully. (I believe it's on a flash drive now but when we closed we received a binder.) Before you file a complaint, make sure it's something that Ryan Homes should be covering/doing. In our case too, their website stated that they would handle registration of our HVAC unit. While it no longer says that I was able to use the Wayback Machine website that happened to have a snapshot of the relevant page dated several days before our closing. A print out of this was used as evidence to support our complaint. (I actually found a news article referencing a court ruling supporting its use as evidence.)

-Take notes of conversations you have with anyone. Especially when a dispute arises. Note the time and date, the person you spoke with, and what was said. Follow up with an email to the person, "Per our conversation..." Once we had filed our complaint with the state agencies any time I exchanged emails with anyone in Ryan Homes I also cc'ed the dispute resolution specialist in the attorney general's office handling our case so they had a record of it as well.

-Get everything in writing. Don't take anyone's word for it. If the sales representative, project manager, service manager, etc promise you something get it in writing. It's much harder for them to dispute it later.

-Keep copies of all paperwork to reference back to or use as evidence to support your dispute.

-Be thorough in your complaint. Explain in detail what happened, how it happened (if you know), effects of it, and include as much evidence as possible to support your claim. Include, again in detail, your desired resolution to the problem.

-While I didn't have to take it to this level, consider recording phone calls. The laws on this vary from state to state so be sure to check on legality before going this route. (Some states only require one party consent while others require all parties involved to agree to it.)

The last thing I'll add to this is to say again that in going through this situation I got the impression most consumers don't know these resources exist. It's because of this that I decided it was important to write this post and share it. As I mentioned earlier our HVAC company was the one that suggested this route to us. Before this I had a vague notion that these things were out there but didn't totally understand how they worked or what they could do. Having been used them successfully I won't hesitate to turn to them again should the need arise and urge anyone else caught in a similar position to do so as well. These agencies and the people that work for them are there to help.

Monday, May 27, 2019

State Complaint Part II: Resolution

Back in March I mentioned that I filed complaints with not only the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation but also the Virginia Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection. This was a result of them not properly registering our HVAC unit for the full ten year warranty like we were told they would do. As of last month our complaint with the Attorney General's office is closed and I'm happy to say we got the result we asked for.

In mid-April (I'm a little behind on writing this up) we received word through the attorney general's office from Ryan Homes' general counsel and the current service manager that they were purchasing us an extended warranty through AIG. The coverage and conditions were essentially the same as what we would have received if they had simply registered the unit to begin with; namely it only covers parts and excludes things considered normal wear and tear. It does however have a ninety day waiting period and won't take effect until early July. Because of that I have it in writing via an email from the service manager that Ryan Homes will cover any issues under the same conditions as the purchased warranty until then.

When we were first told about the solution being provided to us I was skeptical about it. I'm wary of home warranty companies owing to a less than stellar experience years ago on our old house. Because of that I went back and forth with the service manager with questions to make sure we wouldn't have an issue when the time came to utilize this one. Mainly,  I wanted to be absolutely sure that we would not have an issue using our own contractor and I wanted to be clear on how the process would work when we needed a repair. Along with getting answers to these questions in writing, the HVAC contractor we use also looked over the service agreement for us to make sure there was nothing questionable in it. With all of that being satisfactory we ultimately closed the complaint with the two state agencies.

There are ultimately two takeaways from this. First off, I have nothing but profound gratitude for Virginia Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection and the dispute resolution specialist I dealt with there. I feel like if it wasn't for them we would not have gotten a positive resolution on this.

Second, I am still angry with Ryan Homes about how this whole process played out. Not only the stress I felt, but the time and energy I had to waste getting this resolved. I said from the beginning that all I wanted was a guarantee in writing that we would be reimbursed for any parts that would have been covered had the unit been properly registered years ago. Because Ryan Homes and the service manager refused to do this (instead telling me they would handle things on a "case-by-case basis") I had to file the complaints with the state. In the end they gave me what I wanted but I shouldn't have had to go through all of this to get it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Filing a Complaint with the State

Last week I filed complaints with the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation as well as the Virginia Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection. Back in the fall we discovered a refrigerant leak on our outside air conditioning unit. In the process of getting it repaired we discovered that due to Ryan Homes not registering our HVAC unit with Comfortmaker like we were told they would do, we did not have the extended ten year warranty like we expected. Instead it was only five years. (Initially we were told by Comfortmaker this warranty started from the day the unit was bought by the installer, but their own paperwork included with the house states on new builds it starts from the day of closing.)

I spoke to Ryan Homes and their current service manager about the issue. The details of those conversations are included in the complaint copied below but I let it be known that I expected them to reimburse us for any parts that otherwise would have been covered had the unit been registered like it was supposed to. His response repeatedly was that it would be handled on a "case-by-case basis." He would not, however, commit to putting it in writing. Because of this I filed the complaint with the state. I've opted to redact the names of the service managers mentioned.

"My wife Jennifer and I built a house with Ryan Homes in early 2014, closing on the purchase and taking possession on April 24, 2014. We were told at the time that the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) unit installed in our house would have an initial warranty of five years on parts from the date of closing, but we would receive an additional five years warranty (for a total of ten) because Ryan Homes would register the unit with the manufacturer, Comfortmaker. It was stated on their website (I have a saved image of the page verifying it) and was also verbally told to us by their service manager [name redacted] (after I specifically asked during our ten month review in February 2015) that Ryan Homes would handle the registration and there was nothing we needed to do.

In late September 2018, we discovered a refrigerant leak on the air conditioning portion of the system. In the process of obtaining the parts for repair our contractor told us that we did not in fact have any warranty at all. After some research with Comfortmaker, it was discovered that contrary to what we were told the unit had never been registered for warranty at all. We were then told that the unit was only covered through late February of 2019, the date the installer purchased the unit from the manufacturer.

Upon finding this out, I immediately called Ryan Homes and over the course of two weeks had several phone calls with their current service manager for our area, [name redacted]. He conceded that at a minimum the warranty should have started from the date of our closing. He then went on to say that Ryan Homes was aware of a period of time in 2014 when a number of HVAC units were not registered for warranty as they should have been. It should be stated here and emphasized that although they were apparently aware of this issue prior to us discovering it, NOTHING was ever communicated to us that we did not in fact have the warranty we believed we had. In addition, none of the neighbors we have spoken with whose homes were built in the same time frame received any sort of communication to this effect either.

During these phone calls, I expressed my frustration and anger to [name redacted] that the unit had not been registered like we expected. I was worried that we would have to put out money we would not otherwise have to spend once the initial five year warranty ran out. He stated that past the five year mark Ryan Homes would handle requests for reimbursement of out-of-pocket costs for parts that would have been covered on a case-by-case basis. He also told me that Ryan Homes was no longer using Comfortmaker, not only because of the way they handle warranty registration, but also due to a high number of issues they found with the units they were installing as well as the limited availability and poor performance of the one parts supplier in Richmond. (A similar sentiment about that parts supplier was told to us by our HVAC contractor as well.)

In February of 2019, a bearing on our furnace's blower motor went bad, causing our heat to malfunction. During the course of our contractor obtaining the parts, we were again told that per Comfortmaker our warranty would end during the end of February. I again had another discussion over the phone with [name redacted] at Ryan Homes. I expressed that I was concerned about the longevity of the unit given the repairs we had dealt with already (along with another repair the HVAC technician has told us to expect on the outside air handler motor) and again emphasized that I expected Ryan Homes to reimburse us for parts costs should something fail that should have been otherwise covered. Just like in October, he said this would be handled on a case-by-case basis. When I asked for clarification, he stated that this meant things not considered wear and tear items, but those that would have otherwise been covered by the warranty in years 5-10. He also told me that should something fail that would result in it being more cost effective to replace the unit versus repair to please contact him first because he would talk with the HVAC subcontractor they now use to see about getting us a new unit installed at a lower price.

At a bare minimum I would like to receive in writing a declaration from Ryan Homes that any parts that would have been covered under warranty from April 24, 2019, to April 24, 2024, had the unit been properly registered will be covered in full without objection and repairs performed by a contractor of our choosing. While we appreciate the gesture made by [name redacted] to have Ryan Homes’ subcontractor install a new unit for us at a cheaper cost our concern is that in order to get parts covered they will make us use their contractor instead of ours as well."

At this point we've received confirmation of the receipt of the complaint by both state agencies and are waiting for it to be processed/investigated. I will update on here as this process plays out.

On a side note, I'm convinced the Comfortmaker brand is total junk. In addition to the aforementioned repairs we also had to replace the capacitor on the outside unit in April 2018. That at least was caught during routine maintenance before it could become a bigger issue. I have no doubt at this point that the clock is ticking down towards the next repair or premature replacement. It's especially frustrating because in addition to doing the recommended twice a year (spring and fall) preventative maintenance, we keep the temperatures around 67-68 in winter and 73-74 in summer. The unit has been taken care of yet it's still given us multiple problems. By contrast the Trane system at our old house, that ran far more, gave us one problem in the almost seven years we had it before moving and the Goodman system installed in my mom's home in late 2007 has given her zero issues since then.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Garage Door Insulation

A few weeks go I finally got around to tackling a project that's been my to-do list since we moved in almost five years ago, insulating the garage door. It was fairly cheap, very simple, and seems to have made a difference temperature wise.  

There are a number of different kits available on Amazon and elsewhere. Most of them seem to be more or less the same thing, rolls of reflective insulation that tapes to the door. I ended up going with this particular kit that cost me just under $100 with free Prime shipping. 

It arrived on a Sunday morning around 11am and within a half hour I was out in the garage installing it. If it hadn't been for a trip to Lowe's to get extra tape I would have been done in about an hour or so. 

Garage door before.

The insulation comes in four equal rolls, one for each horizontal row on the door. The kit says it'll cover up to 7x18 feet. Mine is only 16 feet wide so I ultimately ended up with some material left over. Installation was very simple. Put double sided tape around each door panel then unroll the insulation. Due to some dust and dirt I also wiped the door down ahead of time with a damp rag to ensure adhesion of the tape.

Tape around the panels.

One mistake I made (that resulted in making the trip to Lowe's was using two parallel lines of tape on the vertical sections of the door. I felt like it would provide better adhesion of the insulation but there wasn't quite enough tape provided for this. I picked up a $5 roll of double sided carpet tape that one of the reviews on Amazon mentioned and it worked perfectly for the sections I still needed to tape.

I did one horizontal row at a time. After taping my wife held the insulation and unrolled it as I made sure it was straight on the door. To finish it off Jenny used a utility knife to trim around the hinges and lock. 

Finished door.

While I didn't use a thermometer to measure the temperature before and after it feels like it made a difference. A few days after installed it the temperature dropped into the mid teens over night and while it was still cold out there it seemed like it wasn't quite as bad as it had been in the past. It's only going to do so much however. It continues to annoy me that Ryan Homes did not insulate the exterior walls or ceiling of the garage where it sticks out from the house. (Despite me asking about it and even offering to pay extra.) I've since heard that from others that pushed much harder than I did and were able to get it done. I'd advise this if you're still in the build process. But I still consider it to be a worthwhile upgrade.  

*Update July 15, 2019* After having this on our garage door for five and a half months and through a decent amount of days where it's been in the 90's I can definitely say this made a difference. Our house faces east and catches sun shining directly on the garage door for most of the day. While it's still warm in the garage it feels noticeably cooler than it has in previous summers.