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The Challenges of Purchasing an In-ground Swimming Pool

The author gives some suggestions to consider when buying an in-ground swimming pool.

If you are shopping for a new car you are wise to determine what model you want and which options your prefer and then go to several dealers and see who can offer the best price. You can be quite confident that every dealer will provide the exact same car, from the same manufacturer, with the same warranty and, if you saved some money by your efforts you will be considered a smart shopper.

But purchasing an in-ground concrete swimming pool is a totally different story! First you must choose a design that will be suitable and determine the details (Depths, steps, etc) that fit your needs and desires. Assume you have decided what type of pumps you want, and the filter model, and the heater model and all of the mechanical equipment right down to their exact model numbers and manufacturers specifications. Let’s assume that the service and schedule for all contractors will be the same and, regardless of who you choose, your pool will be ready to swim in 30 days (A very foolish assumption, but for this illustration let’s go along with it). Perhaps you think that now you have all of the specifications it will be like buying a car… call in several contractors, show them your design and specifications and choose the one with the lowest price. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Well, you could be in big trouble.

Consider the fact that no two pools are the same. Unlike your car, this product will be built, piece by piece, right in your backyard. Consider who designs and installs the plumbing, who certifies the structural plans, how is the gunite (concrete) applied and who, if anyone, verifies it is up to required strength? What about fill soil or expansive soil or “hillside creep” that will cause your pool to crack if it is not constructed properly. Do you know that most contracts place this burden directly on you the buyer? Other areas of concern are how the tile is installed or which kind of stone or pre-cast coping is applied. Consider the electrical system and the electronic components that are available for the modern pool. Do you, as a consumer, really know the difference between any of the components? How about the concrete decking and the drainage system for splash out or rain? Which of the myriad of interior finishes will you get? Did you know that just filling the pool with water can cause serious problems with your plaster and you are responsible for that? Heaven forbid that your contract includes a waterfall, infinity edge, patio cover, pergola or fencing. The options and variations are almost unlimited and with each one there is an opportunity to cut the quality of installation and become the lowest bidder. Every single contractor will tell you his pool is the same or better than the other guys. It would be impossible to have enough specifications on your plan or in the contract to protect you and if you believe the local building inspector will save you… Think again.

So what is the answer? First, don’t shop for price…shop for quality. Assume your final project is bid by 3 contractors and the price ranges from $48,000 to $54,000. Of course the temptation would be to choose the lowest price and, in your mind, save $6,000.00. Remember that there is a reason why the prices are so different and it always comes down to quality.

Here are my suggestions:
• Don’t buy from a contractor without a proven track record or who has only been in business for a few years,
• Insist on getting a minimum of 2 references from customers with recently completed projects and at least one that is over 3 years since completion. Without the contractor in attendance, personally visit or call every reference to discuss their experiences. If the contractor can not (Or will not) provide you with names and phone numbers then be afraid, be very afraid.
• Check with the local Better Business Bureau or state contractors licensing board to see what reports have been filed.
• Get a copy of the warranty and see what coverage you will get when the project is finished.
• Do your homework and determine what products you want included in your pool and insist on a detailed description and plan before you sign on the dotted line.
• Get everything in writing and, when changes pop up during construction, be sure to document it and insist on a written confirmation signed by the contractor.
• After you have made your decision and the project is under construction you need to stay involved. Ask questions and demand answers! If you see something that is a concern get it resolved before the project moves on. Don’t be in such a rush to “get in the water” that you allow problems to be swept under the rug or covered with cement.

A swimming pool installation is probably the second biggest investment you will make after your home purchase. As I continue to provide consulting services to homeowners and their attorneys I understand over and over again that the lowest price was often the most expensive. Check out my website. In the months to come I will be adding a section to my website that details some of the problems I have encountered on behalf of my clients. Perhaps these horror stories will help you when you are ready to join the wet set with your own backyard resort.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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