Washington Consumers Checkbook
Newborg Drainage & Landscaping
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This is a recap of Washington Consumers Checkbook's executive editor's account when he was faced with a water problem in his basement. 

Soon after he and his wife bought their Arlington home, CHECKBOOK’s executive editor discovered a significant water problem in his basement garage. After taking basic steps (cleaning gutters, extending downspouts) to eliminate the problem, he decided to take one for the team and get bids from local basement waterproofing contractors. In the end, our editor decided that sometimes being a team player stinks.

We’ve included below the work proposed by each company our editor contacted, and its price to do it. As you can see, the companies proposed dramatically different work at dramatically different price points ranging from $2,500 to $12,324.

Only three of the companies—B-Dry, Desert Dry, and Newborg Drainage & Landscaping—offered to correct the problem from the exterior. B-Dry’s proposal listed exterior excavation as a (very costly) option, but its estimator never discussed it and its proposal provided no details on how the work would be done. Desert Dry’s representative discussed exterior waterproofing as an option, but later decided it would be more cost-effective to build an interior system. 

Of these three companies, only Newborg deemed addressing the problem from outside the home the best available option.

Company representatives evidenced highly variable levels of expertise. Some inspectors spent over an hour reviewing the site, asking questions, drawing up plans. The representative for MER/Morrison, on the other hand, spent about two minutes measuring the garage and never inspected the exterior of the home to determine the cause of the leakage.

Two of the companies—Aquaguard and Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing—proposed doing work that, in our view, exceeded the requirements of the job. Aquaguard recommended installing an interior drainage system along 35 feet of the walls; Mid-Atlantic recommended an interior drainage system along 45 feet of the walls, and warned that the garage walls were unstable and needed reinforcement with additional materials. The other companies that recommended interior drainage systems proposed installing them only along walls where leakage was evident—14 to 16 feet of the walls, depending on the company.
Two companies—again Aquaguard and Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing—resorted to aggressive and, in our view, deceptive sales tactics (see write-ups on pages 50 and 51 for details).

This type of selling practice is not new to us. In our report on basement waterproofing contractors 10 years ago, we related the experiences of a CHECKBOOK member who asked Mid-Atlantic to bid on a basement waterproofing job. Mid-Atlantic initially quoted a price of $9,783 to do the work it proposed, but later offered to do the work for $7,331.

Fifteen years ago, Mid-Atlantic gave a different CHECKBOOK member an initial bid of $11,610 to fix his wet basement. A few days later, a different Mid-Atlantic representative who visited his home suggested slightly different work specifications which reduced the price by more than $1,000. When our member remained undecided, the representative put him on the phone with someone at the Mid-Atlantic office who told him they could do the job for $4,999—if he signed the contract at once and agreed to have the work start immediately.

As you can see from the write-ups below, the selling practices of Mid-Atlantic—and Aquaguard—now include asking customers to schedule additional meetings with “chief inspectors” to discuss modifications to job proposals that might produce cost savings. In our editor’s experience, these chief inspectors were sent not to provide expert opinions but to provide additional opportunities for their high-pressure sales pitches.

The Job:

Two-story brick-and-block colonial-style single-family detached structure. Two-thirds of the basement is finished space, the other third an unfinished area used for furnace equipment, storage, and laundry room. Adjacent to the laundry room is a single-car basement garage. All but about two feet of the garage is located below grade. Above the garage is a den/library that had once been a screened-in porch. At the rear of the garage there is a small tool area. Behind and above this tool area is a deck.
Beside and above the basement garage is the next-door neighbor’s poured concrete driveway, with a two-foot-wide planting bed between the driveway and the wall of the garage.

For several years, during moderate or worse rains, a significant amount of water has leaked through the block walls located at the back of the garage in the tool area. Most of the water originates from the corner located near the neighbor’s driveway.

Without disclosing his affiliation with CHECKBOOK, our editor asked six companies to send someone to inspect the problem and propose permanent solutions.

The Proposals:

Proposed work:
· Install 35-foot drain system along bottom of interior walls of garage, including excavation of a trench along the base of the walls, drilling weep holes into the blocks, and running drains to an excavated sump pit. Excavated areas would then be covered with new concrete.
· Install sump pump with highly recommended battery backup in new pit.
· Install buried discharge line through back wall to backyard.
Price: $6,858
Following a lengthy sales pitch, after which our editor informed the representative he wanted to have additional companies look at the project, the company’s representative consulted his calendar and offered to do the work for $6,101 if our editor accepted the proposal and “grabbed the open date.” The rep also offered a $500-off coupon that couldn’t be used to further reduce the schedule-related discount.
The next day, another company representative left a voicemail message saying he had “some really exciting news” regarding the estimate. The day after that, yet another company representative called to “check in to make sure the inspector answered all your questions,” and then asked why our editor didn’t accept the proposal the day it was provided. After our editor explained that he wanted to speak with other companies, he was told that the production managers had discussed the job and that the company’s chief inspector—“who has the most experience here and would have the greatest ability to determine pricing and might be able to save you money”—wanted to meet with him.  A few days later, our editor met with the chief inspector. Upon arriving, the inspector sat down at the dining-room table, requested a glass of water, and asked to see his company’s proposal because he “hadn’t had a chance to look at it.” He then asked why our editor hadn’t accepted the proposal. After our editor explained that he wanted to get proposals from other companies, the inspector spoke at length about how other companies didn’t do the work properly, that Aquaguard’s method was superior to the others, and that our editor shouldn’t bother with any of the rest. He asked several times what he needed to do to get our editor to sign the proposal, and offered to inspect the job and provide an amended proposal—but only if our editor agreed to have Aquaguard do the work.  After our editor told the inspector he welcomed the inspector’s insights about the specifics of the job but would not sign any proposal that day, the inspector became irritated, told him he “should talk to 100 companies” about the job, and left without ever entering the basement or garage.  Three weeks later, another Aquaguard sales agent called and, like before, said the company’s chief inspector wanted to meet with him to discuss the job. When our editor asked why another inspection was required, given that two inspectors had already visited his home, he was given almost word for word the same reasons as during the previous phone call. After our editor explained that the last inspector didn’t even look at the garage or basement, the caller said that, according to the inspector’s notes, he did look at the project and had authorized a discounted price of $4,987. Our editor asked that a manager or the owner call him.  Later that day, a manager called to apologize. Our editor asked him if this is Aquaguard’s usual way of doing business—sending additional salespersons under the guise of doing further inspections but actually just making more sales pitches. The manager didn’t deny that this is their usual practice, but explained that the company works hard to earn customers’ business and the inspector shouldn’t have left without looking over the work. The manager offered to visit our editor’s home, inspect the job, and provide a discounted price for the work, but our editor declined and asked Aquaguard not to call him anymore.

Proposed work:
· Install 16-foot drain system along bottom of interior walls in northeast corner of garage, including excavating a trench along the base of the walls, drilling weep holes into the blocks, and running the drains to an excavated sump pit; excavated areas would then be covered with new concrete.
· Install sump pump in new pit. For an additional $935, would install sump pump with battery backup (but not recommended for this job).
· Install 40-foot buried discharge line.
· Install 80 square feet of rigid sealer on walls.
Price: $3,437 (not including option for sump pump with battery backup for an additional $935)
Proposal listed a not previously discussed second option for excavation and exterior waterproofing work for $14,172, with few details of how work would be performed.

Desert Dry
Proposed work:
· Install 14-foot subfloor pressure relief system along foundation walls in rear of basement garage.
· Flash walls with MiraDRAIN up to brick border.
· Install sump pit and sump pump.
· Run sump discharge to daylight/best location.
· Company’s representative discussed solving the problem via excavation and other exterior work, but, after a few days of reflection and studying requested pictures of work area during a rainstorm, deemed interior drainage option as more cost effective and therefore preferable.
Price: $2,500

Proposed work:
· Install interior pressure relief system along 15 feet of rear walls of garage.
· Remove floor eight to 18 inches from wall, dig a trench, weep cinder blocks, install filter fabric, install perforated pipe and cover with stone, and cover trenches with new concrete.
· Connect new drainage lines to newly installed sump pit with sump pump.
· Install drain in front of the door leading from garage to laundry room.
· Install discharge line through back wall of garage to evacuate accumulated water into backyard.
Price: $2,875

Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing
Proposed work:
· Install 45-foot interior drain system along bottom of all walls in garage.
· Install spacers, Midalizer, Mida Scent, Mida-Aire, and Mida Hydro-Trac, and install ADS perforated piping to carry water away to two newly installed sump pits. Excavated areas would then be covered with new concrete.
· Install two sump pumps with battery backups in new pits.
· Install buried discharge line to evacuate accumulated water through back wall of garage into backyard.
· Inspector expressed great deal of concern that garage walls are unstable, and proposed reinforcing them with 22 feet of Mida Fiber Lock Crack Repair.
Price: $12,324
A few days after submitting the above proposal, a Mid-Atlantic representative called our editor to ask if he had accepted the proposal or planned to accept it soon. When our editor explained he wanted to take some time to meet with other companies, he was told that Mid-Atlantic’s chief inspector wanted to meet with him to discuss the proposal, review the job, and possibly reduce the price. When our editor asked why the chief inspector was interested in his job, he was given a pitch (almost identical to Aquaguard’s) that the production staff had reviewed the initial inspection and thought significant cost savings could be realized.  When our editor met with Mid-Atlantic’s chief inspector the next evening, the inspector spent the bulk of his time pushing Mid-Atlantic’s services, rather than inspecting the premises. After much discussion of whether our editor was willing to engage his company that night, the chief inspector reluctantly looked at the job. He found that the walls did not need to be reinforced (he diagnosed that the cracks were caused by 70 years of settlement and frost lines) and that only one sump pump was needed for the company’s drainage system. He provided a revised proposal with a new price of $8,758.

Over the course of the next two weeks, our editor received additional calls from Mid-Atlantic. Each time, after explaining that he wanted to get proposals from additional companies, he was told that Mid-Atlantic’s chief inspector wanted to meet with him, review the work, and suggest possible cost savings. When our editor explained the company’s chief inspector had already done this, each time he was told that Mid-Atlantic really wanted to earn his business by offering additional discounts. When our editor asked why a watch replica revised price couldn’t be provided via phone, since the company’s chief inspector had already looked at the job, he was told that company policy required in-person meetings. Each time, our editor declined to hold additional meetings.  Over the course of the next three months, Mid-Atlantic repeatedly tried to phone our editor. During his four last conversations with Mid-Atlantic sales agents, the pitch changed slightly: They told our editor that, to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, its owner had authorized discounts to all potential customers. During each call, our editor was told that to get this discount, he had to meet with the company’s chief inspector, who wanted to review the job. Each time, our editor declined to hold additional meetings.  During his eighth phone conversation with Mid-Atlantic, which again requested that he meet with its chief inspector, our editor told the company he had selected a different company to do the work and asked them to stop calling.

Newborg Drainage & Landscaping
Proposed work:
· Excavate six-foot-deep, three-foot-long area at back corner of garage where seepage occurs.
· Point up cracks in wall and waterproof/seal exterior wall.
· Install drainage pipe at bottom of excavation and direct flow to a constructed discharge area in backyard.
· Refill hole and regrade area so runoff flows into a newly formed surface channel drain toward slope in backyard.
· Fasten downspouts on northeast corner of house to solid flexible pipe; bury pipe and run to discharge area in backyard.
Price: $3,650
Note: Company charges a $75 consultation fee that is waived if customer contracts for further work. Owner reported he also waives this fee if the company proposes work it does not normally do or suggests work that is done by the homeowner.

The Decision:
Because our editor wanted his problem solved by improving drainage outside his home, and because Newborg Drainage was the only company interested in doing that type of job, our editor selected Newborg. (His choice was influenced by the high ratings Newborg receives from its surveyed customers at Checkbook.org.)
Newborg completed the work in one day. A few weeks later, after heavy spring rains, our editor discovered that there was no leakage in the back corner of the garage, but that minor seepage still existed along the back wall of the garage. Newborg returned and installed a vapor barrier over a small depressed area underneath the deck behind the garage and cleaned out drains underneath the deck.
Problem solved.

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