Customer returns bathtub, struggles to get money

October 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
When you sign a home improvement contract, you have three days to change your mind, but a Bay Area woman went through quite an ordeal when she cancelled a bathroom project.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment, with a sales person in your home, it's easy to get swept into a deal you may decide later, you don't really want. One woman handed over thousands of dollars before she changed her mind and then had a hard time getting her money back.

A 90-year-old woman, Virginia Conner, was repairing her bathroom and thought she might as well install a walk-in bathtub to make it easy to get in and out.

"You open the door and you walk in and you turn the water on and it's just bubble bubble bubble," says Conner.

Conner saw an advertisement on TV for these tubs. The ad said installation could be quick and easy. So she called the company, Re-Bath of San Mateo. During a sales call at her home, Virginia signed a contract agreeing to pay $9,500 for installation of a walk-in tub. She paid a deposit of $3,167 by check -- one third of the cost. However, right afterwards, she had second thoughts.

"I wanted to cancel it because then I began to think, 'oh it was too much money,'" says Conner.

Conner realized the contract did not include repainting the bathroom, but no problem, the contract said she could cancel within three business days, as required by law. Conner says she faxed over a cancelation notice the very next day and also sent it by certified mail. She called the Re-Bath sales person, too.

"She said, 'don't worry, your check will be in the mail in 10 days and it never happened and then I began to worry," says Conner.

The 10 days passed, then weeks, and Conner still had not received her $3,000 back. She says she kept calling the company and no one would call her back. That's when she began to really worry.

"I just thought, 'now how am I going to get my money back? I need to get it back.' I called Michael Finney's office," says Conner.

We contacted Re-Bath and right away it took action.

"The next voice I heard was the president of the company in Arizona," says Conner.

Just a few days later, Virginia received a check, hand delivered to her home. It was a return of her full deposit. We spoke with the San Mateo franchise owner, Eric Lupis. He said he never received Conner's cancelation notice, but refunded her money as soon as he found out she did want to cancel.

"We would never hold money from somebody who doesn't want to do a job with us. So as soon as we found out that she didn't want to, we notified her daughter and herself she was going to get her full deposit back," says Lupis.

Lupis said he has served thousands of customers over the past five years and this has never happened. But he said Conner 's case prompted him to re-examine his refund process.

"We're going to make sure we do a better job in the future of getting the customer a refund or deposit back to them as soon as possible. This situation has made me want to look into that and make it a better system because obviously she wasn't happy," says Lupis.

However, that's all changed now.

"Here I am, a happy 90 year old," says Conner.

Virginia says she voluntarily paid for one-third the cost of the project up front. The law says contractors may only require a deposit of up to 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less. There are many other consumer protections in the law.


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