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The Vinyl Replacement Windows Buyer's Guide

Getting Estimates for Replacement Windows

We live in a major metropolitan area in Southern California and there are dozens of replacement window companies to choose from. All of the ones we contacted offer free in home estimates. When we began scheduling the estimates, we were pleased to discover that the companies were very flexible as to when they would come. They had no problem with after work appointments around 6:00 p.m. and some would even do Saturday appointments. Of course, this was great because it made it easy for my wife and me to both be present. Some of the companies even made a point that they wanted both spouses to be there during the estimate. We later found out they gear parts of their presentation to the husband and parts to the wife. For example, they figure if they man of the house is turned off by the price, they'll play up the way the windows will beautify the home to hook the wife.

As you can probably tell by now, vinyl window "estimates" are really more of a sales pitch than anything else. Our first surprise was how long the process took. We figured it would take about a half hour to measure our windows, show us the various options and give us an estimate. Boy were we wrong.

When an Estimate Isn't

The first company that came out spent a full two hours in our home! And this was while our two year old was doing everything in her power to keep our attention away from the business at hand. The actual measurement of the windows took all of ten minutes (turns out the "official" measurements aren't even taken until you've signed a contract). The rest of the time was spent explaining what made their product better and why the competition was some combination of inferior, unethical or overpriced. Of course, we got a lot of good information during the presentation. The salesman was an older gentleman who had plenty of experience in the business. There was no hard core sales pitch, but we still felt two hours was a bit excessive. And here's the topper. After spending all that time in our home, we never even got an estimate. The salesman said we would have to schedule an appointment to come to the company showroom before we could get an estimate! We couldn't believe it. We scheduled an appointment to visit the showroom which we later cancelled.

The Design Consultant

The second estimate was from the only female in the group. Over the phone she assured us that she was a "design consultant" who could help us pick the very best style of window for our home. She also she assured us that she worked fast and would only need an hour or less to measure the windows and prepare our estimate. The first sign of trouble was when she arrived at the door with only a binder in hand-no sample window, no cutaway of the frame. She told us she stopped bringing the sample window on appointments because it was too heavy. When we asked to see samples of the different patterns of privacy glass for our bathroom window, she did go to her car to get them, but the samples were disorganized and some were even broken. She also told us that the prices she was quoting were scheduled to go up in two days. We were smart enough to see this was just a technique to get us to sign a contract right away. Despite her promise to be quick, she still took about an hour and a half. We never found out much about her design consulting skills since she spend most of her time talking about her personal life. Needless to say, we were not impressed.

The next three estimates were very impressive. All of the salesmen were friendly and low-key. They were well prepared with fully functioning sample windows, which is critical. This allows you to see how the window functions and how it looks. You can play with the locks and see how well the window slides. They had photos of jobs they had done and good samples of the different types of privacy glass. The main difference was the way they presented their estimate. One gave us a neat chart itemizing the price for each window and clearly showing the grand total. The other guy had no estimate form and just jotted the total on a brochure. If I'm paying many thousand dollars for a project like this, I expect a well formatted estimate.

By the way, after the first estimate took so long, we learned to tell the sales people up front that we only had an hour to spend with them. Even so, they all took about two hours. It's harder than it seems to get them to leave once they're in.

Avoid the Pressure to Sign Now

Nearly all of the vinyl window sales people who came to our home offered us some sort of incentive if we would sign a contract today. It's usually an offer to deduct a certain percentage off the price or to waive your sales tax. Don't fall for it. This is nothing more than a sales tactic. You can always call them back a few days later and say I'll go with your company if you give me the discount. You can bet they'll do it to win your business.

Tips to Getting a Good Estimate

Here are the most important things we learned about the estimate process for vinyl replacement windows. Follow these tips when calling to set up an appointment with a salesperson:

  • Ask them to bring a copy of the warranty that you can keep. Most had the warranty with them, but who want to sit there reading fine print while a salesperson is looking over your shoulder. That's why you want a copy they'll leave with you so you can look over it at your leisure.
  • Ask them to bring a fully functioning sample window.
  • Ask them to bring a cutaway of the window frame. This is usually a corner section of the window that allows you to see the thickness of the vinyl and the sturdiness of the construction. One company even let us keep the cutaway which helped with future comparisons.
  • If you're shopping for patio doors, ask them to bring a sample of the door handle and a cutaway of the frame.
  • Tell them you will want a list of nearby references.
  • Tell them you expect a written estimate at the end of the presentation. Seems like that goes without saying, but not all of them actually do it.
  • Ask them to bring photos of jobs they have done.
  • If you value your time, warn them that you have only one hour to spend on the estimate.

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Buyer's Guide Contents
Why Vinyl Windows
New Construction vs. Retrofit Windows
Getting Estimates
Vinyl Window Features
Exterior Appearance
Energy Efficiency Ratings
Building Codes, Permits and Fire Codes
Installation Process
Life with Our New Vinyl Windows
Window Rebates & Credits
2011 Federal Tax Credit
Atlanta, GA Rebate
Georgia Power Rebate
Long Beach, CA Rebate
Virginia State Rebate
Window Manufacturers
Before and After Photos
Vinyl Windows
Vinyl Patio Doors

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