Home Scams

The latest door-to-door salesperson to visit our home was from a company called National Home Services (NHS). National Homes Services’ approach was a bit different from New Home Comfort (NHC) and Ontario Energy Group (OEG), two organizations who have repeatedly misrepresented themselves to us and others as provincial home energy inspection agents. So was this guy from National Home Services a flimflam artist, or was he legitimate?

The first overture he made was to say that NHS was canvassing our neighbourhood to make sure everyone had their rental hot water heaters upgraded to an Energy Star compliant model. I’m all for energy efficient appliances. But I’m also against spending money to replace major home climate systems before their time. If I have a five-year-old hot water heater that does not sport the Energy Star sticker, does that necessarily mean it should be replaced? I would say no.

Some door-to-door sellers succeed in persuading homeowners to replace furnaces they own with furnaces they rent. This is a losing proposition for customers who plan to stay in their homes for a long time.

In fact, the Underground Man and I own our hot water heater. It’s only two years old. We replaced our 15-year-old rental when Direct Energy threatened to change its policies by locking homeowners into punitive buy-out fees if they wanted to switch to another company or purchase their own equipment. For what we were paying monthly on our aging rental, we could purchase and pay for installation of a new, Energy Star-rated, made-in-Canada hot water heater and break even in under six years.

When I told the NHS representative that we owned a new water heater, he asked about the ages of our furnace and air conditioner. I admitted that our HVAC (“Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning” for non-geeks) equipment was about 15 years old. So our guest immediately started in on renting new equipment to save on energy costs. He showed me a few nice diagrams that proved how much I would save on my annual energy bill. He also pointed out the OPA (Ontario Power Authority) rebates, and said that NHS would actually match those rebates, thereby doubling my cash back. He handed me a brochure, which I asked if I could hang on to. Surprisingly, he agreed and even wrote his name, Field Rep Number, and cell phone on the back.

I had no idea whether or not those OPA rebates he quoted were accurate or even in effect at that time. I certainly wasn’t about to take some random door-to-door salespersons’ word for it. Especially since the OPA is constantly adjusting its programs.

Anyway, the NHS representative pointed out that, by renting the equipment, there would be no installation charge, free annual maintenance and cleaning, free repairs, and free replacement units if any failure was beyond the talents of their service personnel. All for a low, low monthly fee and no upfront expense. However, as The Toronto Star’s Ellen Roseman has clearly stated, “Some door-to-door sellers succeed in persuading homeowners to replace furnaces they own with furnaces they rent. This is a losing proposition for customers who plan to stay in their homes for a long time.”

Since I know that renting is a waste of money, I asked the NHS representative about buying the equipment. He said: “Sure, you can buy out the equipment any time during the contract.” Assuming, of course, that I would rent and then buy out the contract later. I could only imagine the punitive buy-out penalty for doing so.

I then asked if I could just buy the equipment without renting first. He reluctantly admitted that I could, and gave a ballpark estimate of “about five thousand dollars.” Unbeknownst to him, I had already received quotes to replace our furnace and AC from several well-recommended companies – companies that I had called first to invite into my home. I knew exactly how much the purchase price would be: roughly $10,000, depending on the model and options I selected, plus installation.

That NHS representative had pulled his estimate entirely out of the air! He mentioned no models, no features, nothing about our specific installation. Really, he was a salesperson, not an HVAC specialist. He had no clue what equipment would suit my home, how to install it, or how much it all would cost. He was a kid. Not that age has anything to do with it, but he lacked a certain aura of expertise.

After he left our home, I of course checked online and was not surprised when Google turned up several websites that were relevant to my search phrase, “National Home Services scam.” The not-entirely-to-be-trusted BBB rating for National Home Services is B- and includes this alarming bit of information in the description: !There is an alert for this business! BBB files indicate that this business has a pattern of complaints concerning misleading sales practices. Consumer complaints allege that door to door sales persons are misleading consumers, providing false information and using high pressure sales tactics. This company was notified of our concerns on June 7, 2011. They have failed to correct the underlying reason for the complaints.

That hardly came as a shock: National Home Services has 260 closed complaints against it, in North York alone. 118 complaints are Advertising/Sales issues. And then there was a CBC story about water heater sales tactics angering home-owners from 2010. That story actually accuses NHS representatives of misrepresenting themselves as Direct Energy agents, and offering “free upgrades” to existing rental hot water heaters. If you do happen to have a rental hot water heater, the company you are renting it from is unlikely to waste its money sending representatives door-to-door with free-replacement offers.

In this particular case, our NHS representative was totally honest about the company he was representing. He had on hand and was prepared to leave with me a NHS product brochure. He was also wearing a branded jacket and name tag. And, as I mentioned earlier, he left his contact information on the brochure. He didn’t pull any of the aggressive or threatening tactics that many other homeowners have reported, for which I am thankful.

But would I recommend National Home Services to replace any of your home’s systems?

Not a chance. I would definitely characterize the NHS pitch at my door as less than completely truthful. Buyer, as always, beware. Don’t open your door to strangers. And if you do, always – always! – research before signing any contract.