our garage door spring is broken, and you're stuck in your garage. You need immediate service, so you do a quick online search and call the first name that pops up.
Later, you learn that you paid $800 for unnecessary parts and ridiculous fees, when your local garage door dealer would've fixed your problem for $180.
"This problem happens more than it should," says Bill Gibson, president of the International Door Association. "In the last 15 years, we've seen a nationwide increase in ruthless garage door repair companies that prey on people with garage door predicaments."
The problem is so widespread that it has been exposed several times on national television. Since 2011, "Dateline NBC," ABC's "The Lookout," and CBC's "Marketplace," (Canada) have all broadcast primetime programs of hidden-camera investigations that caught garage door repairmen gouging homeowners.
What can you do?
"Most garage door companies are honest and reliable business people who care about their customers and their communities," says Chris Long, long-time editor of a trade magazine for the garage door industry. Long offers some simple tips to help consumers find qualified garage door repair experts.
1. Get a second bid.
"With an online search, it's quick and easy to find a second garage door company to help you," he says. "A simple second or third bid may be the best way to find someone who will do the job right at a reasonable cost."
2. Find a member of IDA.
The International Door Association, with origins dating back to 1968, is the only national association for garage door dealers. Its publications and conferences constantly promote professionalism, says Long.
Look for the IDA logo on the websites of local dealers. IDA members subscribe to the IDA Code of Business Conduct, which promotes fair and honest dealings, responsible conduct and professional business practices.
You can find IDA members in your area by using IDA's member search at www.doors.org or at www.garagewownow.com, the industry's home improvement website.
3. Look for IDEA accreditation and certification.
In 1995, the garage door industry created the Institute for Door Dealer Education and Accreditation, offering a rigorous accreditation program for garage door companies and training, testing and certification for technicians.
"IDEA accreditation and certification is sought by conscientious companies that want to be among the elite," says Gibson, who is an accredited dealer with several certified technicians.
Consumers should also watch for clues that can indicate a rip-off artist. Long suggests that you look for three particular clues.
1. Excessive advertising.
The top position on an online search does not necessarily indicate a reputable company. It merely indicates a company that has spent considerable effort on its search engine ranking. To find a reputable company, Long encourages consumers to look deeper into the top companies listed in your search.
2. Repair specialists.
For decades, the typical garage door dealer focused on sales and installation of new garage doors and openers. Service and repair was a part of the total operation. But now, says Long, some companies target the repair business only, knowing that consumers are less likely to get second bids for repair work.
"A full sales and service company with a long history in the community is likely to have a good reputation for quality products, competitive rates and expertise in repair issues," adds Long.
3. Are they truly local?
Many rip-off companies operate only with online ads, a cellphone, a pickup truck and no physical location. "Before you call, make sure they're a local company," advises Long.
"Check out their address using online satellite maps to see if the company is truly local. Good companies are proud to be reputable and active members of their communities."
Although there is no fool-proof way to find the best local company, consumers should take another minute or two before they make that phone call. By following these simple tips, you can greatly improve your odds of getting your repair done quickly, accurately and at a competitive price.