Saturday, October 23, 2010

Amazing Things in Framingham

One of the best kept musical secrets in Massachusetts is hiding in Framingham. It's the Amazing Things Arts Center. Mike Moran and his staff of volunteers manage to attract some great talent. Thanks to their efforts and contributions from local businesses, they bring high class talent at bargain prices.

On September 10, they organized a concert for the opening of the Bowditch Field Athletic and Cultural Complex, with Arlo Guthrie as the headliner.

I've seen Arlo about four or five times over the years. I feel a deep connection to him and his music for a number of reasons including being a fan of Woodie Guthrie, having my own Alice's Restaurant story, and having survived the 60's. His music is as fresh today as it was back then and every time I hear him, his stories are new.

This was the first stop on his new "Journey On" tour. There was a great mix of old standards, some tributes to great musicians like Lead Belly, and a new song that gave the tour its name.

One of the most amazing things was that the tickets were only $10, which is a tribute to the fund raising efforts of Mike Moran and his staff. We got there at 12:00 thinking that Arlo was going to be on at 2:00, but I didn't do my research very well. When we arrived there were about a half dozen other people parked on the grass in front of the stage.

One look at the program and we knew we were in for a long wait, but the time went by quickly as we enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, some good food, and local talent including the Amazing Hooligans, Marian High School 'Mainstagers', Framingham High School Musical Review, Rust Never Sleeps - a Neil Young Tribute Band, Eguie Castrillo and his 18 piece Latin band, and HELP! with Mark Poulan and Roy Orbison.

I took a lot of stills and captured a few sounds on the video below. No artists were harmed in the making of this video, because all sounds are presented under Fair Use Guidelines, without violating any copyrights.

You may have missed this great concert, but keep visit the the Amazing Things Arts Center and check out the lineup for the rest of the year!

Friday, October 22, 2010

French Door Saga

It all started when I wrote about my problem with an estimate from Home Depot, which prompted me to call on Lowe's for an estimate.

Today, the Lowe's installer, Ken Bishop of Bishop Contracting in Bedford, and his helper Brian installed the door. They arrived at 10:00 AM, worked right through lunch and finished at 2:00.

The Home Depot installer was going to charge $100 to get the door into the house. Ken took the doors off the frame, brought them in and then Brian handed the frame up to him from the outside of deck. A piece of cake!

Home Depot said they couldn't reuse the molding, they would have to replace it and we would have to paint it. Ken was going to reuse our molding. I assumed that I would have repaint it. I was hoping against hope that it would be able to get away with just be touch up nail holes and fills. They did such meticulous work that you would never know the door wasn't there from the day we moved in. It need NO paint at all.

On one final note, the installation couldn't be done until the J-channel we ordered came in. Lowe's installation department called me every few days to update me on the status of the process, and two hours after the installation they called again to make sure everything was ok.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate Lowe's a 10 and Ken Bishop an 11. Jill and I couldn't be happier with the door and the work.

For our Sherwood Glen members, you can find Ken's full contact information on the vendor list in the Members section. For those of you who are not members, you can reach Ken at .

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Now It's Lowes' Turn

Last week, I wrote about how Home Depot lost our business. The contractor doubled the installation estimate by padding with inflated and unnecessary up charges. I also wrote about how Lowe's explained that almost all of the up charges Home Depot added were included in their base installation price.

We visited Lowe's on Saturday evening and were contacted by their installer on Tuesday. He came out to measure and reiterated all that the in-store salesman had said and explained a few other details based on what he saw when he measured. He explained that there would be a minor amount of extra work that would involve a small charge.

I have to note, that he wasn't the least bit concerned about the "difficult access" for which Home Depot was going to tack on $100.

Two days later, Don from Lowe's called us with the estimate and to make the final arrangements before signing the contracts. The only hold up was the J-channel which was from a manufacturer that wasn't on their vendor list. I tried to get some from our condo manager, but the unit they were framing out wouldn't have siding delivered for at least 3 weeks. So, we went to Lowe's and matched it with a vendor they dealt with. The grand total was just over $15, which was considerably better than Home Depot's $65.

So let's compare the bottom lines. At Home Depot, we were getting a door that was NOT Energy Star rated and at Lowe's we were getting an Energy Star rated door, for which we could take a tax deduction of roughly $100. Home Depot's bottom line for the door and installation was $1437 and Lowe's was $1050.

Considering we are getting a better door AND a tax deduction, that's a huge difference. Weigh in the fact that Lowe's offered us better customer service in terms of being professional, friendly, and explaining everything in detail, it is not likely we will go the Home Depot route for any work. It's not that Home Depot's service was poor. It just a case that Lowe's went the extra mile.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ray Free Senior Center

Last winter, shortly after moving to Raymond, NH, Jill and I had breakfast at the Long Branch Restaurant. Across the street was the Ray Free Senior Center. We decided to stop in and see what was happening. What we found was a VERY active group of "youngsters" from their 50's on up to through their 90's.

They club sponsored trips, held Tai Chi lessons, and line dancing lessons. There was a walking group, exercise group, cribbage, bingo, knitting, crocheting, quilting and more! As we talked, we mentioned that we had just come from the Long Branch, and John, the club president said, "Oh, if you are a member here, you get a 10% discount."

When we asked what the cost of membership was, he told us it was $10. I said, "Considering Jill and I want to join the walking group, I want to take Tai Chi, and we'll probably save $10 a month just on breakfasts, sign us up."

Imagine our surprise when we found out that it as $10 a YEAR! You just don't get bargains like that any more.

When we stopped in today for our walking group, there was a group of women busily crocheting red, white, and blue stockings. When I asked what they were for, I was told they are for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The stockings would be stuffed with toiletries and other essentials and send over seas to the troops.

I'll let Yvonne, the project organizer tell you about it in the short video. After watching it, why not come on down to 64 Main Street, sign up, and take advantage of activities and the friendly folks. If it doesn't make you feel 10 years younger, it will at least get you 10% off your breakfast!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Home Depot - French Door FAIL

Jill wants to replace the sliding door that goes out to our deck with French doors. We started by checking out Lowes in Epping. Maybe it was a bad time, but we didn't get a very knowledgeable sales person. It didn't look as if they had the door we wanted, which was surprising, because we just wanted a basic 15 light door. Additionally, we didn't get a lot of details about the installation.

We decided to head to the Home Depot in Hooksett. We got someone who was a bit more knowledgeable, but not what I would call an expert. They had a door on the floor that we wanted, but she said it was not being carried anymore. She did a search of stores in the area and found that the Manchester store had one.

Off we went to Manchester where we spoke to Dave, the manager of the millworks department. He said the door wasn't discontinued and that it was a stock item. It was a 15 light door for $399. It wasn't Energy Star rated, but we said that was ok. The one they had there was damaged and they would have to order one. No problem. All we had to do was schedule a measurement.

The basic installation as advertised was $469, but Dave explained that if there were any problems or special situations, it would be extra. The installer would let us know if when they made the measurements. With a 1 year old condo, how many surprises could there be?

We heard from the installer in about a day or two and set up the measurement. When he came out, there was really only one concern. There was no way the door would fit through the front door and it would either have to be disassembled or lifted up and over the railing of the deck. The deck was 8 feet off the ground with another three feet of railing. He also mentioned the they would have to replace the trim around the inside of the door and we would have to paint it. That was the only things he mentioned that was a "surprise". How much extra could that be?

He said we should hear from Home Depot in a day or two after he submitted the paperwork. I let 6 days go by before I called Home Depot to find out what the story was. I had to leave my information and waited for a call back, which came later that afternoon. The person I spoke to told me that the bill for the job would be $905.22, which was about what I expected. In my mind I figured $399 for the door $469 for the install and the rest for the trim material and getting the door on the deck.

Everything seem in line until I got a call from Home Depot later that afternoon asking us to come in and select the door we wanted. Huh??? I told them we already did that and had paid for everything earlier in the day. They went back, checked, and said that there was a note about which door we wanted, but the no paperwork had been completed on it.

Guess what? The $905.22 wasn't for the whole job. It was JUST the installation! Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. I told them it was unacceptable and that we would be in the next day to talk to them about it.

Before going in to Home Depot, we decided to go to breakfast at iHOP in Bedford and noticed that there was a Lowes right next to it. We decided to stop in there and talk to them. There we talked to Don and told him what we wanted. Don knew his stuff! Their door WAS Energy Star compliant and was $50 cheaper than Home Depot's non-compliant one and the installation was $499.

We talked to him about the installation, the trim and the extra work to get the door on to the deck. I had taken pictures to bring to Home Depot so they could explain what installing the door in a brand new condo would be so much over the base price. I showed then to Don and this is where Home Depot lost the sale even before we went to talk to them about why the installation price doubled. (We'll get to that later.)

Let's start with the trim. Don said their installer would use the existing trim. He went on to described in detail how it would be accomplished, which is exactly how I had seen it done when we has windows installed in my last house. Of course we would have to fill nail holes and repaint as we did then, but that was perfectly acceptable.

Next we talked about getting the door to the deck. He said there would be NO extra charge for that. The installer was totally responsible for that and couldn't add a penny extra for it. If they felt they couldn't do it, they could request that Home Depot deliver it, but the installer would have to eat the charge. The only extra charge would be if there was some extra material they might need what he didn't see in the diagram.

Now it was off to Home Depot to get a refund. I wanted to be upfront with them about why they were losing the sale. So we went back to Dave, told him the story and asked for a refund. No problem. With no hesitation he pulled up the order and began deleting each item, but for some reason the last $132 wouldn't come off.

We had to go to the front desk where John to tried to remove it. However, Dave had done the refund wrong and John, a 13 year veteran, tried unsuccessfully for close to a half hour to figure out how to get us our refund. He even contacted a manager in Nashua store. He was extremely pleasant and apologetic. As one who works with computers, I realized that the problem was the programming, not the operator. John printed out full documentation of what was done and had to be done, with the promise that it would be resolved at 1:00 when his expediter came in. He was true to his word. Cudo's to John!

Now let's get to the things I mentioned above. The Home Depot installer had obviously taken every opportunity to pad the $469 basic install including $100 to get the door to the deck, $135 to custom fit exterior trim to existing siding, and $62.50 to replace the kick plate.

It's hard to imagine how they can justify $100 to get the door up to the deck. Consider this. If Lowes delivered it, they would charge $65. For that $65 they would send a truck that has a detachable fork lift that would simply lift the door up to the deck. Keep in mind that since a Lowes contractor is installing it there is no charge to me and if they had a problem, they would have to pay Lowes the $65 to deliver it.

On to $135 to custom fit exterior trim to existing siding. The English translation of that is "replace trim around door." In case you don't know what that is, here's a picture. Since it wasn't standard white, it would have to be a "special order." The only problem is that there is no way it would cost that much and EVERY install would have to have trim replaced. I would expect that labor to be in the $469 base price.

There was absolutely NO mention of this charge by the installer. Had he pointed out the problem of the special color, I could have told him to look around. We are a condo and units are still being built. It would be no problem at all for me to get some j-channel from our builder and supply it. I bet they wouldn't charge me a penny for it.

Finally, we get to the $62.50 to replace the kick plate. What door installation wouldn't require a kick plate??? It should be part of the $469. Even if it wasn't, the kick plate is nothing more than a 1" x 6" x 6' board secured by 12 nails. How much does that cost? Considering that JUST the deck floor is composed of 22 - 2" x 6" x 12' planks, if he were to charge the same rate, it would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 just for the floor, never mind the beams, joists, and railing. But, of course there would be a probably be discount for the full job. LOL

All in all, that was one HUGE fail for Home Depot installation. It's sad to think that there are probably plenty of people who pay for all these "extras".

A final caveat… Lowes has yet to come out to measure and give me an official quote. Let's see what happens then. Pro or con, there will definitely be another entry after that process.