Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Green Home Air Duct Cleaning

I called Green Home Air Duct Cleaning this morning to schedule to have my air ducts cleaned.  I had Googled and found that they had a coupon on their web site for a $60 duct cleaning.  Their web site was not clear about what their service area was, but when I asked them, then confirmed that they did indeed service Ogden.

We set up for them to come out in two days some time between 7 and 9am.  Later they called me back and said that they had a cancellation for their 12-3pm window today.  I thought that was great that we could get it wrapped up today.  It was already 12:30 when they called to let me know, so I didn't expect they were making it by noon, but I did expect that by 12:30 they had a pretty good idea about what their schedule was like for the 12-3pm window.

The getting me in that day to let me take the spot of a cancellation scored huge points with me and likely would have contributed to me telling others about them if they had done a good job when they got here.  I knew the price was a really good deal and so far the service from their office had been very pleasing to me.  Everything that happened after that erased all of the tremendously good impression I had of them that they had earned in just a few minutes and left me with as much of an impression to the negative as they had made positive and then some.

Three o'clock rolled around and no one had called me to say they were on their way, as the person I talked to had told me they would.  I called to find out where they were at.  The lady I talked to put me on hold for a while, as she called to find out from the dispatcher.  She finally came back and said that the technician was in West Valley, which is almost an hour from Ogden.  Even if they left right at that moment, there was no way they were getting here, even by four, yet no one had called me stating that they were going to be late.

The lady said that they had another thirty minutes of work to finish up where they were at.  She said they would call when they were on their way from that job to come to us.

I went and ran some errands with my family that we had been putting off as we waited for Green Home Air Duct Cleaning to show up.  When we got back, I called them around 4:30 to find out what was going on since no one had called to say they were on their way and it had been almost an hour and a half since I spoke to them and they said it would be a half hour.  I got a different receptionist this time, who also put me on hold for a while while she called the dispatcher.  She came back and said that he was finishing something up in Salt Lake City and was on his way.   Finishing up something in Salt Lake City?  I thought he was coming straight here after he finished in West Valley.  Was he finishing up or on his way?

At almost five the technician called and said he was in Bountiful and wanted to know if we still had time for him to come out today.  We had an appointment at seven, so I asked how long the cleaning would take.  He said it could be as much as two hours, but he couldn't tell until he got here.  We did not have time to wait for him to get from Bountiful and then do a two hour job, so I told him we didn't have time tonight.  He said the office would be calling me to reschedule.  I now have to decide if I want to use this company.  If they can't schedule competently, then will they be able to competently work on my air ducts?  It will likely cost me more to go with someone else, but it might be worth it to make sure everything is done right.

With this big of a botching of the schedule, I would have expected someone to call me tonight to try to make it right and get me scheduled right away, but they did not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alpine Property Management, LLC Indianapolis, Indiana

I had been managing my property in Indiana long distance with the help of friends.  I decided to let a professional property management company do it to handle the headaches for me, to more easily find a tenant for me, and to be my eyes and ears at the property.

I reviewed several property management companies in Indianapolis and it appeared that Alpine had the best flexibility.  There wasn't a bunch of paperwork they wanted me to sign.  Other places seemed to be treating it like I was an employee of them and the contracts were structured that way.  Alpine's representative talked of being a handshake sort of business.

It turned out that  my experience with them was a nightmare.  Below I will detail the issues I have had with them and why I would recommend tenants and property owners look for a property management other than Alpine Property Management, LLC of Indianapolis, Indiana to do business with.  Their negligence has cost me hours of time and thousands of dollars (damages to the house and lost income from not presenting me potential tenants for several months).

Inaccurate Information and Poor CommunicationIt has been very difficult to get in communication with the staff at Alpine.  They are often very slow to respond to emails (as much as a week or more) and phones are generally not answered or calls returned.

As I recall, the first issue I had with them was with giving me accurate information about what they could do for me and how much it would cost, and communicating with me.

I had a tenant that I had been evicted before hiring Alpine Property Management, LLC.  They left a bunch of their personal items in my property.  The former tenant contacted me and wanted to get their items.  I contacted Alpine and asked if they could have someone there to let them in the house and observe them as they got their items.  Alpine's representative told me they could definitely do that for me and it would cost me $25.  I think she said $25 per hour.

I called the former tenant and told them they needed to be there at a certain time and they had one hour to get it done.  I did not want to spend a bunch of money when they had been given notice to get everything out by a time that had since passed and they still owed me thousands of dollars in rent and damages.

After I had already spoken to the tenant an Alpine representative called me and said they couldn't get any of their contractors to do it alone, so it would be $50 per hour, since there would be two of them there.  I had already told the former tenant we could do it and then I find out it will cost me more than what I was told when I agreed with the tenant to allow it.  In order to not have an issue with the previous tenant and just to get it done with I told Alpine to go ahead, after making them push their contractors harder to get one of them to go alone.

After I hung up with them I realized I forgot to tell Alpine to limit the former tenant to one hour.  I tried to get the Alpine representative I was working with on the phone.  She was a different person than I had been communicating with previously, since one was in charge of writing checks and the other was in charge of scheduling repairs or something like that.  I could not get her on the phone and the time was quickly approaching for the tenant to be there.  I finally called the first Alpine representative I had been working with and she said there was nothing she could do.  She said the other lady handled that sort of thing.  She had no way to contact the contractors or the lady that could.

It turned out the Alpine representative I was supposed to be working with was at home and it was her day off and she had just set things in motion on her day off.  In working with Alpine, it felt like all of them were people that worked part time from home.

I finally got her on the phone when it was all over.  It ended up costing me $57.50.  At first I thought it was because it took longer than an hour, but it is strange for a contractor to get that granular on the billing.  I would've expected 15 minutes increments.  I found out later that Alpine add 15% to invoices and keeps that for themselves.  This was never disclosed to me when I went over costs of their services with Alpine before hiring them.  I don't know if 15% is standard in the property management business, but it seems like a little excessive to me.

Inaccurate Information on Marketing the Property
Twice Alpine typoed the advertisement for the house.  I hadn't noticed it, because I had hired them to take the work off of me.  I finally went and looked and saw it was the wrong zip code, which meant that anyone searching for a house in my house’s zip code would not find it.

The second error I found later was that they listed that the house had three bathrooms instead of two.  How mad would someone be, who had three baths as an absolute criteria, if they were shown a home with only two.  If they didn’t mind the wrong number of bathrooms, it would still give a bad impression of the person who owns the property and their property management company.  It could potentially leave them not trusting us.

When I hire a property management company to find me a tenant, I don't expect to have to proofread the advertisements they are distributing.

Unauthorized Work Being Done to My Property and Inattentiveness to Resolution
I had an invoice sent to me from Alpine that stated they had replaced the back door on the property. I had never authorized this, nor was I told there was an issue with the back door. When they fixed the door they also mowed the lawn. Alpine had already contracted another company to mow the lawn. That company charges $10 if they go by and the grass doesn't need mowed. So I was being charged for this contractor I hadn't authorized to mow the grass and again by the one I had, since it didn't need cut, but they went out to check anyway. If Alpine contracted someone else to mow the grass that one time, I expected that they would contact the other contractor that it didn't need it that time.

I told Alpine about the invoice and their representative asked me, "So you are not going to pay?" This was by email and I was stunned. No offer to make the situation right, just questioning if I was going to pay them or not. I called her and explained that I didn't feel I should have to pay for something I did not authorize. She said she didn't either, but didn't offer to do anything. Eventually she came around to that I didn't have to pay. I asked about the contractor and how this was going to effect my reputation with them, since I will need other work done on the house that I would authorize. She said they wouldn't know it was me, since Alpine schedules everything. They don't know my name, but they know the address and if I ask them to go to that same address. She said that they do enough business with the contractor that they will not hassle if Alpine stiffs them on the bill.

With that resolved I was still frustrated by the poor communication and service I was getting from Alpine. I expressed my concern to the Alpine representative and she told me that there are a lot of property management companies out there and if I didn't like the job they were doing, I was not bound to stay with them. Seriously? This is the answer that a representative of their company gives to clients? Especially when that representative is the VP of Operations.  She seemed uninterested in resolving the error that had happened by someone in Alpine's employ until I pressed the issue and then tells me I can take my business elsewhere if I don't like it.

It turns out I should've done just that. I was hesitant, since I had researched other property management companies and I wasn't sure it was going to be better somewhere else. It just seemed like it was going to be more hassle and paperwork and perhaps turning more control of my properties to them.

One of the reason's I needed a property management company was the market the property, so shifting back to doing it myself I thought was going to be a problem. Nonetheless, I started marketing the property in addition to what Alpine was doing. I listed on Craig's List and within a couple of weeks I got a hit. I turned the potential tenant's contact information over to Alpine. I had to chase Alpine every step of the way to get feedback on what the status of that potential tenant was.

Slowly and Inaccurately Reporting Problems with the Property

After a while of showing the house Alpine reported to me that there was a musty smell in the house. I had told them previously that there was a sump pump in the yard and we have had trouble with it getting unplugged or the GFI plug in the kitchen popping and shutting off the pump, since the sump pump is on the same circuit. I asked them to check the status of the pump. When the musty smell was reported Alpine asked if I would be willing to put in a dehumidifier in the basement. I told them no, since I had had no issues in the years that I had lived there and asked again for them to check the status of the pump.

I finally asked Alpine to send me the new key to the house since I had had them change the locks. They did and also gave me the code to the lock box. I gave the code to a friend of mine and had him go check out the smell. He said their was definitely a smell in the house. He said that someone had used the toilet and since the water service was shut off it just sat there.

First of all, the agent showing the house can't tell the difference between the smell of old urine and the smell of a musty basement? Certainly this would put off potential tenants looking at the house. I assume this inaction on Alpine part probably made it take longer to rent the house. As I said, the primary reasons I needed them was to be my eyes and ears to make sure their was nothing wrong with the house and to accurately tell me what the issue was if there was something wrong and additionally to market and show the property to get a new tenant in as soon as possible.

Damage Caused By Alpine's Poor Communication

My friend also found that the sump pump was indeed unplugged. Someone had removed the plug entirely. Because of this water was getting into the basement and causing mold problems. When Alpine found a tenant, they wanted the mold problems taken care of, which Alpine subsequently billed me for. When I told them that the damage was their fault the representative informed me that she and her boss had agreed that I needed to find another property management company. They then deducted the amount of the mold bill from the security deposit that they had been delaying sending to me.

Alpine had just signed a lease in Alpine's name with the new tenant a month previous. I would have dumped Alpine sooner had I known that I could have the tenant sign another lease in my name.

Making Tenants Uneasy and Making Me Look Bad

After over a week of trying to get Alpine to respond to me on what to do since the lease was in their name, I contacted the tenant and let them know that I was parting ways with Alpine.

The tenant expressed relief in hearing from me. He expressed that communicating with Alpine had been very difficult for him.

The tenant said that he had reported issues about the house and Alpine seemed to be ignoring them.

My tenant was wondering what they had gotten themselves into in renting from me because of the behavior of Alpine in not communicating with them.

Month After Month No Tenant Was Presented to Me For Approval
I went months without any tenants being brought to me by Alpine and no communication as to how the search was going.

As I stated earlier I finally took marketing the property into my own hands. I listed on Craig's List and a week or so later I got an inquiry via email. After having given Alpine the name of a potential renter from Craig's List and having to chase them for status updates on what was happening, I removed Alpine's phone number from the ad and had a friend of mine field the calls and do showings. After that I discovered a listing service on Facebook. I listed there and with a day I had a couple of inquiries on the property.

I could've scheduled work to be done on the house myself and would've had I known about Alpine's 15%. All I needed them to do was keep an eye on the place, let me know of issues, and find a tenant.

Even though they ended up signing a tenant right before I did, my search was a few weeks and theirs was months.

Alpine was completely incompetent at watching the place and communicating to me.

My recommendation if you are managing a property long distance is to skip the property management company and:
  • Utilize the internet and social networking to list the property.
  • Get a local friend to do the showings or offer a real estate agent a finder's fee. A real estate agent may be able to list the rental in the MLS.
  • Have the friend or real estate agent give you feedback on each showing.
  • Schedule maintenance work yourself and have a friend or real estate agent let the workers in the house and verify the work done.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

MagicJack Chat Only Support

I will start out by saying that at a certain level I think chat support is a great idea.  I can be doing other things while I chat with them and they can field more than one customer at a time.

MagicJack's chat only tech support has several major flaw that make it unusable for anything more than the simplest fix.

  • Accountability
    • There is no way to get to a manger to nudge things along if their system isn't serving me.  They say they are transferring you to someone that the customers have rate in the top ten percent.  I have never been given a survey to rate the person I have been dealing with, so not sure how they get that they are the top ten percent.  When I ask one of those top ten percent to put me on with a supervisor, they tell me they are a supervisor and they are the last level I can get to.  Generally, I find them to be about the same level of knowledgeable as the non ten percent.
  • Inability to Reconnect
    • I can't get back to who I was working with if I get cut off or have to reboot, in spite of that they say you can give them a number and get right back to them when you reconnect.  It took three hours of trying to get back to the person who was remoting into my system when what she did disconnected our chat session.  Not only could I not get back to her, but I could not get back to anyone on their Live Look team, who handles remoting into people's machines.  For three hours they told me none of the Live Look team had freed up.  When they first tried to transfer me, they were able to throw me to three different Live Look agents in a short amount of time.  When I tried to get back to resume, they had no one they could give me.
  • Ease of Dumping The Customer
    • The ease of just forwarding you to someone else when they don't want to deal with you anymore, before you getting a chance to say no.
      Several times the chat screen said I was being forwarded and it never sent me to anyone.  Additional, between the time you are forwarded and the time the system connects you to someone else you have no one to communicate to that there is a problem.  Much like a really bad voice forwarding system.
I have spent three days totaling 12 hours to try to get them to get my MagicJack to work.  It worked fine for a long time and then stopped.  The first day they escalated me to one of their top ten percent and after two hours I had to go to work and could not spend any more time on it.
The second day I hunkered down and intended to go through it until we got it fixed.  I started around 8am.  They started me over, even though they said they had read my previous chat session.  Several hours into it they started suggesting that I let one of them remote into my machine.  They have given me no confidence in them up until that point, so why would I want them to poke around in my machine?  They eventually bounced me to the remote person anyway.  He immediately asks if he can logged into my system.  I reply "NO", since I had told the previous person no and they transferred me anyway.  He immediately bounced me to someone else.
I reiterated that I want to be walked through how to fix the problem by the remote people without them touching my system.  I am an IT professional and I don't want some stranger messing about in my system.  They said they would ask the Live Look team if they would verbally walk me through.  They forwarded me to them and with in a few minutes of no one answering, I was bounced back.  The guy I had been working with said that he guessed the Live Look team did not want to do it verbally.
I went through several support people all having me do the same things.  Plug it in.  Unplug it.  Uninstall the drivers.  Uninstall the MagicJack software.  Download the set up program.
I finally conceded to let someone log into my system.  What did she do?  Have me unplug the MagicJack.  Uninstall the drivers.  Uninstall the MagicJack software.
Additionally she started closing windows without asking me.  I had been in the process of writing a complaint to the Better Business Bureau and she closed it, losing all that I had written.
She downloaded Microsft's Fix It program and had me run it.  When it ran it came back that it failed and in the process killed my chat session.  I saw that the remote software was still running, so I opened another chat session and asked them to reconnect me with her.  I also loaded notepad and typed to her, since she was still in my system.
The new support person said the person I had been working with was helping a customer, so I couldn't be forwarded to her.  How is it that a support person gets disconnected from the person they are working with and doesn't leave a message with someone that they let them know if that person comes back?  Three hours I try to get someone to reconnect me with her while they have me plug and unplug the MagicJack and uninstall, reinstall, and update the drivers.  I never did get connected to her or anyone else in Live Look.
One other thing that they all made me do was drop my firewall and antivirus.  Every time they instruct me to do that, even though they said they read the previous chats where everyone else telling me to do that.
Around 3pm I am working with one of their "supervisors" and they tell me to mess with a bunch of settings in my system that need me to reboot.  I knew how this was going to end.  I would reboot and the chat would be gone and I would get to start over.  She said that the problem was fixed and the reboot would be the end of it.
I rebooted and sure enough it was still broken.
The next morning I started the process over again.  I was able to even get someone to remote in.  She messed around in my router and did all the same uninstalling and reinstalling on the machine as the others.
The remote control lady hadn't fixed anything, but said to reboot.  I told her I had already done that several times and it didn't help.  She closed the chat and the remote control session.
So after 12 hours of tech "support" over three days, here I sit with a device that doesn't work.  This is our home phone and now my family is left without phone service and no one at MagicJack seems to care.  They run through their script and that's all they can do and then they hang up on you.
They give you no way to reach a manager or director of operations or anything.  I couldn't even get them to give me a phone number my lawyer could call.