Military families enlist the List when loved ones serve abroad

Military families enlist the List when loved ones serve abroad

Tamara Tresemer, a military wife living in Colorado Springs, says she’s moved four times since she married her husband 12 years ago and always relies on Angie’s List to find good contractors when she arrives in a new town.

“The List is always our first stop when looking for someone to do work or repairs that we can’t do ourselves,” she says. “When you’re always new to an area, you’re always starting over. We don’t have the benefit of having lived in an area for 20 years and ‘just knowing’ who to call.”

She recently hired highly rated Integrity Roofing & Painting of Monument, Colo., to repair hail damage to her roof after a recent storm while her husband remained deployed in Afghanistan. She paid $1,300 for the work, which she called fabulous and perfect. “I’ve never been disappointed with a company I’ve chosen through Angie’s List,” she says.

Military families face a variety of challenges while their loved ones serve their country from afar, or just while dealing with the day-to-day reality of life in the service. Hiring reliable service providers can be difficult, particularly if the deployed family member is normally the one who handles such matters.

Military discounts

Nearly 3,000 companies on Angie’s List indicate they offer a discount to military members, families and veterans, and some go even beyond that. Adam Gagen, owner of highly rated Adam’s Water Treatment in Crystal Lake, Ill., offers free service calls to military families with members on active duty.

“I feel that our troops are going out of their way and their loved ones at home are sometimes struggling without them and might not know how to do some of the stuff the men and women overseas are doing,” he says. “I just try to do my best to fill in for them. My father and brother were military, and I feel a strong need to support them.” He says he gets about five service calls a month from military families.

Angie's List offers a 40 percent discount to military families and veterans who use the promo code MILITARY when signing up or renewing.

With her husband deployed to Afghanistan, Parma, Ohio, member Sarah Burrows says she hired Cleveland-based The Plumbing Solution in January for a $2,900 bathroom retiling job. “They prepared me for the problems that can arise, since this was my first time dealing with plumbing,” she says. “Several times since my husband was deployed, I’ve felt workers were taking advantage of me, but I never got this feeling from The Plumbing Solution.”

She says she wishes she’d joined the List earlier rather than relying on mailers and coupon books. “Since subscribing and using the service, it has not led me astray, and many of the companies give an additional discount for military families,” she says.

Honesty and reliability

James Hagerty, an Angie’s List member from Port Wentworth, Ga., says highly rated Michael’s Roofing Company of Meldrim, Ga., showed great honesty when helping his family with a roof leak while he was deployed with the Army to Afghanistan as a chief warrant officer and Black Hawk pilot.

“My wife didn’t know how bad the leak was, and they fixed it in a short amount of time,” he says. “He only charged a small amount, when he could have asked much higher due to our situation.

“Angie’s List was a great resource for me to find them,” he adds. “Military families are always being relocated, and finding a reliable person to fix our roof, car or whatever needs fixing can be a problem.”

Kathleen Moakler, government relations director for the National Military Family Association, says many military spouses experience similar situations.

“When the service member is deployed, the stay-at-home spouse suddenly finds themselves handling a lot of jobs that might have been divided up before,” she says. “And military families are a mobile population. They don’t have the handyman service that they and their friends and their families have always used. So Angie’s List gives them a way to vet those folks and see what other people have said about them.”

She says many support networks exist for military families, though not everyone knows to reach out to them, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion. She says the NMFA provides resources such as the MyMilitaryLife app to help families navigate military life.

The negative side

Despite the positive stories, however, sometimes unscrupulous contractors take advantage of a family’s situation.

That’s what Norma Bermudez of Apollo Beach, Fla., says happened when she hired Ideal Concrete Designs in Riverview, Fla., to do extensive concrete staining and decorative work while her husband worked as a military contractor in Afghanistan in 2012. After consulting about the project with owner Darrell Beall and her husband via Skype, Norma says she paid Beall half the $2,000 job upfront.

“I don’t have any idea of how concrete design works, and I don’t like the idea of someone taking advantage of someone like me,” says Norma, who describes the contractor’s work as discolored. “My husband was very upset about how they took advantage of me since he was working in Afghanistan and couldn’t be present to talk to him face-to-face.” She says Ideal Concrete never made the job right and she still needs to spend $2,000 to repair the work.

Beall says the family’s water sprinkler caused the discoloration, which he says he told them to turn off while the work cured. “If you let water sit on colored concrete right after it’s put down, it’s going to change the color,” he says. “I told her I would fix the job for a few hundred bucks, but she didn’t want to do it. The problem was due to nothing I did, and I wasn’t going to do the fix for free.” Bermudez disputes that the sprinkler system caused the damage and says the water couldn’t have reached the affected areas.

Taira Shull, an active-duty gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps stationed in Virginia Beach, Va., says she paid Dr. Dan’s Landscaping & Architectural Design $17,000 to fix a drainage problem that she says left standing water in her yard after he was done.

“Dan [Wasserman, the owner] told me initially he accepted payment plans ‘especially from military folks,’ then he demanded to be paid in full when the job was complete,” she says. “We’ve had to take our children out of before- and after-school care to defray the cost of the backyard so we can pay down the credit card. I wanted to surprise my husband by having the drainage fixed when he got home from Afghanistan, but we’re left with a standing pond in our backyard.”

She says Wasserman refused to redo the work unless she paid more money. Shortly after the experience, Shull joined Angie’s List and filed an F review on Dr. Dan’s.

Wasserman says he finished the job, didn’t ask for additional money, and that Shull’s husband expressed satisfaction with the results when they spoke. “We’ve been in business for 23 years and done tens of thousands of these projects, some of them for military families, and all businesses are going to have a 3 to 5 to 8 percent dissatisfaction rate,” Wasserman says. “This is an anomaly. We went over and fixed it three different times and documented everything. The man said he was happy with the work.”

Shull says her husband never approved the final job. “When my husband returned and saw the work, he spoke to Dan, who was upset with my review of him on Angie’s List, and my husband said, ‘This is your chance to prove her wrong,’” she says. “But Dan refused to fix the work without an additional $3,000.”

Red flags

Moakler cautions military families to be wary of payment plans and check the terms closely. “Service members don’t want to not pay their bills, because it might be a threat to their security clearance,” she says. “So you’ll see folks who will try to charge them an exorbitant amount of interest, because they know they have that paycheck coming in every month. There are protections for that under the law, but there are still those who will try to get this kind of thing over on a family.”

Coolidge, Ariz., member Scott Bauer says he felt taken advantage of after hiring MVP Restoration in Gilbert, Ariz., to install wood floors while he was out of the country. “I was deployed to Afghanistan at the time, and wasn’t able to inspect the work,” Bauer says of the $1,700 job. “The quality was horrible, and by the time I replace it, it will cost me about $3,000. They robbed me of my money and apparently figured they could walk away knowing I wasn’t around to check up on the project.”

He later joined Angie’s List and filed the company’s only review on Angie’s List — a D. When contacted by phone for comment, an MVP company representative refused to comment and hung up.

Lessons learned

Bermudez says her experience with Ideal Concrete taught her a lot about vetting contractors and trusting her instincts. She’s since joined Angie’s List and says she’s hired three other companies that turned out much better.

“We have to be wiser and investigate the person, and if you have any doubts, don’t do it,” she says. “Thank God for Angie’s List so people can search for reliable companies.”

Larry Naderhoff, owner of highly rated Heritage Moving & Storage in San Antonio, Texas, says the four military bases in his service area provide frequent opportunities for him to move military families or retired military members. They make up about 10 percent of his total work, for which he offers a discount of $17.50 off his hourly rate.

For one military family, however, he added a somewhat more substantial discount. “We moved a 92-year-old World War II veteran who had just gotten back from the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.,” he says. “I charged him a dollar so he could tell his buddies he got the best deal ever. It was a great privilege. You don’t get to meet that kind of person very often.”

Naderhoff says he considers it an honor to devote top service to veterans. “Look what they do for us!” he says. “They’ve dedicated years of their lives to serving us, and I’m a firm believer that they deserve everything we can give back.”