Investigation Exposes What's Behind $799 Offer

Investigation Exposes What's Behind $799 Offer

CREATED Jul 30, 2008

If the summer heat has you thinking about buying a swimming pool, you might be tempted by an offer for a backyard pool for less than $800.

But there's a catch.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates went undercover.

Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus exposes what one pool company is doing trying to get unsuspecting homeowners to take a very expensive plunge.

The thought of a swimming pool for less than $800 bucks may make you want to jump right in.

Ads have been running for weeks in the Tennessean featuring a family-sized above ground pool for just $799.

But Robertson County resident Thelma Lee says, "It's a come on. It really is."

Lee and her husband Richard say when the J. Hamilton & Sons pool company sent a salesman out to their house, they discovered the company really wasn't interested in selling the advertised pool.

Lee says of the salesman, "He said, 'I don't recommend it.' Even though he sells it, he doesn't recommend it."

And our undercover investigation found the same thing.

We called the company and said we were interested in the advertised pool. The salesman came to the house and then told our undercover shoppers pretty much what he told the Lees.

The salesman said, "It is what it is. You spend $800 on a pool, you can only expect to get so much out of it."

The salesman had only a simple black and white sketch of the pool and he repeatedly told our undercover shopped that this was not the pool to buy.

At one point he told them, "If you take the water out of this pool and drain it, I can guarantee you anytime a big wind comes by that pool's not going to be together anymore. It's going to collapse on you."

Thelma Lee recalls of the salesman's pitch, "He said that within two years the water would have rotted the wood. It wouldn't be safe."

And when our undercover crew told the sales guy that the advertised $799 pool was the one they really wanted, he told them, "We don't sell them anymore."

The salesman then suggested another pool, one he insisted was a much better pool.

The Lees say, "He came out with a suitcase and a great big pool."

He showed us a suitcase-sized model of this other pool too.

He also had color photos of it, even a promotional video. And, he went on and on about how wonderful it is.

He told us, "It's the number one seller in above-ground pools in the U.S."

And that same salesman told the Lees, "It would last 20, 30 years. And he said, of course, with our grandchildren, it would be a good pool for them."

It's such a great pool, he tells homeowners, he bought one himself. In fact, he told us, "I've had mine for two years."

And the Lees say, "He said he had it in his backyard. His girls had been swimming in it. They love it."

The J. Hamilton & Sons representative also tells prospective customers, "It's the most affordable pool you can put in your backyard."

Yet this pool costs nowhere near the advertised $799.

The salesman tells customers, "The pool right here in $24,000."

That's right. He tells them it's $24,000.

Thelma Lee recalls, "I said, 'This is ridiculous, Richard.' Here we are retired, just retired. What the devil do we want with a $24,000 pool;?"

The Lees told the salesman that was way too much money and that's when he suddenly offered to cut the price in half.

He tells customers, "You can't go wrong for that. I mean, I paid $13,900 for mine and I work for the company."

Kathleen Calligan with the Better Business Bureau says of the advertised $799 pool, "They're using this pool as bait."

Calligan says what J. Hamilton & Sons is doing is classic bait and switch.

She adds, "Their intent before they leave that evening is to have you purchase a very expensive pool that you had no interest in whatsoever. It's misleading to the consumer."

The salesman also tells our shoppers, "You could buy a cheaper pool but after two or three years, you're going to have to buy another pool."

And remember how he even claimed to own one of the company's pools and told our undercover shoppers, "My pool stays open 8 months out of the year. I've got four daughters and they stay in there all the time."

Yet we found this same salesman at his home, and he had no pool. His neighbors told us he's never had one.

Thelma Lee was pretty surprised saying, "He doesn't have a pool? Is that right?"

The Lees do now have a pool and they discovered they didn't have to take a $24,000 plunge to get it.

Richard Lee tells NewsChannel 5, "We had no intention of putting out that kind of money."

The Lees went elsewhere to buy their pool and ended up spending only $5,000.

The sales guy, it turns out, is actually the company's regional manager.

He refused to talk with us except to say what he tells customers is what he's been trained to say by the company.

J. Hamilton and Sons is based out of Kansas City, Missouri. The company says it operates in 19 states. NewsChannel 5 discovered that it operates under a variety of names in addition to J. Hamilton & Sons including B. Carpenter & Sons; P. Anderson Pools; D. Bennet & Sons; Trans America Pools, and Ameri Pools, Inc.

The company refused to answer our questions but the general manager, Paul Von-Webb, sent us a statement that reads in part, "Our agents are instructed to suggest the product that best suits the prospective customers' expectations. This does not include disparaging any of our products regardless of price."

The Better Business Bureau isn't convinced and says based on its own investigation, they believe what you saw in our story is the way this company does business.

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