Technical Papers

Gutter Guards - 6 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Buying a Gutter Guard

Sunday, October 29th, 2017 by Anthony Singleterry

THE 6 COMMON MISTAKES PEOPLE MAKE WHEN BUYING GUTTER PROTECTION

 

1) They Think Price = Value

Do you think that if you pay more, you should get more? 

Our society (TV) conditions us to think that higher cost goods and services have a corresponding higher value.  Let's examine that belief.  I'm going to talk about roofs first, as an example, just because they're easier to think about conceptually.  Then I'll expand into gutters.  So let's say you were going to buy a new roof for you home.  You learn a little about roofs, figure out the kind of roof you want and how much it costs, and find a few companies with decent reputations.

Economists like to say that in a world of imperfect information, price indicates the level of risk.  So let's say you get 3 bids on your roof from the 3 companies you selected:

1) The first bid is much lower than you expected - he says actually there are some things he can do that will be just as good as what you had in mind, but they'll cost less and you won't have to overpay like you would with some of his competitors.

2) The second company quotes almost exactly what you thought it should cost - he says you pretty much got your research right and that first guy won't do a good job because he's cutting corners to drive his price down.

3) The third is much higher than you expected - he says his company is the only one who will get the job done right.  He says that first guy is obviously cutting corners. The second guy might be alright, but you won't get the full value of your roof unless you choose me.

Remember, these 3 companies are all giving you bids on the exact same roof.  So who do you choose?  Are you going to pick the cheaper one on the assumption that you found a great deal?  Will you go with the one that seems spot on, assuming that's the true cost?  Or will you pick the most expensive one, assuming that you want your roof to last as long as possible, and if you have to pay a little more to ensure you get it, then so be it?  That's why I mentioned "imperfect information" earlier. Because there are genuine quality differences between companies, you really don't know what you'll get in this situation. So you have to use price to infer.  If you believe price = value, then the safest choice is the third company.

Of course each of us has a buying pattern we go through, especially when there is a lot of money involved.  Some of the pieces include price, company reputation, peer network, the salesman's rapport with you, and your personal beliefs about people and specific industries.  I've just talked about price.  Company reputation and peer network are self-explanatory.  The salesman's rapport is another issue entirely.  But what you believe about people and specific industries is extremely relevant to the price.  For example, you might think that third company is the safest choice...unless you believe roofers are dishonest.  Then your risk assessment for the three bids will actually be reversed.  And you won't really be surprised if the cheapest one does a poor job, because you were expecting he was dishonest anyway.

So we can talk about gutters and gutter protection (and most any other product) the same as roofs.  But there's one important difference: no two gutter protection systems are the same.  A quick google search will show you a whole variety of different types of gutter protection systems.  I won't delve into the details now (you can read more about each of those in our Product Comparison Guide here).  The key point is that consumers interested in protecting their gutters from getting clogged from pine needles or leaves have even less information than usual.  There are only a few big companies in the gutter business, and their reputations are terrible.  That means risk is higher, and price information matters even more.  In fact, this relationship between the bad reputation of the big companies and the high price they charge is no accident.  Do you imagine this relationship goes untaught in business schools?  The big companies know that one of the ways many people feel safer making buying decisions is to increase the price.  This serves two purposes: 1) It makes you want it more for all the reasons I just talked about.  2) After they've made certain you want the product, they can make you feel good about buying it by giving you a discount.  Any loss of reputation can be compensated for with marketing or online-review padding.

There are a few things you can do keep yourself safe in such an industry.  To start, you have to look clearly at whether you're using price to infer value.  Just to be clear, I'm not saying there's no relationship between price and value.  There is.  But remember those other pieces of your buying pattern that I mentioned?  When the price-value relationship is highly unclear, those other pieces should matter much more.  So the best thing you can do to protect yourself from paying too much and from paying for low quality brings up the next point on this list: ask the right questions.

2)  They Don't Ask The Right Questions

Bad questions

  • Why does it cost so much?
  • Why not just pay someone to clean my gutters?
  • All these products are basically the same, right?

Good questions

  • Why do so many people in my situation think this is so valuable? Why is it worth it to me?
    What are the consequences of keeping things as they are?
  • What Happens To The Wet, Sloppy Stuff That Slides Off My Roof?
  • If You’re Claiming Your System Is Maintenance Free, How Does It Clean Itself?
  • What are the real problems that I could have even if I choose this system, regardless of the guarantee?
  • What’s the track record of this company in resolving problems when they occur?

There are two big reasons people don’t ask the right questions.  First, they haven’t done enough research on their own first, before ever asking for bids.  They don’t even know all the things that they don’t know.  Second, it’s the next point on this list: instead of making a buying choice, they get sold.

3)  They Get Sold on the Fluff

Instead of buying the right product, many people buy the salesman they liked most.  This shouldn't come as any great surprise, because it's a truism that "people buy feelings, not products."  Salespeople know this very well; they tend to be very friendly and charismatic.  And there's nothing wrong with that - I prefer to do business with likeable people too.  But wood, rain, and time don't consider how much you like the salesperson you're talking with.  

And the reason this is such a common mistake in this industry is because there's a huge knowledge vacuum.  Homeowners as a group don't know anything about roofs and gutters.  Even most of the salespeople in the various gutter companies don't fully research their own product.  And they certainly don't know a lot about the competing products on the market.  Most of them have never been on a roof, and you'll never find one who has done installations himself.  On top of  all that, salesmen are incentivized to tell you whatever you want to hear.  They get paid as soon as they make the sale, regardless of whether their company can live up to the promises they gave you.

It gets even worse when you deal with companies that push their salespeople to make certain quotas.  In addition to the normal incentives to make sales and money for themselves, they get the added push of fear that they could be punished for doing less than expected.  This is the type of situation that got Wells Fargo into trouble with making fake accounts. 

In the gutter industry, this takes the form of high-pressure sales tactics.  Maybe I'll write a separate piece just on those, because it would be far too long to go into all of them here.  But one example is where they give you the used-car-salesman treatment.  They'll start out really high in the hope that you like them enough to just swallow it.  If you balk, they'll start their routine: we've got a coupon for this, and a sale for that.  We can throw in this for free, and we could give you the special promotional rate.  Let me call my manager just to fight for a better deal for you.   I can give you this great deal, but it expires at the end of business hours today...

Just like I talked about near the end of #1, all these discounts will make you feel like you're getting a great deal.  They'll also make you feel kind of smart, because your shrewd negotiation skills saved you a lot of money.  And now you have a lot more of yourself invested in the situation; it's one thing to walk away when you get no concessions, but it's not so easy since you've gotten them to agree to several things that you said you want.  So you might even feel the need to reciprocate their willingness to work with you by buying from them.  By the way, this is a paragraph that no salesman ever wants you to read and to fully understand.  If you were to look up sales training, these are the feelings those various tactics try to make you feel without making you aware of what's going on.

It’s one thing to make an informed choice among products.  But most salesmen don’t have the knowledge themselves to give you that information.  Their job is to sell their product RIGHT NOW.  And it bothers us too when we see folks get persuaded to purchase inferior products that might even cost more.  What makes people especially vulnerable to this kind of salesmanship is the next point on this list: homeowners don’t understand the genuine differences between products.


4)  They Think It’s Pretty Much ALL The Same

And who could blame them?  When people try to research gutter guards, here is just a SMALL sample of the morass that people have to slog through:

MasterShield™, LeafGuard, LeafFilter, LeafShield, GutterShield, GutterHelmet, GutterGuard, PineGuard, EasyOn, GutterTopper, etc. etc.

Moreover, every single one of those companies will tell you the competition’s product is not only useless, but that it could even DAMAGE YOUR HOME - "choose us to stay safe."  Of course you don’t want to choose a product that could damage your home or voids your roof warranty or anything else.  So once a company convinces you that one of the other competitors has a red flag like that, they’ve basically already won your business.  The simple truth is that no product is the right choice for everyone.  As confident as we are that MasterShield is the best in gutter protection, hands down, it’s not the right choice for everyone.  For example, it flat-out won’t work on flat roofs, whereas other products will (you can see a full comparison between products here).

If you have lots of leafy trees and not many pine trees, a product like LeafGuard may work for you.  If you want something cheap and you don’t mind cleaning off a screen, PineBlock could make sense.  We wish more companies were up-front with the shortcomings of their products and gave consumers a real choice rather than simply claiming to be the best in all areas.  When everyone is claiming to be the best, it just makes people confused about the real differences that exist, and it also makes people know for sure that something is suspicious – “they can’t ALL be the best.” 

This ties in to the issue with salespeople again.  Salespeople have a large interest in convincing you to buy from them.  You’re the source of the bread on their table.  And if they have to persuade you that their company is the best in order for you to buy from them, they’ll say whatever works to achieve that.  That’s why we do things a bit differently: you won’t see an article like this on anyone else’s website. 

This also ties in to point #1 from the beginning.  Because if you think the various gutter protection products are the same, why would you ever choose one of the expensive ones?  After all, you can go to Home Depot or Costco and buy EasyOn for less than $3/foot.  You could even hire a handy-man or a high school kid to install it for you and you’d still save way more than if you paid the $40/foot for LeafFilter (before those sweet, sweet discounts!).  If you don’t mind brushing off a screen like that, EasyOn is a great choice, right?  It even has good reviews!  It’s even sold by big-brand stores (so it has an authority vouching for it)!  Just like I said at the beginning, there is some correlation between price and value.  And if you really believe there’s no big difference between a product sold for $3/foot and $40/foot, then I have this really great car you might like too…

5)  They Get Over-Sold

The natural consequence of charisma-based selling and product ignorance is that homeowners get unpleasantly surprised with products that don’t work like they expected them to.  And I’ve been very critical of salesmen here, because I think most of their job should be similar to that of a teacher’s.  In fact, most sales representatives don’t know everything about their own product.  They know even less about competing products.  As a result, when customer’s call the salesperson down the road to complain about poor performance, the salesman is often just as surprised as the customer!

I’ve been talking about salesmen like they’re these calculating peddlers of deceit.  The truth is they’re no different than you or I.  They’re not villains.  They genuinely believe their product is the best on the market.  If they moved companies, they would have zero trouble thinking the same thing about the new product.  And this makes perfect sense, because they would be learning for the first time about the genuine benefits of the new product.  So most of my criticism of them is because the vast majority of them never bother to fully educate themselves about the industry they make their living in.  As I said, this isn’t a special criticism.  Most people in every company can be painted with the same brush.

When this happens in the gutter business, it means you’ve got 90% of the salesmen running around claiming their product is the best and everyone else’s product is trash.  It also means if you, as the customer ask, “how well does your product handle this situation that I’ve got?” that the salesman will honestly say his product handles your situation beautifully.  It will completely fix the problem forever.  In fact, your specific situation is a key reason his product was designed to be like it is in the first place!  None of that might be true.  But he’s honest because he really believes it’s true.  That’s why he’s so convincing.  He’d have a tough time lying to you outright, but you can tell he believes the claims he’s making and that’s why you trust him.  That’s also why you will get so upset when it turns out to be false.

The fact is, the products tend to under perform even the salesman’s expectations.  The best thing you can do is to educate yourself as much as possible before you ever get bids, to ask salesmen the right questions, and to run away from any salesman who doesn’t know details.

6)  They Don’t See Gutter Protection As The Investment It Truly Is

Returning to the roof example from the beginning, we make another comparison between the two purchases.  Most people have no trouble understanding that putting good money into a good roof is a good idea.  Many fewer people understand the relationship between the roof, the gutter, the walls, and the foundation.  People tend to think of them separately, despite the observable fact that they’re all physically connected.

For example, we’ve experienced trouble putting up gutters on houses with poor foundations.  If the foundation has started sinking, it will skew the house.  With a wood frame house especially, you could easily end up with a skewed roof and a gutter run where water angles away from the downspout, overflowing out the wrong side instead.

What makes gutters so important is that they’re literally the corner piece in your home’s weather protection system.  A bad gutter protection system is bad not only because it’s troublesome and looks bad, but because it can also negatively affect the walls, foundation, and roof.  We have a whole picture gallery on our website dedicated to this truth.

To summarize several points, recall what I said about the difference between the $3/foot product and the $40/foot one.  My first point was the $40/foot one, despite its price tag, may still be a flawed product.  My second point was that the $3/foot product is certainly a flawed product.  As a matter of fact, we bought some EasyOn ourselves to test.  We’re always trying to see if there’s a better way ourselves.  Because why would we break our necks with MasterShield, a product that needs a highly skilled and experienced crew to install, when we could just sell EasyOn to waaaay more people instead?  It’s a simple test you can do yourself – take it to a sink or a hose, angle it like your roof, and put some water on it and see what happens at various levels and speeds of water.  Even without debris on it, it’s obvious in three seconds that it doesn’t work the way you’d expect.  And that’s not even the true test - every gutter guard product works at first, but in this area a good 50% of them will last and be a good value for the first year.  By 3 years, at least 80% of them have failed completely or need significant service.  Longer than that and you’re just looking for outliers, people who got gutter protection but then had their trees removed or something.

 

The bottom line is that if you live under even one large tree, you need to do something to protect your gutter, because your gutter is protecting your roof, walls, and foundation too.  If you live under conifer trees, you already know it’s a serious hassle to find a product that will work.  All I can tell you is that it’s worth the time and money to get it right, because the alternative will be far costlier in the long run both in terms on raw dollars as well as frustration and regret.

 

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