Rosie Romero special for the Arizona Daily Star
Gone are the days of the Fuller brush, the Kirby vacuum cleaner and other Willy Loman-style door-to-door salesmen. Today’s door-to-door salespeople are master farmers. If you decide to hear their pitch, you need to ask and ask yourself questions, especially in the case of solar sellers.
But above all, do not let any stranger into your home that you have not invited. If you’re not comfortable opening the door, tell them to leave a card under the doormat or in the door and look at it later. Always verify the name with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors (ROC) before asking them to return.
If you feel threatened by a vendor, close the door, lock it, and call the police. Then file a complaint with the ROC at roc.az.gov.
Questions to Ask Sellers
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May I have your business card and contact details? Then verify with the company that the seller is an employee. If they don’t have a map or contact information, tell them to move on.
Can I see a copy of your sales permit (peddler’s permit)? Many municipalities require a special door-to-door license for door-to-door businesses. Although having the appropriate license does not guarantee the reliability of the company, it lets you know that it has taken the necessary steps to obtain the required license.
How long has this company existed? Longevity matters. Look for businesses that have been around for a while. Because solar panels have a 25-30 year warranty, you want the company you buy from to be around for the life of the system. It’s a big investment. Rosie-Certified Partner solar experts tell us they hear from many homeowners who have installed solar power and no longer have a solar company to call for service. The companies they used are bankrupt.
Are you local or Arizona owned? You don’t want to deal with a company 2,500 miles away when you have a problem. With a local contractor, you can get a sense of their reputation in the community and possibly see their work. A local contractor knows the construction in your area, including permit requirements. Plus, more of your money stays in the local community.
Who does the installation? Most people who go door to door are sales and marketing. Because they don’t install, they may not know, be solar trained, or even represent an entity licensed by the Arizona Registrar of Contractors (ROC). They just put together a lead and negotiate the deal which is handed over to a third party.
Kyle Ritland of Sun Valley Solar, a Certified Rosie Partner, strongly recommends purchasing the system directly from a company that will install and maintain it. Make sure they support it and will be there for the long haul. Third-party sales teams are not responsible for the system. They can say whatever they want in advance as they are not responsible for installation and maintenance. They over-promise what the system can actually do and customer expectations are no longer aligned. You need to know where the responsibility lies.
What are the name brands and the effectiveness of the panels? Not all solar panels are created equal. Some are more durable with higher yields and less degradation over the life of the panel. Others are cheaper and will wear out faster than investing in a nicer panel.
What are the numbers? These people tend to sell a monthly payment price. As long as your electric bill goes down every month, that’s all that matters, right? Bad. You still have to pay for the panels. What is the initial cost of installation and what are the equipment payments? What is the difference between leasing and financing? There is no “free solar system” or “free solar”.
Ritland says customers should look at the cost per kilowatt, not the monthly payment. There can be a lot of hidden costs in the numbers if you’re not careful. Ask them to show you the funding figures and the escalation rate. When, how often and by how much will the interest rate increase? How quickly will the system pay for itself in electricity savings?
Who is responsible for the roof? The condition of the roof is extremely important. A licensed professional roofer should inspect your roof before signing a contract. The roof must be able to support the load of the panels. If the roof is repaired after the solar is installed, all the panels will have to be removed and reinstalled, which is another cost. Some companies, like Sun Valley Solar, have a roofing division because of this problem. If you don’t install a new roof or do recommended repairs, you may need to sign a waiver.
Can the cost of the roof be taken into account in a tax refund? Listen to what the seller says, then ask your accountant to check. Contract terminology can be vague.
If you’re considering solar power, ask yourself these questions before you commit.
Am I the owner of the house? Tenants can save energy and reduce utility bills with solar equipment, but unless the landlord is willing to pay for it, you’re unlikely to see a return on your investment.
Is the roof facing south? Photovoltaic panels are more efficient facing south. You can install them on east-west facing roofs, but they’re more obvious, produce less electricity, and may not get the same utility discounts as south-facing panels.
Does my HOA allow solar panels? If so, what are their requirements or restrictions?
How old is my house? If built before the 1920s, the roof might not be strong enough to support the weight of the panels. You can reinforce your roof, but this will significantly increase the cost of installation. The good news: the federal tax credit can cover part of the cost of the roof renovation.
Can I afford it? Some companies rent solar panels, starting at $110 per month for rental. The leasing company takes the tax credit and utility rebate, but the landlord benefits from the reduced energy costs.
Is your income high enough to claim federal and state tax credits? Otherwise, renting could be an option. Note that leases can be a problem when it comes to selling the house.
According to the Arizona Attorney General, Arizona law provides for a three-day cooling-off period that allows consumers to cancel certain contracts within three days of signing them. This is especially important for those who have felt pressured or misled by a salesperson.
The Federal Trade Commission’s chill rule (16 CFR 429) gives you three days to void purchases of $25 or more for certain door-to-door solicitations. Under the reflection rule, your right to cancel for a full refund extends until midnight on the third business day after the sale.
Find more information on hiring contractors with our “How to Hire a Contractor Consumer Guide” (tucne.ws/1kxc).
An expert in the Arizona home construction and renovation industry since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning show Rosie on the House, which airs locally from 10-11 a.m. on KNST (790- AM) in Tucson and 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KGVY (1080-AM) and (100.7-FM) in Green Valley.