NASHVILLE, Tenn.- With cooler temperatures on the way, residents might soon think about turning on that cozy fireplace.
But NewsChannel 5 Investigates has a warning, after talking to customers of one chimney-sweeping company known as the Fireplace Doctor. Their experience shows why it's important to check out any company before you hire it to do any work.
Naomi Gilbertson recalled being told, "If we changed our mind, we'd get our money back."
Gilbertson and her husband, Gil, said that they were burned by The Fireplace Doctor, a Florida-based company that now is operating in the Nashville area. It's a company that, NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered, has a growing list of angry customers.
Naomi Gilbertson said that when the Fireplace Doctor employee came to her house back in June, "he put on a pretty big sale." He checked their fireplace and chimney and, according to the Gilbertsons, scared them into agreeing to costly repairs.
"How bad did he make it sound to you?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
"Oh, awful," Gil Gilbertson answered. "He said, 'Don't burn it.' He said, 'Don't light any fires in it. It's dangerous.'"
In fact, the employee wrote "unsafe" and "this is a serious hazard" across the estimate. Their contract said that the Gilbertsons needed a new stainless steel flue liner and a four-stage water treatment system for their chimney. The total cost: $7,295.
The salesman did agree to give them a 20% discount, but first wanted a $1,500 deposit.
"Yeah, and that's a lot of money to us right now," Gil added.
The husband admitted that he had reservations, but went ahead and paid the money because the Fireplace Doctor employee assured him he could get a full refund if he changed his mind. The employee even put it in writing right across the top of the contract.
"He wrote up there that we'll give you your money back if you call us before work starts on it," Gil said.
And that night, the Gilbertsons decided to ask for their money back.
"I called the next day and every day after that for two weeks," Naomi Gilbertson explained.
And Naomi said that she's been calling regularly for nearly three months now and can't get anyone to return her calls or her money.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates had the same trouble when we tried calling the company.
"Unfortunately, that's not all that different from the pattern of complaints that we've seen," said Karen Szulczewski with the Better Business Bureau in Pensacola, Florida.
Her office, near the Fireplace Doctor's headquarters, has collected nearly 60 complaints from customers around the country.
"They've paid money down for a deposit, they don't show up, they can't get the refund, you can't get somebody on the phone, you're constantly getting the runaround, calls are not returned, appointments are missed," Szulczewski said.
"I want my money back," Gil Gilbertson told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
The Gilbertsons said that the right thing for the Fireplace Doctor to do would be to honor their contract -- and the BBB agrees.
"If it's in writing, yes, they should honor it," Szulczewski said. "But, their track record has told us they don't always honor it."
We called and emailed the Fireplace Doctor and its owner repeatedly. And when we finally heard back, a company spokesman told us that he'd see what they could do to help the Gilbertsons.
At this point, though, the couple still doesn't have their money back.
The company also ignored our repeated requests for an interview.
And it won't be long likely before the state has questions for the FirePlace Doctor. NewsChannel 5 Investigates has discovered the company has never filed papers with the state to do business here in Tennessee and has never gotten a home improvement license to do the work it's doing from the state's contractor's board.
The Fireplace Doctor claims in its ads that it is accredited by the Better Business Bureau. The BBB tells us that it is not and that they've asked the Fireplace Doctor to stop making those claims.
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