The $189 window myth

The other house had problems with its windows. Multiple problems. The inspector recommended not messing around and just replacing all of them. The realtor suggested using “one of those $189 places.” He didn’t recommend a specific one. I ended up learning about the $189 window myth.

As it turns out, they aren’t all the same.Here in St. Louis, there are several companies that advertise them. The biggest is Window World. There’s another outfit in Valley Park that advertises a $179 window. I can’t remember their name, but I remember they have a billboard on I-44, just west of the 141 exit. There’s one other place whose name escapes me that advertises a $189 window. And then there’s the place we ended up using, SK Home Improvement, based in Champaign, Ill., who advertises a $185 energy-efficient window.

All the places were basically the same except for SK. For the $189-ish price, you got a very basic window with a vinyl frame. Picture windows are higher in all cases. Basic installation is included. Unfortunately, there were lots of extra charges. If they found any lead paint, there was a fee. If capping was necessary, there was a fee. Oh, you wanted energy efficiency? Extra fee. If there was anything at all unexpected, there were extra fees. Sometimes the fees were stated, and sometimes they were open-ended. And of course, taxes weren’t included.

In the case of Window World, if you don’t act right away, they’ll call you in a few days and tell you the quote is a special that’s expiring soon. And they’ll call again and again, too. Window World definitely made sure I didn’t forget their name.

Basically, the experience is a lot like buying a computer at Circuit City used to be. Lots and lots of upselling.

The exception was the small, Champaign-based outfit, SK Home Improvement. They charged us exactly what the estimate said, and did some minor repairs that the other places said would cost extra. Their $185 windows were energy efficient. They charged a small capping fee, but their $185 window came in an awful lot closer to the introductory price than any of the others did. Even lower than the place with the $179 window.

We’ve had the windows installed for about a month now. They’re decent. Not as nice as the premium brands like Pella or Andersen, of course, but a nice upgrade over what the house had. They’re double-hung, so you can open an upper window and a lower window in the same room, or in adjacent rooms, and make a nice breeze regardless of what the wind is doing.

Window World called a lot. An awful lot. After we told them we chose SK, someone from customer service called, wanting to know why. I didn’t hold much back, especially after he threw a sales pitch at me. I said SK gave us energy efficient, double-hung windows for the advertised price, didn’t use high pressure tactics, didn’t call us incessantly, and didn’t waste our time. The salesman spent 15 minutes measuring and five minutes talking, the price he gave us didn’t change, and there weren’t any little fees for every weird thing they found. They were much easier to deal with, and a lot cheaper.

He sounded surprised. I guess he wasn’t used to people who shop around.

I had an idea what I was getting into when I started messing with $189 windows. And I was pretty sure $189 wasn’t what I was going to end up paying. But, as it turns out, some $189 windows cost a lot closer to $189 than others.

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