• December 25, 2014

POOL-BUYING PRIMER: Don’t drown in disappointment, follow these tips

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Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2014 4:30 am

The hot summers of Central Texas make this a busy season for local pool-building companies. But buyer beware — there are more than a few less-than-reputable companies that will promise what they can’t deliver and happily overcharge you for it, according to some experts.

Lew Akins, owner and CEO of Ocean Quest Pools in Belton, said to avoid this potential pool buyers need to do their homework.

“A lot of people are disappointed with the pools they buy. That’s because they didn’t go through the process properly,” he said.

Price is usually what people ask about first, Akins said, but this can backfire, possibly inviting shoddy work and misunderstandings about what they are getting for their money.

“Very often the first call we get from people is, ‘Where do your pools start?’ That’s like asking a builder, ‘How much is it per square foot?’” he said. “I always tell people, what’s the most you can afford to spend? We’ll do the design and maybe we can modify it … maybe they’ll leave off a gadget or a widget somewhere.”

Ocean Quest Pools start at around $39,000 and can go as high as $400,000 or more.

Akins said “impulse buyers” can get into trouble.

“As soon as it hits 90 degrees, they become slightly vulnerable to the less scrupulous of our lot,” he said.

There is no best time to buy a pool from a cost perspective. However, Akins said if money is no object, the most optimal time to build a pool is usually right after Labor Day.

“That’s when we’re going to be the slowest and the weather is usually cooperative.”

George Carrow, owner of Blue Diamond Pools in Belton, said potential pool buyers should ensure the companies they contact have been around for a while. He suggested they check out companies online and see how long they’ve been in business.

Lake experience

Carrow attributes today’s demand for pools to people wanting the “lake” experience in their own backyard.

“I think more people are staying closer to home, building summer kitchens and enjoying being at home with their families,” he said. “The lake isn’t what it used to be.”

Homebuilders in the Central Texas area often must work around pool requests while they’re building. Don Farek, owner of Cameo Homes, said pools are not standard features for new homes.

“It’s an option,” said Don Farek, owner of Cameo Homes. “Years ago (pools) weren’t even an option. People have more disposable income now.”

Although a study by PK Data, an Atlanta Research Firm that has tracked pool and hot tub data since 1992, has determined that discretionary income has risen 36.5 percent since 2009, this is not necessarily reflected in the pool industry which has only grown by 2.5 percent since that year.

Belton resident Greg Fritch has hired Ocean Quest Pools to build him three separate pools. He had two pools installed previously in Salado and now has one behind his Belton house.

“I’ve got two girls who are 10 and 12,” Fritch said. “That’s probably a big reason (for the pools). In the summertime, they’re in there every day.”

Keeping up with the maintenance is the only drawback of owning a pool, he said.

New home option

Some home builders are not overly enthusiastic about pools, such as Jerry McMullin, owner of “Homes By Jerry,” who said he tries to avoid including pools in new construction.

“We’ve just had a lot of bad dealings with them in the past,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a lot more trouble than it’s worth.”

He added it’s frequently easier for the homeowner to get the pool built themselves and not involve the home builder. Realtors in the Central Texas area also find themselves working with clients who want a pool, but Richard Overall, from United Country Real Estate, said this is a “very narrow market.”

“The thing is, if someone is looking for a pool, they’re looking for a pool,” Overall said. “Most people don’t want the headache of a pool.”

He added that a common misconception when buying or selling a house with a pool is that the pool’s cost will be represented in full.

“A pool increases the value of a home but not to the amount the pool costs to install,” he explained.

Other costs can quickly accumulate, including higher electricity for running the pump as well as higher insurance and pool maintenance fees.

Rocky misconception

Building an in-ground pool is a fairly standard process. After the client selects a pool style, it is marked out on the ground, dug to specifications and then graded. Next a steel mat is placed inside and the plumbing is installed and inspected. A shell made of gunite is then applied, followed by tile.

“That’s like your picture frame for the pool,” Carrow said.

The deck is built and the pool is plastered. Finally, special features such as weeping walls, waterfalls or grottos are installed.

The rocky terrain of this part of Texas shouldn’t be an additional cost when digging the foundation for a pool, cautioned Akins.

“That’s another misconception people have,” he said. “If you have the right equipment — which we do — that answer is no. Most of the areas around here have some rock. We bring a big tractor on the site and it just digs it.”

Akins also warned potential pool buyers not to fall for another “scam” by some pool companies claiming “a big winter sale.”

“The truth sounds much less plausible than a lie,” he said.

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