Periodically, components of a home have to be replaced, whether a furnace, water heater, washer/dryer set or anything else.  They simply don’t last forever, and too often they don’t last nearly as long as we expect.

Ten years ago, about a year after purchasing our home in the Belwood area of Los Gatos, we remodeled our kitchen.  It was quite an upheaval and very expensive, so we were hoping it would “last” awhile.  (Kitchens get a remodel on average every 16 years in the U.S., by the way.)  But by years nine and ten, some of our kitchen appliances started to act up, and this week our dishwasher gave up the ghost entirely.  I really had hoped it would have gone closer to 15 years, but the apparently the fancy newer appliances have a lot of parts, all of which can fail.  I was told that ten years is about average now.

Jim and I are very analytical about major purchases, so I spent a lot of time on Consumer Reports (where I’m a member) first, reading reviews, watching videos and eliminating a few brands right off the bat.  Unfortunately the CS site does not include Energy Star ratings info, so I also visited the PG & E site and was cross referencing.  Naturally, I’d like to get a rebate!  There’s also a sort of cash for clunker appliances deal, too – you can get $100 back for your old dishwasher if you purchase one of the newer models on a list that the stores have.  Buying a dishwasher is a little like booking airline tickets now: you have to factor in any rebates, trade ins, delivery charges, haul away fees, etc. as well as the actual price so you can compare the true net cost of one appliance versus another.

We visited seven stores on Saturday, hoping for good Labor Day sales and wanting to end hand-washing our dishes as soon as possible.  We stopped by businesses in Campbell, Santa Clara and San Jose (skipping another good store in Mountain View as it was just too far for us):  Fry’s, Home Depot, University Electric , Western Appliance, Sears, Costco and Best Buy.  I didn’t want to make this purchase online as there are too many things that might not be fully disclosed with a web purchase but can be understood in person.

At most of the shops, our experience was fine, but there was, of course, a range from pleasant to OK to really unpleasant.

University Electric has a sign explaining “if you want assistance, please sign in”.  That was nice – we got breathing room to roam but knew how to get help if we wanted it.  After looking around for about 20 minutes, we did chat with a nice sales lady named EJ Rodrigues who was really knowledgeable but not in the least bit pushy.

In most stores we had to look for an employee for help (Costco, Sears, Fry’s, Best Buy, Home Depot) but usually that wasn’t too hard to do.  Some places had very little selection, so it was “in & out” (Costco had some online but none at the Almaden Valley Fashion Plaza store location).  (I should add that Best Buy has a wonderful website for comparing appliances.  It rolled a lot of the Consumer Report type info in with the Energy Star info.  Next time I will start with this website.)

Our one negative experience was at Western Appliance, where a sales guy began walking along side of us the moment we walked in and asked if he could help us. That part was OK, of course.  I explained that we were looking for dishwashers but weren’t going to buy that day (we had 7 stores to visit first!).  He laughed in response and asked why not.  I explained (or tried to) that we are very analytical. . . .  He laughed some more, before I could finish my sentence, asking why we were so analytical or something along those lines.  Having been laughed at and interrupted, I asked if we could please just see the dishwashers and he showed us where they were.  He informed us that he was very knowledgeable about them…and then left us alone – I think he knew that he’d blown his opportunity with us and realized we didn’t want to be “sold to”.  We did not stay long as I couldn’t leave that store fast enough!  (I have bought there before – several times, actually – because the prices are often good, but had warned my husband that the sales people there tend to be very aggressive in my experience.) That was really the only unpleasant shopping experience I had all day, but I have patronized that store in the past and it wasn’t nearly so bad previously, so I wouldn’t say to rule it out based on my one negative encounter.

After all the visits and looking at all the models – which ranged from about $250 for ugly and loud to about $1600 for a fabulous Miele model that can be used in an amazing number of ways, we did decide on both a make, model, and store.

We’re going back to University Electric to purchase one of the models that EJ showed us.  The one we’ve decided upon has the right combination of features (it’s quiet, above all), look, and is in budget.  And it’s nice to do business with a company which is helpful but not pushy.

Being in sales myself, this experience made me think of realty consumers who walk through the door of an open house and how they feel when having to deal with real estate agents here in Silicon Valley. Different agents can provide a totally different experience, ranging from super aggressive (never leaving you alone, asking an invasive feeling number of questions or pressuring to the point of being slimey), to not very available (during open houses they stay on the couch, reading a paper, working on their computers or staying on their cell phone the whole time).  Many, I hope, are “just right”, trying to be helpful and available without being pushy.

I’m keenly aware of this problem – my own goal as a real estate professional holding an open house is to provide helpful information about the property I am trying to sell, find out just a little about anyone who comes through the door, and then give them breathing room to see the property without being tailed.  (I do always ask how people found the open house: via signs, an ad, the internet, an agent etc. – this is helpful to me for many reasons.)  I don’t do a “sign in sheet”, which is mostly used for agents to pick up leads, not really to protect the seller. If people linger too long in any part of the house, I will go see what’s happening, though, because I also need to help protect the seller’s personal property, which may be at risk when people mill through the home.

I think most consumers want the same thing: information, guidance, being treated politely and respectfully.  Whether you’re buying a home appliance, a car or a house or condo, buyers and sellers have choices.  You can work with the best fit and have a better experience.  When I’m wearing my consumer hat, that’s exactly what I do, too.