Find out whether a pool affects the resale value of a house. Get tips on keeping service records not only for your pool, but your heating and cooling systems as well. Also learn how to ask contractors to preserve a tree and explain their cost estimates.
LESLIE: Our next caller is Jan from Alabama and she wants to know the drawbacks of inground swimming pools , which I can’t imagine there are any.
TOM: Well, it depends.
Jan, how can we help you?
JAN: Hi, I’m so thankful for you taking my call. I really appreciate this opportunity. My husband and I are looking at putting in an inground pool and we’ve had two different contractors  come to our home and bid on the pool and they’re about $10,000 to $12,000 difference in price.
JAN: It is. It’s a big difference.
LESLIE: That’s a big difference.
TOM: That’s a big difference, yeah.
JAN: And they both are sort of talking the same story on the pool but probably for us, what we’re looking at is, number one, we had to take down three trees in our backyard.
JAN: And trees are really important to us. I mean we hate to do that. We have a Leyland Cypress. It’s about 40-foot tall.
LESLIE: Oh, my God.
JAN: It’s just an absolutely beautiful tree and we have a very small area that we’re working in. But what we’re looking at is, number one, the potential damage to this Leyland Cypress because the actual pool is going to be within 15 feet – 10 to 15 feet of the actual pool itself; not to mention the walkway around the pool.
JAN: But more importantly than even that, I mean we hate to lose the tree or damage the tree. More importantly to that, we’re looking at what are the detriments to putting in a pool in our yard and resale value?
TOM: Well, that’s a great question because I spent almost 20 years in the home inspection business and I got to see the reaction of a lot of buyers in different parts of the country to different improvements that people had made. And sometimes you’ll get a house where you say, “Gee, why did you buy this house?” or “Why are you interested in buying this house?” and the buyer will say, “Oh, because I absolutely love the pool.” And other times you’ll get people that say, “You know, I love the house except for that pool. How do we get rid of the darn thing?” So I really …
JAN: That’s what we’re afraid of.
TOM: Well, but I think it’s going to go both ways. I’m not going to tell you one way or the other is more important. I mean certainly in your part of the country, with the kind of weather that you have in Alabama, a pool certainly could be something that’s a plus. I mean in Florida, it’s rare to find …
LESLIE: A house without a pool.
TOM: Yeah, exactly. So I don’t think it’s necessarily a detriment but you can do things like landscaping  and things like that that are going to make it more pleasant. So I commend you on trying to save that tree.
LESLIE: Yeah, I also think, Jan, that if you establish contracts with your pool contractors – such as people who will maintain the chlorine level and people who are sort of into cleaning the pool on a weekly or monthly basis – if you have a relationship with these businesses that when you go to sell the house you can say, “We’ve used these service people for X amount of years and they’re very familiar with our property and how to keep the gas full and how to operate the heater,” so you’re sort of setting it up so that when you do transfer ownership, it’s quite simple for the new folks to take over.
JAN: That is a fabulous idea because them just asking us, of course what kind of credibility do we have. But if we can refer them to people who are familiar with the heater and the pumping system and …
LESLIE: And also, keep a service record. Keep a service record as to how much things cost annually so when you do go to sell you can say, “When we started it was X amount of dollars and now it’s this much money, so it hasn’t really increased this much” or “This is what their annual increase is.” This way you’re sort of setting them up to know all of the things that they might expect with now owning a pool.
TOM: And you know, Jan, having a pedigree like that – it’s really what it is; it’s really having the records, having the papers – on not only your pool but on all of the other important things in your house – your heating system, your cooling system – keeping those records intact like that is so important and so impressive to a buyer when somebody’s walking into your house and they’re wondering whether or not you’ve really taken care of it. I mean in those same years in the home inspection business, I can’t tell you how many times I walked into a house where you could tell that the people that owned this house didn’t do a lick of maintenance until a month before they put it on the market and all of a sudden tried to cover everything with white paint. You know?
LESLIE: I think you can do creative pool placement and even creative pool shaping. Pools don’t have to be square or rectangular. They can be kidney bean-shaped. They can be amorphic. So you can create any shape, especially if you’re going with a liner or a gunite pool. Gunite pools you’re sort of restricted to the shapes that they come in. But if you’re able to dig a hole, use a liner, use sand fill to create the shape, you can create any pool shape or size that will work best for your area. And then you can really think, if you tell whoever your pool installer is, if you can say, “Hey, this tree is really important to me,” then they’ll do their best to keep that there for you.
TOM: Yeah. And you know what? I would not take the tree down ahead of time. I would try to get the pool contractor to work around because you may find those contractors would much prefer to start with a clean slate and blow everything over and plant new trees later. But I would try to work with a contractor that’s going to work around what you’re trying to save and just keep your fingers crossed. I mean 15 feet is a pretty good distance to be away from a tree of that size. It doesn’t seem like it’s incredibly close. I mean I’ve seen very large trees against houses without ever having an impact on it. So I think that that’s not so bad, being 15 feet away.
The other thing I wanted to ask you though, Jan, is why you have this $10,000 to $12,000 difference? Have you been able to nail that down? Because I would want to feel pretty comfortable about what I was spending my money on.
JAN: You know, that’s something that just totally mystifies my husband, Don, and myself. We don’t know what the difference is because they’re both talking about the same type of material that they’re going to put into the pool; they’re talking about double drains for the safety of children because, good heavens, we want to careful when our grandchildren come down here – we don’t want to have anything that might be a detriment to them; and they’re both talking about the same type of quality.
TOM: Well, here’s what I would do. I would bring in the Mr. High-Priced Contractor and say, “Look, we’ve enjoyed talking to you. We understand you do good work.” What I would say is – explain to him, “Look, we’ve gotten a number of bids. They all seem to be very similar in terms of the approach, the construction, the materials. Yours, however, seems to be $10,000 or $12,000 more than the closest competing bid. That’s confusing to us. Can you help us understand why? We’re not saying we’re not going to hire you but you need to now do a good job and explain to us what we’re paying for if you expect us to pay this much more than the other bids that we’ve gotten.” And put the onus on the contractor to explain it to you because there might be some other things that you’re not thinking about or seeing or hearing that are included in that job and give them the opportunity to ask it.
LESLIE: Yeah, maybe he’s including permit-getting and speaking with the EPA because there’s a lot of hoops that you need to jump through to get all of the right paperwork to actually have this pool built. Maybe one contractor is including all of that work.
TOM: Alright, Jan. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.