Sunday, June 20, 2004

Furniture Hell

Once we had closed on our new home, I thought that the worst was over. The closing itself had been worrisome, since I had to coordinate so many things long distance. I had to juggle Fed Ex envelopes full of documents that had been signed in triplicate and notarized in all the right places. I nearly panicked when there was a last-minute glitch in the funds transfer, especially considering that I was working with a six figure amount. But somehow it all came together, and now the house was officially ours.

It was a literally frustrating that although we were the official owners, we wouldn’t be able to spend our first night there for a couple of weeks. The closing was on August 21st, but we wouldn’t be returning until Labor Day week. We had the keys in our possession, but we were 1500 miles from the door they would unlock.

At that point, the only utility glitch was the phone service. Even though we planned to rely mainly on our cell phone, we needed a phone line for DSL service, and we thought it would also be a good idea in case of emergency. Even before going to the house, we called the line to test it, and we kept getting a message that it was not in service. Smart City, the phone company, insisted that it was working. When we got to the house, we discovered that it was not. There was quite a bit of back and forth before they finally got it functional. For a while, I became convinced that I was really dealing with Hooterville Bell and that I’d be like Eddie Albert, scaling a utility pole every time I wanted to make a call. But finally once day we chanced upon a person who actually knew what he was doing, and our phone service has been reliable ever since.

Speaking of telephones, one interesting aspect of phone service in Celebration is that you might have a different area code from your immediate neighbors. I had expected that our area code would be 407, with a 566 exchange, like every other Celebration number that I was familiar with so far. Imagine my surprise when we were assigned a 321 area code and a 939 exchange. I was a little dismayed; I didn’t feel like a “real” Celebration resident. But one of my neighbors cheered me up by pointing out that I had a NASA/Disney World number. She said, “321 is the countdown and 939 spells WDW.” I just had to smile, and now I’ve learned to like my phone number. But it still feels strange to call someone a block away and have to dial a different area code.

With the phone sorted out, it was time to turn our attention to furniture deliveries. We’d ordered much of our furniture prior to closing on the house, and we’d dealt with stores that offered Saturday delivery since our weekdays in Celebration would be few and far between for the rest of the year. Most of our furniture was ordered from Rooms to Go near the Florida Mall. We purchased our family room furniture, bedroom set, and dinette set from them. Interestingly, my husband chose almost all the furniture for our new home. My only selection was the kitchen set, and little did I know that the decision would soon come back to haunt me.

We had also ordered a couple of futons in preparation for the company that seems to inevitably invade the household of every transplanted Northerner in Florida. On our first day in the house, we rented a truck to pick them up so we’d have something to sleep on. Our purchases from Rooms to Go were set to be delivered the next day.

On that day, we learned the First Rule of Deliveries in Florida: Add at least two to four hours to the time window that you are given. That wasn’t a big deal, as we’d pretty much counted on spending the whole day waiting for the furniture. I did start to get worried when it was almost 10 p.m. and the furniture still hadn’t made its appearance. But soon enough the truck pulled up, and our barren rooms started to look cozy and furnished. I thought that surely we must be the last stop, but the drivers said they still had one more delivery in Celebration that night.

As it turned out, they couldn’t assemble my kitchen table because some critical parts were missing. I know now that I should have made them take it back and exchange it. But they must not have wanted to haul it back, as they talked me into keeping it and promised to send out a serviceman promptly with the missing parts. Thus ensured a comedy of errors: Three times, we received a box of parts via UPS. Three times a serviceman came out to install those parts, and three times they were the WRONG parts. It was becoming a major inconvenience because they kept sending the parts directly to us, and we weren’t home to receive them. They would be delivered on a weekday and sit on our porch until our next weekend visit or until our caretaker took them in.

Finally, it got to the point of utter ridiculousness. When the serviceman opened the box and found the wrong parts for the third time in a row, he called the store and told them they had to do an exchange. Once again, we spent a day waiting, and the delivery truck rolled up late in the evening. As the deliverymen carried in the new table, I overheard my husband say something about the parts being missing again. I almost went ballistic! Happily, I had misunderstood him, but I think I scared the poor deliverymen to death. I reassured them that I wasn’t upset with them (they thought I was mad because they were late). I was just pleased that I finally had a kitchen table after weeks of staring at a skeletal base surrounded by four lonely-looking chairs.

But the Saga of the Kitchen Table was nothing compared to the Odyssey of the Master Bath Cabinets. In our original walk-through, the builder’s rep. pointed out to us that one of the kitchen cabinet doors didn’t match the others. It was almost identical, but the inlay had square corners instead of round. He had already put through a work order, and the oddball door was soon replaced. One day, in the master bath, I realized that the same thing had been done with one of the cabinets under the sink. I dutifully reported it, and the cabinet company sent out a repairman to confirm the problem.

The kitchen door had been fixed quickly and painlessly, so I thought that the master bath would be the same. No such luck. Literally four times the repairman brought out a new door, and literally four times it was the wrong door. What made this worse was that, unlike the Rooms To Go repair people, the cabinet company would only send someone out on weekdays. At this point, it was now 2004, and we had wasted four precious vacation days for service appointments, only to be told each time that the problem couldn’t be taken care of because they’d sent the wrong door yet again.

At this point, my patience had worn thin. I called the cabinet company and insisted that they would either schedule the next appointment on a Saturday or reimburse me for having a house sitter let them in. They agreed to a Saturday, which was still bad enough since we’d have to waste yet another day. Believe it or not, they FINALLY delivered the correct doors. I guess they didn’t like the prospect of an indefinite string of Saturday appointments.

There were several more “fun” experiences, and some, like the cabinets, are still ongoing. Another saga that we’re still waiting to conclude is the saga of Rhodes Furniture and the Wardrobes. In Florida houses, storage space is at a premium. There are no basements, and garages are typically too humid to store anything but the most durable of items. To increase our available closet space, we decided to buy a couple of wardrobes to place in the large, empty space at the top of our staircase.

We found a pair of perfect wardrobes at Rhodes Furniture on Orange Blossom Trail. We had stopped in to buy some Saunder pieces for our entry foyer, and we saw the wardrobes just as we were leaving. We ordered two and were told that since they were a special order item, it would be several weeks before they came in. That was fine; we were in no hurry. We explained to the salesman that we would have to have a Saturday delivery, and we confirmed that it would be no problem while signing the paperwork at the counter.

The weeks went by, and finally one day we received a phone call that our wardrobes were ready for delivery. I rattled off the Saturdays that we would be in town; we were in Celebration at least two weekends each month, so they had plenty to choose from. The person on the phone said, “Oh, but we don’t delivery on weekends.” Confused, I said, “But Rhodes told us that they DO deliver on Saturdays.” She responded, “Maybe they do, but these items are coming directly from the factory, and we only deliver during the week.” Worse yet, she said that they only deliver to Celebration on certain weeks, and you can only find out which weeks a week or two ahead of time. Of course, none of the upcoming weeks happened to be when we would be in town.

I called Rhodes and was connected to our salesman, Anthony. He had been quite friendly and personable when we made our purchases, but now he literally started yelling at me. I was shocked, as I hadn’t even said anything nasty or adversarial. I had simply called to see what could be worked out. At the very least, I thought that my delivery charge should be refunded; that would reimburse me for the inconvenience of finding someone who could waste a day waiting for the wardrobes.

Anthony called me a liar when I said that I had been told that the furniture could be delivered on a Saturday, I reminded him that my husband was a witness, and he changed tactics and started yelling that he was new and couldn’t be expected to know that the wardrobes would be delivered by the factory, I bit my tongue, even thought I wanted to point out that it was his job to know those things. But I knew that it would accomplish nothing to let him draw me into an argument. Instead, I asked to speak to the manager. At first, he refused and kept yelling about how he was new and how the situation was my fault because I had expected him to know the delivery details. Finally I told him that if he didn’t connect me, I would simply hang up and call the manager back. He put me on hold and returned in a few minutes to announce that the delivery charge would be refunded. That didn’t change the fact that I’ll still have to arrange a weekday delivery, but at least it was some small consolation. The wardrobes are still sitting on a dock somewhere, as my weekday trips to Celebration over the past several months have never coincided with the weeks the delivery truck is in the area. I have some neighbors who can handle it, but they are out of town until the fall, so it looks like I won’t have my wardrobes any time soon.

There is one more furniture saga that is still being played out. At Haverty, which is almost right next door to Rhodes, we found the perfect entertainment center for our family room. We had to order it from a catalog, but in the photo it looked like the wood color was almost a perfect match for our coffee table. I knew that it would vary in real life, but it would be close enough to fit in with the rest of the furniture.

Haverty called when our item was ready for delivery, and they cheerfully set up a date for the very next Saturday that we’d be in town. The delivery truck showed up just a bit later than we’d be told, and certainly much more promptly than any delivery so far. When the entertainment center was set up in our family room, I saw that the wood color was even closer than it had appeared to be in the catalog. It almost looked as though we’d bought it at the same time as the other furniture. For once, was everything going to work out smoothly? Of course not!

The deliverymen said that although they assemble most of the item, we would have to install the glass shelves ourselves. Then they hightailed it out of our house. I realized that they were probably trying to get out of there before we realized that the shelves on the left side were wedged so tightly into the cabinet that it would be impossible to remove them without either breaking them or dismantling the whole side of the unit.

I called the store and arranged for someone to come out and remove the shelves. But my husband, always the tinkerer, was determined to get them out himself. I warned him to leave them alone, but he just had to keep trying. Unfortunately, the deliverymen were in such a rush that they’d installed the bridge above the television incorrectly. It came crashing down and dented the television casing. Fortunately, we hadn’t gotten our “good” t.v. yet, but I still wasn’t happy.

Now my husband finally agreed that he should have left it alone, but I was stewing about the dents on the t.v. and the gouges on the wooden bridge. Sure enough, when the repairman came out, he had to dismantle half of the entertainment center to get the shelves out. He confirmed that the bridge had not been installed correctly, and he had to order a new one because of the way the fasteners had gouged the old one. The bridge is still on order, but at least our shelves are in place. The delivery was a fiasco, but I’m still pleased at what a perfect match the piece is with the rest of our family room furniture.

Besides all the fun I’ve previously described, we had a few little items that we had to call the builder about, such as a sticking front door lock and a driveway that was slanted the wrong way for our one-way alley. But happily, all of those items were fixed promptly and to our satisfaction. The only other major problem was when we discovered that the neutral had not been hooked up to our meters. We had noticed that our lights kept strobing every time we used our new washer and dryer. We didn’t think much about it; my husband said it was probably normal, but I figured it was worth a call to the electrician. It just didn’t seem right that we should have to deal with strobe lights in a brand new house.

I reported the issue to the builder, and an electrician was duly dispatched. As soon as he located the problem, he turned off our electricity and told us to call Florida Power immediately. I don’t know anything about electricity or wiring or meters, but he said that it wouldn’t be safe to have the power on until the problem was resolved. Apparently, the neutral was dangerously loose and could have caused a fire. Florida Power sent someone out to take care of it, and being a fire paranoiac, and I shuddered that the thought that we could have easily had one.

Speaking of the washer and dryer, we also did have one delivery go pretty smoothly. We were going to shop for appliances at Home Depot, but then the world’s most annoying television commercial caught our attention. The commercial was sometimes short, and sometimes it was a half hour infomercial that we’d run across while channel surfing. We didn’t have many viewing choices, since we had no cable or satellite and were limited to what we could draw in with our dinky television set-top antenna, so sometimes we were masochistic enough to watch the infomercial for 10 minutes or more.

APPLIANCE DIRECT!! APPLIANCE DIRECT!! The two announcers, who appeared to be on some kind of major uppers, would keep shouting gleefully as they romped through a forest of appliances. THE FACTORY ISN’T OPEN ON SUNDAY, AND NEITHER ARE WE! We looked at their website, but it was pretty sparse, so we decided to visit them in person.

We located one of their stores, which was located in a former grocery store. Like the commercial, it was loaded with row after row of appliances, but thankfully the manic announcers were nowhere to be found. We did get lots of amusement, though, when we noticed that they had a coin operated model on display. My husband tried to convince me that it would be the perfect thing for house guests, but I shot down that idea.

As we browsed among the wide variety of brands and models, the salesman told us that their prices on some brands were the same as Home Depot, but that they had much better prices on others. This turned out to be true, as we discovered when we purchased a Kitchen Aid washer and dryer. When we got home, we prices the same appliances on Home Depot’s site, and we had saved a couple of hundred dollars.

The salesman said there would be a discount if we selected floor models. They had many choices among the same model, so we selected two that appeared to be in good shape except for a minor flaw in the paint. I made a note of the flaws so I could be sure that we received the same units we had selected. They were tagged for us, and delivery was arranged for the next day.

That next evening, the delivery truck pulled up (later than we’d been told, but we’d learned that was a fact of life), and the deliverymen brought in a washer and dryer. I was ready to go over them with a fine toothed comb to make sure it was the set we’d selected, but I got a pleasant surprise. We’d received brand new models from the warehouse! I don’t know why, and the deliverymen didn’t know either, but I certainly wasn’t going to argue. After all the other trauma with furniture, it was nice to have a pleasant surprise for a change.

I’m just glad that our home is just about furnished. Once we get the infamous wardrobes and a new television (which we haven’t selected yet, as I want to wait until the entertainment center is prepared), we will be done and I will breath a long sigh of relief that will probably be heard all the way to North Village.

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