Buying Carpet? Beware of This Type of Padding : Consumer: Some unscrupulous dealers engage in scams to drive up the cost of so-called bargain merchandise.

THE BALTIMORE SUN; Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service.

Buying new carpet to enhance the resale value of your property? If you're not cautious, there may be more than one sort of padding in your deal.

Insiders in the highly splintered, intensely price-conscious carpet retailing field call the practice "yard grabbing." It means the salesman charges you for, say, 80 square yards when he's installed only 70.

This is but one of several scams that go on in the marketplace for carpet, a major purchase so often recommended to people planning--sooner or later--to sell their homes. The scams are driven by retailers working on narrow profit margins who deal with intense competition yet face scarcely any regulation.

"You have to be very leery," says Frances Kleinman, a consumer specialist for the Maryland attorney general's office.

While few in the carpet retailing industry contend that scams are prevalent, most allow that they're a reality of the business.

Padding the Yardage

Misleading advertising, hidden extras in the bill and second-grade-quality merchandise sold as first-grade-quality are some of the ways carpet salesmen have of clipping corners. Of all the scams, "grabbing yardage" may be the most common.

"Some dealers do indeed pad the yardage, which is sad," says Lee Horwitz, president of A&M; Carpet Inc. in Fresno, Calif.

To the carpet shopper, a "real low-ball bid" is often a sign that something is amiss, Horwitz advises.

Wall-to-wall carpet, a widely advertised commodity, is typically priced on a per-square-yard basis. Suppose you spot an ad touting the carpet of your choice on sale for $10.99 a yard at outlet A.

Since normally you've seen the same product offered for $12.99 at outlets B, C and D, you rush to outlet A, believing you'll save a bale of cash when you recarpet your living room, dining room and stairs.

Needed Less Carpeting

You commit to outlet A, and the salesman follows you home to measure. After mumbling something about the complex art of carpet measurement, he pulls out a tape and soon declares you need 112 square yards. You concur, not really understanding his technique, and give him a deposit.

Turns out you really needed only 91 square yards of carpeting, the amount outlets B, C and D would have sold you. The cost of the extra yardage you bought but never received from outlet A more than canceled out any savings you could have achieved by shopping there. Actually, you would have been better off patronizing B, C or D.

Such a practice is relatively rare, but reputable dealers, believing that the acts of a few in the field tarnish the reputations of many, are anxious to stamp it out entirely, says Robert Donnelly, general sales manager for Baltimore-based Carpet Fair, which operates 24 retail outlets in the mid-Atlantic region.

"If I catch someone doing that, they're fired," Donnelly says of the yardage padding scheme. To avoid being skinned by a yard padder, Donnelly says, "forget about the per-square-yard price."

What's important is the bottom-line cost after your floor area has been measured. If you do only a yard-to-yard price comparison in carpet showrooms, chances are you'll be comparing tangerines with avocados. But if you compare the total prices quoted by several dealers, the one who claims you need more yardage than you do should stand out.

Checking Out Bottom Line

Bottom-line price checking also makes sense to avoid another set of scams, related to misleading advertising, says Edward Korczak, executive director of the Chicago-based American Floor Covering Assn., the carpet retailers' trade group. Korczak says industry leaders are troubled by the ads used by some carpet retailers that offer, say, "three rooms of carpet for $298."

"What they don't tell you is the size of the rooms or the number of square yards they offer for the price," Korczak says. What often happens in such cases is that after the carpet is installed, the homeowner is hit with a nasty cost overrun. When challenged, the carpet company offers this lame explanation: "Your rooms were larger than standard."

Another pricing scam involves unexpected last-minute add-ons. Some dealers make it clear they charge extra for padding, as well as labor costs associated with taking up the old carpet and putting down the new. But others fail to advise customers of these charges until they arrive at the home on installation day.

Furthermore, less reputable dealers may invent other, unusual last-minute fees, such as a charge for "disposal" of the used carpet. Again, the only way to prevent such unpleasant surprises is to insist on a final price before committing to the purchase.

Inferior Merchandise

Still another scam involves the sale of second-grade merchandise as top-quality goods. Some dealers accumulate seconds in their warehouses and, without telling the customer he's buying secondary quality, seek to pass them off as a great deal.

Some manufacturing defects, such as dye streaks or lines, are obvious when the carpet is rolled out on the customer's floor. But other defects, such as slightly off-color carpet and carpet with loose backing, only become apparent later.

"If your backing is loose, your carpet won't stay down for six months. You'll have an ocean," says Horwitz, the A&M; Carpet president.

It's not always easy to prevent being taken advantage of by a merchant passing second-grade carpet as the top-of-the-line merchandise, according to carpet specialists. Your best bet is to check a dealer's reputation before you buy. Dealers who've been in business for an extended period are probably more protective of their reputations and less likely to attempt such tricks.

Good Installation

An established dealer could also be a better bet as the installer of your carpet. Don't underestimate the skill involved in good carpet installation, says Michael Ingel, assistant manager of Migala Carpet Inc. in Kalamazoo, Mich. It's demanding work and, done badly, can ruin the appearance of an otherwise fine product.

Speaking of quality, industry specialists strongly advocate a denser, heavier-weight carpet for those seeking a product that will look good for many years. A maxim among retailers is that carpets don't wear out, they "ugly out."

A denser carpet is more resistant to the kind of matting and tracking that diminishes appearance. High-quality padding also promotes durability, not to mention a cushier feel under foot.

The ability of carpets to resist staining has become an issue in the public's mind since the introduction of StainMaster by DuPont and other similar stain-resistant fibers. Recently, the Amoco Fabrics & Fibers Co. started a nationwide campaign to promote Genesis, a polypropylene yarn it says offers superior stain resistance.

Amoco insists that strict controls over the manufacture of carpets made of Genesis fiber guarantee their longevity. But many carpet dealers, at home with nylon, remain unconvinced that Genesis fiber, no matter how densely packed, won't mat or crush the way earlier generations of polypropylene carpet did.

Color Selection

Assuming you plan to sell your home in the near future, an important factor to consider is color selection. Remember that dark carpeting, while good at camouflaging soil, can appear to reduce the size of your rooms.

It's also a good idea to steer clear of unusual colors. You may be enamored of Kelly green, rose or purple. But there's no certainty that potential buyers of your property will share your taste, says Richard Engel, sales manager for Standard Carpet in Woodlawn, Md.

"When in doubt," Engel says, "go with a neutral."

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