Angie's List: Look carefully at pros and cons of pools before taking the plunge to build your own

Building your own pool may not be worth it

TAMPA - It cools you off during the dog days of summer and can serve as the go-to-spot for family fun, but a pool can be a lot of work, too. Angie's List, the nation's leading provider of consumer reviews, asked highly rated pool builders about what homeowners need to think about before adding a swimming pool.

Allow Angie's List founder, Angie Hicks to throw the first bucket of cold water on your sun-soaked dreams. "In the heat of the summer a pool might sound like a fantastic idea," she said, "but the reality is unless you are the only house in your neighborhood that doesn't have a pool you should skip it. Pools tend to scare off potential buyers of your house and you usually only get about 50 cents on the dollar return on investment."

If you live in a neighborhood that doesn't have many pools, it may not be a great idea to purchase one, especially if you plan to sell your home in a few years. In-ground pools can cost between $20,000 and $70,000. You also have to factor in features such as a heater, expanded decking space, and an automatic cover or fence. "And the one thing a lot of homeowners don't think about is the annual maintenance, which could run about $2,000..." adds Hicks. So if it's only going to be used once a year when your grandchildren visit, you may soon regret your investment. Ask yourself what will it cost versus what will I get out if it?

If you do decide a pool to take the plunge, research several pool contractors. Building that perfect pool – and keeping it that way – depends a lot on who you hire. Doing your homework when it comes to hiring a contractor is extremely important. "Remember a pool is going to be with you for a long time," Hicks said. "You want to find a reputable pool company who is going to stand behind their project. You want to know what kind of warranty is going to be on the pool. And remember this is a project that can take a long time, especially given that you might hit some rainy days during installation. You want to have a well laid out plan to make sure you hit your deadlines."

Pool builder Bill Lambert describes the process as "open heart surgery" on your backyard. "It's going to be messy. We can try to contain the mess as best as possible, but you are going to have dump trucks... there's going to be a lot of dirt moved around. It's extremely important what builder you go with because this is not just pots and pans, there is craft to it. There is a lot below ground that you are going to have to trust your builder to do right. If there is something wrong with the way they build it underground - the type of piping they use, the way they do their perimeter drain and those sorts of things underground - if they are not done right you may not discover it for five to six years later."

Angie's List Tips: Hiring a Pool Builder

  • Shop around: It's always a good idea to get at least two or three bids to find the right price.
  • Experience matters: Companies that have been in the business a long time often have a healthy track record, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give the new guy on the block a look.
  • Document, document, document: Verify licensing, if applicable, and insurance. Get a list of subcontractors to be used.
  • Body of work: Visit the company's showroom, look at photographs, and consider visit former clients to see how some of the company's other pool projects turned out.
  • Have a contract: This will detail each phase of the project, including when you'll make payments. Never pay the full amount in full – pay no more than one-third of the total cost as a deposit, but tie scheduled payments to job progress and completion.
  • Ask for a lien release: Most pool builders hire subcontractors for various tasks such as excavating, plastering, and installing the electrical components. To protect yourself, ask for a lien release from your contractor as part of the initial contract, as well as a release from each subcontractor as they do the work.
  • Keep the lines of communication open: Because installing a pool can be a lengthy project – sometimes taking a month or more – develop a good dialog with your contractor; that way you can feel comfortable expressing any concerns or questions you may have with the status of the project as they arise.
  • Rules & regulations: Contact your local building department for a complete list of rules, regulations and required permits.
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