Low-end Kohler products - is my builder ripping me off?

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by lousygolfer, Jun 8, 2007.

  1. lousygolfer

    lousygolfer New Member

    Here's my situation: two days ago my wife and I had an offer accepted on a house that's about half built - the exterior is mostly done but the interior is only framed out and has basic plumbing and wiring installed. It's a $400k 4 BR, 3.5 bath house in a nice subdivision in the midwest (where $400k can actually buy a nicely built and fitted-out house of this size) where the average house is at least as large. We saw another house the builder did nearby that was very nicely done and nicely fitted out with amenities and based on an express comparison with the levels of fixtures and other specs on that house, plus representations from the builder, we felt comfortable that the basic level would be quite nice (he boasted how all plumbing was already in for Kohler fixtures throughout the house) and he would not nickel-and-dime us on upgrades just to get up to the minimum level one would expect for the house.

    Yesterday, we met at one of the supplier's showrooms and were rather shocked to find out that what he had spec'ed with the supplier was basically the lowest level, least expensive stuff available in cabinets, countertops and bath and kitchen fixtures. We found out that our current "starter" home that cost not much more than a third of what our new home costs has the same cheap, white plastic-looking cultured marble bathroom countertops and sinks as the builder spec'ed for our new home and the cabinets in our old home (which were purchased from a discount hardware chain) are actually quite a bit nicer and better built than the ones the builder claims he intended to put into our new house.

    While the kitchen faucet the builder has spec'ed is a nice one, the other Kohler faucets are all the cheapest ones available, look rather awful and are not as high of a level as the faucets in the builder's other house we saw. In particular, all of the shower fixtures (which retail for $47.00), including the ones for the double shower in the master suite, have cheap plastic heads and look like what you would expect to see in an apartment rented by your average college students.

    We suspect this builder had two spec sheets, one featuring nice amenities commensurate with this house and neighborhood that he was planning on using if he had to build the house and sell it as a finished house, and another one with all low-end, cheap items that he would furnish to the suppliers if the house was purchased mid-construction, as we did. We plan to meet with him in the next two days and see if we can get him to bring the level of his amenities up to the minimum level we expected that would be included in this house. In a worse case scenario, we can walk away from this house because we have a contingency regarding specifications meeting our satisfaction, but we want the house, just not fitted out with bargain-quality fixtures and amenities. Just as a rough guess, we'd have to spend a minimum of $5,000, maybe as much as $10,000 just to bring the quality levels up to what we expected would be the base level on this house.

    So, I have two questions:

    1) Is there any reasonable likelihood that in a master suite double shower, that is to be tiled (not just a fibreglass shower insert), any builder would actually put in low level fixtures with plastic shower heads, if he intended to sell the completed home? This a higher end, luxury home feature that is one of the highlights of the house, so I cannot imagine any builder would include a tiled double shower (rather than just a regular shower with liner) unless he planned to make the entire presentation look sophisticated and have an elegant appearance (i.e. would not have cheap fixtures). This seems to me to be the most obvious example (and a good starting point for our upcoming discussions) of the downgraded quality levels on our spec sheet, analogous to an auto dealer delivering your new $50,000 Mercedes or BMW and trying to convince you that its vinyl seats and plastic hubcaps are standard equipment.

    2) Is there any industry-wide consensus on poor quality control with low-end Kohler fixtures? Two years ago a friend of my wife's moved into a bigger, more expensive, brand new home nearby that featured all Kohler fixtures and within the first year she lived there, every single Kohler product - all the faucets, all the toilets - broke and had to be replaced. She found out that the problem was that Kohler's low-priced products are made in China, not the U.S. Anyone else encountered something similar and if so, has Kohler turned things around with QC in its Chinese plants in the past two years or is reliability on their lower priced products still a concern? From what I gathered reading online about chronic problems with some of their toilets, Kohler's customer service ranges from indifferent to plain awful.

    Thanks for wading through this rather long post and giving me your input.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2007
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    New England
    Personal opinion, Kohler is living on its reputation gained many years ago. They are hard to work with, don't have anything approaching a consistent product, and getting parts is almost always a special order thing. From what I've been told, the parts listing for Kohler is like a city yellow pages...they change things on a whim. Last month's part may not fit in this month's so it is hard to stock anything like a comprehensive repair part selection except at the factory, if there. Their toilets don't seem to get great ratings, often use proprietary parts you can't repair easily. Personally, I'd stay away from them. Many manufacturers are having things built in China...their labor is so much cheaper. They can make a decent product, but the QA/QC can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. I made the mistake of ordering a stock shower door from them...promised 5-weeks. Took nearly 5-months, with promises that it would be here next week more times than I could count...I was not impressed. After all was said and done, I really wished I'd just told them to keep it and bought something else.
  3. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona

    Anything made by Kohler is overpriced, but the quality can be a subjective opinion. I would select many other brands before specifying Kohler faucets.
  4. lousygolfer

    lousygolfer New Member

    Yep, if I was starting from scratch, I'd go with either Moen or Price Pfister, which I have in my current house and prefer to the often grossly overpriced Kohler stuff. I was not the original purchaser of my 15-yr old Moen kitchen faucet but they still sent to me, without any charge, a whole kit to replace the broken piece inside my faucet under their lifetime warranty. I have a gold finish on my Price Pfister bathroom faucet and unlike Kohler's 1-yr warranty on non-chrome models, this faucet has a lifetime warranty on both the finish and the mechanicals. Unfortunately, the builder already has the fittings installed for Kohler fixtures, so I'm stuck with them.

    Thanks for the input. Anyone have an opinion on the fixtures for the master suite's double shower? Our realtor told us she had seen several dozen double showers in the past several years and every single one of them had upgraded faucets and heads and it would have been absurd to use the cheap stuff like our builder claimed he was planning on doing.

    Went to visit another one of this builder's comparably-priced spec houses at lunch to see if that one had better amenities to prove the builder was skimping on my house, and sadly, it did not. However, it was 180 degrees from the first one we saw as far as construction quality, with mismatching trim, gouges in walls, cabinets and tiles and variations in floor tile spacing of 1/16" to 1/2" within two tiles of each other, a broken light fixture, etc.... If we go forward with this builder, he's going to have to build us a house that actually matches his loud assertions of quality.
  5. Go with DELTA OR MOEN ....you cant go wrong

    You must remember that about 90% of most builders
    are the lowest skum of the earth..

    followed by crack dealers and politicians...

    you got to approach it that way or you are like a sheep
    being led to slaughter...

    if you get DELTA OR MOEN faucets from
    a legitmate plumbing supply house and not a hardware
    store you will do just fine. They will be the best quality

    I doubt that the price upgrade
    even in an 8 bathroom home would be even close to
    2,000......for good Delta faucet..... unless you are wanting
    the absolute highest end product available...

    you add in better toilets possibly an extra $1000??

    Then add some nicer counter tops.....

    Corian tops in all bathrooms and kitchen perhaps $6000

    If you are in the mid-west.....their are plenty of houses
    available out there.....and you can jsut walk away and let
    that fellow and his pretty house just sit vacant for 9 months.

    Also.....The price fister will fall apart in two years too...
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2007
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona

    What do you mean by, "The plumber already has the fittings installed for Kohler?", especially when you say the "builder will have to build you a house equal to the model you saw." Is the house already built or not? You have to understand that builders do not like to spend a lot of money on the stuff that you do not see inside the walls. They would rather "impress" you with the geegaws you can see when you look into the rooms.
  7. Seems to me (i may be wrong), that your basic knowledge level is what he is taking advantage of. Keep in mind that i am telling you what you probably need to hear. The questions you asked above are, in my opinion, not the right questions to ask. You have to get tough, and to do this, you have to know enough about the product (ie. a building and its components) so that you are able to "specify" instead of saying "basic and nice", and you also have to be able to stick to your guns. If not, then at the very least you have to write out that you want the same level of quality as in "that other house" in every way or better, and anything less will be deemed non-performance and fraudulent representation. I hope you get the idea. I know one builder who offers to reimburse the troublemakers; he knows he'll sell to another buyer who is ignorant enough to pay and take possession.

    good luck.

  8. Bob NH

    Bob NH In the Trades

    New Hampshire
    If you don't have some contractual basis for getting the quality you want, you are going to get taken to the cleaners.

    If you bought based on a model, then you need to get the quality in that model.

    If you have signed a purchase contract without a means to get what is expected, then you are probably stuck. You need to start playing hardball now, or you will be kicking yourself as long as you live in that house.
  9. lousygolfer

    lousygolfer New Member

    As I mentioned, the exterior of this house is essentially completed but it is only rough-framed on the inside, with basic wiring and plumbing lines installed. The builder claims that he has already installed the Kohler fittings so all faucets in the house will need to be Kohler. Is this accurate, that Kohler products require special fittings that are not compatible with other brands? How much would you estimate it may cost to change the fittings to conventional ones so that I could use Moen faucets, for a 3.5 bath house? Do you think it would be an economically sensible option for me?

    We have a contingency that voids the contract if the parties are not able to agree on the specifications and budget of this house within a certain period of time, so I believe that protects our interests adequately as of now; we will certainly put everything in writing once we get to that point. I used less-than-sophisticated terminology in my first post to cut back on the verbiage of a long post.

    The builder called me over the weekend once he found out we were not pleased with what he had specified and initially tried to deny that he had spec’ed low-end items. However, he had no response to my statements that except for the kitchen faucet, his list contained the very least expensive Kohler faucets and virtually everything else was at or near the cheapest of its kind the supplier carried. He didn’t deny it when I told him he never had any intentions of putting $47 fixtures with plastic shower head in a tiled double bath. He had no response, either, when I told him that he would not find it acceptable if his new house, which cost two and a half times what his old house costs, had substantially inferior cabinets to the discount chain cabinets in his present house.

    The builder did try to distinguish our friend’s experience with the complete failure of all Kohler products in her house by claiming that she must have bought them all at Home Depot (she didn’t – her plumbing contractor bought them from a supplier, same as he was proposing to do) and that they were not the better quality “builders grade†Kohler products that he had specified. We had some problems with this. First, the original Kohler faucets he had specified, as well as the upgraded Forte models we selected, are sold at Home Depot and appear to be identical, except for the price. Second, I seriously doubt there is much if anything to “builders grade†faucets. My mother-in-law bought us a Delta “builders grade†pull out kitchen faucet from her plumbing contractor to replace my old non-pull-out Moen and aside from having a different model number, it appears otherwise identical to what I’ve seen locally in the discount hardware chain store; it also is a piece of garbage that allows me only two, maybe three (on a good day) temperature variations in between icy and scalding. Is there actually any more quality in a “builders grade†faucet or is that just a myth? Audio/video dealers make a similar claim about their “pro-grade†Yamaha RXV model receivers, claiming they have vastly superior power supplies and capacitors, among other components, compared to Yamaha’s “cheaper, inferior†HTR line of receivers that sell at discount and mail order stores. A Yamaha engineer told me that was a load of horse manure and that the two lines of receivers were identical – the only differences were different model numbers on the front of the case, different marketing channels and they list different parameters of specifications for each one (although if the parameters were the same, the specs between similarly priced RXV and HTR receivers would be the same because they are exactly the same receiver with exactly the same components). Is it the same with Kohler (and other brands) plumbing fixtures?
  10. true, difference in quality.

    it's not a myth, according to a few people here, there is a big difference in materials in the guts, but -caveat- that is still anecdotal evidence, not a Consumers' Report study.

    A couple short threads on this subject:
    and a few more previous threads, but it is hard to search for them as there are no clear key words.

    but the difference in quality may be a little detail compared to what you are up against. Note that the same problem occurs with Moen. If you can get Kohler tech support to tell you where they stand on this, please report back here.

  11. Kohler products---stick to your guns

    Your house is only a 3 bathroom ???

    This man is lieing right to your face......

    the only thing in a framed only house that would have to be changed out
    are the tub and shower valve bodies......that is no big deal at all

    It would take me probably less than three hours to
    remove the valve bodies from shower and tub units and repalce them with GOOD DELTA 1700 valve bodies....

    the three Delta facuest would cost about 150-200 each....

    Of course,,,,,he would have to save and re-use the Kohler faucets on his next project.......

    the labor would be maybe $300....

    we are talking less than a grand to make you happy..
    and secure the sale of the home......

    If the fellow is acting this way over something as
    petty as this one expence, on a huge home....

    you should be able to read the writeing on the wall ........as to how the rest of this
    home is going to get put together.....

    90% of all builders are basically SKUM and
    This is the simply the law of the jungle..
    In the builders mind, you officially are already his
    ...patsy....chump...sucker....whatever you want to call it.

    now he wants to see if you have the backbone to
    stand up for yourself or cower down and accept
    this situation....

    if you do cower down to him and accept whatever he tells you are gonna get in YOUR HOME,

    just think of the movie ---DELIVERANCE--
    and start to practice squealing because it is not
    going to stop with a few easy to change out faucets....
    just you wait and see.......

    I would say this is your ticket out....you better take it while you can.....
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2007
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