Hot Tub Buyers Can Cool Their Jets

FTC rules and retailer policies offer recourse to buyers

“When someone’s buying a hot tub, it is and should be a happy moment for the customer because they’re doing something great for themselves and their family,” says Robert Kaplan, owner of Black Pine Hot Tubs & Swim Spas in Lynnwood, Washington. 

And it is … until it isn’t. Sometimes, after signing the sales contract, buyers get a reality check, whether it’s due to a closer look at their finances, the timing of the delivery or even the required maintenance.

Buyer’s remorse is a familiar emotion, regardless of the industry. The dilemma, especially for big-ticket purchases such as hot tubs, is what to do about it — for buyers and sellers.

Buyers who respond to the lure of traveling hot tub expos and “blowout” prices may have the biggest regrets. These shows are set up in exhibit halls throughout the country and feature products and high-pressure sales teams that offer “today-only” price cuts but not much in the way of future service.

Their recourse is a little-known Federal Trade Commission rescission ruling that gives hot tub buyers a three-day “cooling-off period” for purchases at an off-site, temporary event. This gives buyers a way to cancel their purchase and requires sellers to cancel or return any check they signed or refund all money within 10 days, among other regulations.

What the three-day rescission rule doesn’t cover, however, are sales that occur at the seller’s permanent place of business. While spa retailers may participate in off-site events, their main place of doing business is their physical showroom, whether they have several stores or a regional client base. 

For many retailers, formal or informal “grace periods” are part of their customer service. At Ultra Modern Pool & Patio in Wichita, Kansas, customers enjoy not only a three-day guarantee but also a try-before-you-buy option and a 30-day price guarantee where they can get refunded the difference if they find a lower price, says Kara Weed, managing partner.

“This policy has been in place for a long time,” Weed says. “In my eight years [involved full-time with the family-owned business], we’ve never had anybody come back.”

To Kaplan, flexibility is key.

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“If a customer has a change of heart — maybe they got carried away — our guys will try to save a deal, but if somebody really wants out, we respect that,” he says.

If commissions have been paid and products are ordered from the factory, “that would become a different kind of challenge,” Kaplan says. But in his eight years of owning Black Pine, that has never happened, for which he credits his sales team. “They’re great at educating customers, really listening to them, trying to understand what they want — and not pressuring them,” he says.

For Paul Walz, owner of Home Innovations Spas in Lincoln, Nebraska, the cooling-off rule hasn’t been an issue. 

“We take a relatively small deposit at the time of the sale and the balance after the delivery,” Walz says. “If someone changes their mind, we refund the deposit, but that’s a pretty rare occurrence.” 

Everyone wants a good deal, of course, which makes traveling expos and their “blowout” prices so appealing to buyers. The FTC’s official three-day cooling-off period for off-site purchases can help those consumers who made an impulsive, regrettable choice. But buying from a local spa retailer with flexible policies and a good sales team helps ensure their purchase decision is a happy one. 

The FTC’s Cooling-off Rule

The Federal Trade Commission’s cooling-off rule does not specifically address hot tubs or swim spas sold at temporary, off-site events. But, according to FTC consumer advice, “The Cooling-Off Rule gives you three days to cancel certain sales made at your home, workplace, or dormitory, or at a seller’s temporary location, like a hotel or motel room, convention center, fairground or restaurant.” 

The rule further stipulates that off-site buyers have the right “to cancel for a full refund, which lasts until midnight of the third business day after the sale.” Sellers also need to tell buyers about their right to cancel and give them two copies of a cancellation form and a copy of the contract or a receipt.

There are some sales that are not covered, such as those “made after completing negotiations at the seller’s permanent place of business, where the seller regularly sells the goods or services you bought.”