Channel 2 Investigates Houston's scratch and dent appliance businesses

HOUSTON – If your washing machine shakes, jumps and leaks every time you put in a load of laundry, it's probably time for a new one.

But Ana DeLeon's washing machine is new. She purchased it in September from Appliance Outlet on FM 529 in Cypress.

"They told me they're new appliances," DeLeon told consumer expert Amy Davis. DeLeon recalled the salesman at the business that advertises "scratch and dent" appliances told her, "There's just a little damage outside, but they work good,"

When the washer was delivered along with a dryer, refrigerator and range, the deliverymen said they couldn't set it up. When DeLeon told them the washer and dryer were not the same models she purchased in the store, they told her she would have to call and take it up with the store manager. It wasn't until after they left that DeLeon and her husband discovered the Samsung refrigerator wouldn't cool, the washer leaked and shook on the rinse and spin cycle and the electric stovetop turned on and off while they were cooking.

"He called them. I called them. Nobody answered," DeLeon said, explaining how she tried to get someone from Appliance Outlet to come fix or repair the broken appliances.

It was a similar story, but with a different business and customer in La Marque.

"You used the dryer literally one time?" Davis asked Sabrina Bracey.

"Actually, it stopped working before they took the first payment," Bracey answered.

Bracey's washer and dryer set came from Scratch and dent Appliances off U.S. 290 and Bingle at 6650 Hoover. When the delivery man drove it 50 miles to their La Marque home, it was pouring outside.

"No way did I ever expect for them to show up with a pickup truck, open back, no cover ... and the washer and dryer got soaked in the rain," Bracey recalled.

She said the man making the delivery left the set in their living room.

"He told us, 'Don't plug it up for 24 hours. Let it dry.' It was dripping wet," Bracey said.

She said the one time the dryer did turn on, it shrunk her husband's pants and socks. When the dryer wouldn't turn on again, the Braceys couldn't get Scratch and Dent to return their phone calls to come fix the dryer.

"None of the companies are responsive when you call them," said Denisha Maxey, with the Houston Better Business Bureau.

Both Scratch and Dent Appliance and Appliance Outlet have "F's" with the BBB for not responding to a single customer complaint.

"My staff and I have reached out to them as well," Maxey told Davis. "'Hey, could you please address these complaints we had?'" she asked the person who answered at Appliance Outlet. "They hung up the phone."

The invoice the Braceys received from Scratch and Dent makes it clear that products are sold in "as-is condition." "All sales are final" and there are "no cash refunds."

It claims the products are "scratch and dent" or refurbished, but no one would tell us exactly what that means. Davis stopped by Scratch and Dent to speak with the owner. A man named Roy who called himself the owner wouldn't answer when Davis asked where the appliances they sell come from.

"I'll tell you one day," Roy said.

"One day? You want to tell me in time for the story?" Davis asked.

"No," Roy answered.

The Braceys washer and dryer was delivered Nov. 6. They discovered that it was no longer working Nov. 12. After two weeks of trying to reach Scratch and Dent and get a resolution, Sabrina Bracey emailed Davis as a last resort Nov. 26. When Davis called Scratch and Dent and the financing company the Braceys used to buy the machines, they finally canceled the couple's loan and picked up the appliances Dec. 17.

When Davis asked Roy what took so long to resolve the Braceys problem, he would only answer, "And we took care of that problem, so what's the issue on that?"

The other business, Appliance Outlet, has eight locations. When we sent in a Channel 2 producer with a hidden camera to the store at 11612 Hempstead Road, the sales person couldn't explain how their appliances are different than what you'd get in a larger retail chain.

"And these are all from the actual manufacturer?" the producer asked. "Yes," answered the sales lady.

"If it's new, why is it discounted?" the producer inquired. "Because we sell everything cheaper than Lowe's and Home Depot. But if you prefer, I can sell it for the same price as Lowe's," the employee answered.

There are no laws or regulations governing scratch and dent or liquidation businesses. It's why Maxey says it makes it easy for bad businesses to sell products they shouldn't.

"Maybe a manufacturer had an item. It couldn't be repaired. They exchanged it for the consumer and gave them a free one. The item should have been discarded, but now this company has either purchased it from an auction or some type of wholesale warehouse and now have gotten these items that they are now selling to the public, which they really should not be selling," Maxey explained.

"Where are you getting the appliances that are not working when you deliver them?" Davis asked the sales manager at the Appliance Outlet on I-45 near Little York. "I have no comment," he replied. "OK. Do you have a name?" Davis asked. "I have no comment," the man repeated.

Off camera, the manager and another man named Andy Rodik told Davis that they were not aware DeLeon was having issues with her appliances.

When DeLeon first contacted Davis in September, Davis tried to get someone at Appliance Outlet to help. No one returned her phone calls. When Davis stopped by the Cypress store and the North Freeway location, employees sent a repairman back to DeLeon's home in Rosharon. DeLeon says they fixed her refrigerator so that it would cool, but the interior light wouldn't come on when she opened the door.

The repairman also told her that her stove burners were supposed to turn on and off; and that her washer was just not level. After he left, it continued to leak. DeLeon called the company back, but no one returned her calls.

In January, after Davis dropped by the store, this time with the camera rolling, employees sent another repairman to DeLeon's home. DeLeon said her refrigerator seems to be OK now. It is cooling and the light inside works. But she worries about the reliability of the appliances and the responsiveness of the company that sold them to her.

We wanted to know why DeLeon's stove has no serial number. No one at Appliance Outlet could answer that question. If you shop at any discount appliance store, look for the serial number on the machine and call the manufacturer to confirm it is still under warranty. You can easily Google most manufacturers' toll-free customer service numbers.

Make sure the delivery person sets up your appliance. If you can not confirm the product works when it is delivered, do not sign for it.