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  • Sarah Whitebloom

Price, peas and persistent salesmen: How my parents finally got a stair lift

Well, the stairlift is installed and so far – six weeks in – is working fine. My mother (87) takes about a minute and a half to make the journey, often clutching tightly whatever also needs transporting. Containers of frozen peas often feature, for instance, on the downward journey as the freezer is, naturally, upstairs. She is delighted and declares the stairlift has ‘made all the difference.’ By contrast, my father (95) often refuses to use it at all, saying it is too slow and while he still has the use of his legs he does not need it. It was necessary to remove the hand rail to install the stairlift, but my father can cope with the banister only.

So how did we get here? You may recall that this unfolding drama was left at the cliff-hanging moment of awaiting the actual visits from three manufacturers, Stannah, Handicare (which has a marketing link with the charity Age UK) and Acorn, and one agent, Dolphin. My parents are very hard of hearing and highly suspicious of strangers, so I was keen that either my husband or I should be present for any visits.

All four representatives turned up on time, were presentable and polite, while being, of course, keen to extol the virtues of their particular product. Their routines were similar: my parents were asked about their mobility, state of health and their weight. They were measured to see if they would fit on the stairlift chair, with room for lift travel.

All declared the staircase unusually steep with a dangerously sharp curve at the top (the house is a conventional 1950s semi). Stannah and Dolphin even suggested that there may not be enough room to fit a lift. The Stannah representative was the most thorough in measuring up and said he would be unhappy to fit the lift if my father refused to use it.

We discussed the model options, price and some warranty details. There was no pressure to make an instant decision and I was also able to clarify some details, mostly about warranties, in subsequent emails. Most of the providers said we were looking at a delivery time of 4-6 weeks.

But there was a marked price difference. Stannah quoted £5,300 for a new Sienna 260 model, reduced to £4410 for a reconditioned model. Handicare proposed £5,152 for a new lift, with a £300 reduction for a reconditioned one. Acorn quoted £4,940 for new, also with a £300 discount for reconditioned. Dolphin quoted dramatically lower prices - £4,290/£3,290 for the Stannah Sienna, and £4,195/£3,395 for the Handicare. Acorn had a one year warranty; the others offered two years for new and one year for reconditioned.

The warranty details varied with each provider and were not always clearly set out, even when specifically requested. So it was difficult to compare.

My mother said she did not want a one year warranty, which ruled out reconditioned lifts and Acorn. After the visits, Acorn and Handicare were the more persistent in marketing follow-up, with one focussing on how urgently we needed the lift and offering a discount for a quick decision. One manufacturer indicated that they had a price match policy and hinted £4,200 as the plausible lower end for an alternative price.

In the end we ordered a new Stannah Sienna 260 installed by Dolphin. The decision was driven by economics and emotion. My parents had heard of Stannah and all research suggested it is a reliable manufacturer. Bizarrely, Dolphin was offering a cheaper price than Stannah itself and we thought the Dolphin warranty options after two years also looked cheaper.

All of the basic warranties offer an ‘office hours’ service, which effectively means no-one will probably come to fix a broken lift until the next working day. My parents are not stranded without the lift, so are currently comfortable with the basic option. A number of the salesmen had also suggested that most issues related to battery or operator error rather than mechanical failure.

Dolphin installed the lift six weeks after we placed the order. A Croatian installer arrived on time, worked solidly for nearly four hours, patiently explained how to operate the lift to both of my parents and watched while they operated it themselves. He then tidied up and left. The final bill arrived a few days later (there had been a 40 per cent deposit), by which time my mother was convinced the stairlift did work properly. Which, at the time of writing, remains the case...!

What happened next? See Pauline’s next instalment.

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