By Howard Cook, Founder and General Manager of Bay Area Retrofit

What are people saying about Bay Area Retrofit

A few years ago we had some management problems for a short time and got a few one-star reviews on Yelp.  We have not by any means been perfect.  Customer service is number one in our book, however, and if somehow we failed in this, we take full responsibility and can only do what our clients will accept from us by way of making things right.
Since that episode, however, all but a very few of Bay Area Retrofit’s 20 or so 5-star reviews have been filtered out by Yelp.  So we have reprinted several of them below.  Our sincere thanks to our wonderful customers who have sent us some of these unpublished reviews directly.     See what people are saying about YELP.  

One very successful Realtor had this to say:

“I don’t know why Yelp flitered out my 5-star review of 3/25/13 for Bay Area Retrofit – very unethical of its filtering algorithm considering I took the time to write about my family’s actual experience.  I’ll try to re-post the following with 4 stars to see if it “takes” – but anyone reading this should click on ‘filtered reviews’ for BAR (and for other businesses, too, for all I know) to get the full picture.”



YELP Filtered Reviews of Bay Area Retrofit


Jeff came out & inspected our home in fall 2009 ($400).  At that time, we weren’t ready yet to do the work; we just wanted an idea of what we were looking at time and $wise.   It took a while to get his report back (fine as we were in no hurry).  When it came it was thorough & clear, with a rationale written for each proposal.  Jeff told us we could do the work in stages, but we chose instead to save until we could do it all in one fell swoop.  Fast-forward to 2013.  We contacted another retrofit company for an inspection for comparison’s sake.  They came in about the same price-wise (doing a proper retrofit is not cheap!!) but with a much less extensive plan; we were surprised that they didn’t even ask to see the back of the house (mostly windows & door) & only focused on the garage.  We chose BAR based on the thoroughness & thoughtfulness of their plan & the depth of their knowledge & experience; when I phoned to ask about a few details Howard picked up the phone & was able to quickly locate our report & clarify things to our satisfaction.  We got the job scheduled in 2 weeks; Jeff came by with two BAR employees the Friday before the workers started to do a pre-work walk-through/work plan/answer questions/get keys; the workers themselves were highly professional & efficient, 4 workers most days!  working 9-3 (commuting to SF) M-F.  They came in under the estimated time (11 days not the estimated 3 weeks) and $1000 under budget & did a great job cleaning up before leaving each day.  All in all the retrofit with BAR was a much more painless process than we’d anticipated.  A word of caution:  retrofitting is extremely loud & dusty!  – yet another reason that it helped that the workers’ schedule was so predictable.  These guys really are the best.  If your main priority is the assurance that your retrofit was done right, I highly recommend Bay Area Retrofit.
Rick S.
Oakland, CA  (Another happy customer filtered by YELP)


YELP filtered review of Bay Area Retrofit 1/24/2013
I’ve been meaning to write this review for some time now – ignore the two stars as this is really a five plus rating – Yelp likes to make it difficult to really let the masses know a good thing. We originally contacted BAR to look at the foundation of the house we planned on buying – Jeff was quick and responsive and provided a detailed quote and plans that was extremely useful for our negotiations with the seller.  We knew that this was something we really wanted to have done once we moved in – seeing as our new home was almost 100 years old and near the Hayward fault, doing a seismic retrofit just provides that extra bit of comfort in the knowledge that your house wont collapse on you if the big one comes.  We reached back out to BAR once we had settled into our new digs.  Seeing as it a few months passed since we first contacted BAR, Howard revisited the site several times to ensure the best retrofit with our budget in mind. Can’t tell you enough how much we appreciated the time he spent to discuss his structural improvement plans for our home – he was thorough and really took the time to explain everything. Definitely check out his website to see the what ifs! Once we finalized the plans, his crew was on site in a matter of days and done right on time.  They were extremely neat in their work, curtious to my wife and newborn and they did a fantastic job – I have crawled under the house myself and am throughly impressed at how they did so much work in such a cramped space in several days time. Upon completion, Howard was back out under the house to inspect that all the work was up to snuff and according to plan – again taking the time to point out the features of the design. I would highly recommend that you talk to these guys for any retrofitting work! You will not be disappointed!

Mary B.
El Cerrito, CA  (Another satisfied customer of Bay Area Retrofit filtered by YELP)


YELP filtered review of Bay Area Retrofit 11/21/2012
I got three bids for my retrofitting. One included most — but not all — of what Bay Area Retrofit did for me… but was about 30 percent higher. One was about the same price but the approach was laughable (all bolting, no cripple wall reinforcement, etc.). I actually took a class in earthquake retrofit (thinking maybe I could do it myself). So I had a bit to go on when I looked the bids over. Bay Area Retrofit recommended exactly what my hotshot engineer instruction would have. I put off doing it for about four years but just went through with it last month. The two guys who did the work did a great job — and even rebuilt a crawlspace shelf that I had assumed I’d just have to lose. It was a great experience. (Very loud, though. Glad it’s over…)
Laurie R.
San Leandro, CA


YELP filtered review on 9/2/2012
Professional, VERY knowledgeable, fair, and clear in communicating what and why they were doing every step of the way.  When we bought our home, knowing it was on the Hayward fault we did a bit of research.  BayAreaRetrofit was by far the most knowledgeable and thorough company.

From the very informative website to the individual consultations, we knew exactly what they were doing and why every step of the way.  On the first visit, the technician took measurements and talked through some options.  They sent a thorough diagram with specifics about why every piece of the job.  Throughout the job, they were very patient in explaining to me each step AND the tech crawled under the house to take photos with my camera to show me where he had bolted in the crawl space.
Pretty amazing when you consider that they are under houses all the time to make homes safer yet because of the nature of their work, the chances of them getting caught in the big one are immense!

We have had a few shakers since the install and while our neighbors exclaim “did you feel that one!”  We actually didn’t.  Our house is secured tightly to its foundation.
Kerry M.
Richmond, CA  YELP only let her review of Bay Area Retrofit appear because she lowered it from a 5 star to a 3 star.


Review of Bay Area Retrofit filtered by YELP 7/15/2012
Bay Area Retrofit is the renowned leader in the field, and you cannot go wrong with them.  Other contractors may do a great marketing job, but the chances of going wrong with them is remarkably high.  A true retrofit is not about putting in a bolt here and there – and a piece of plywood here and there, which is what a lot of companies tell you.   A good retrofit contractor has thorough knowledge of buildings and hardware, the latest post-quake engineering information from other cities, structural engineers at hand to consult if needed, and the willingness to take a thorough look at each individual house to understand how it is built, and what is truly needed in each case.

A December 2011 New York Times article cited a 2006 Contra Costa Times review of retrofitted houses that found most of the jobs were horribly inadequate and needed to be redone.  Though the inspectors did not name names, the NY Times piece showed a photo of BAR workers that seemed to imply that this was one company that passed the inspections with flying colors.

I’m very happy with my own experience with BAR, esp. since I have a complicated hillside home that was not easy to figure out.  And, indeed, Howard continued to look at it and revised the plan in order to get me the best retrofit possible – even to the point of donating $1,700 dollars of work that I couldn’t afford, just because it was the right thing to do for a proper retrofit.  That’s how much these guys believe in what they are doing.

As for the actual work, the guys at my house were skilled and clean and I had no problems with them.  There were some communication glitches with the company, but I think they are doing their best to improve this.  You may not have any problems but, if there are some glitches, just take a deep breath, know that the job will not take long and that, at the end of it, you will have one of the few properly, expertly retrofitted houses in the Bay Area.  And that’s what it is all about.
Wendy W.
Pleasanton, CA


Review of Bay Area Retrofit filtered by YELP 4/19/2012
I found this compny’s website to be far and away one of the most informative around. My e-mails were responded to in a timely manner & Howard was very helpful assessing our needs. Once we have the budget I will not hesitate to retain this company, especially after reading all the “filtered” reviews here, which are not included in their rating.

Brent C.
Richmond, CA


Bay Area Retrofit YELP review filtered 3/18/2012
We bought a house in the El Cerrito hills *very* close to the Hayward fault.  The civil engineer that we hired for the initial inspection pointed out some structural concerns and the initial retrofit bid we got from a contractor was shockingly high.  This got me started researching structural engineering as it relates to seismic retrofits and the particular concerns pointed out with this house.

What I found is that the building code is weak in addressing seismic retrofit and there does not seem to be a well defined set of best practices among construction outfits that do this work.  Lots of firms will take your money to do significant looking things to your foundation and house but many won’t necessarily help when the big earthquake comes.

It was pretty clear after speaking with Howard Cook and reviewing the Bay Area Retrofit website that he knew what he was doing.  The website has a whole series of educational videos that lay out the theory behind their retrofit design approach and this material was backed up by the structural engineer we also consulted who is very well respected in this field.   The website alone is a pretty good value just for understanding the nature of this work.

In our situation, we found that we needed a lot less work than we originally thought.  It still wasn’t cheap, but I feel confident about the work that was done.  You’ll never know if the retrofit you get done is worth it until the big quake hits, but knowing the fundamentals behind everything that was done puts me at ease that I got the protection I paid for.

The job itself went fine– the guys showed up on time and finished on time.  No issues here with coordination or communication.  They even sent me a DVD with photos of the work they did in the crawlspace.

S H.
Fremont, CA  (Another happy Bay Area Retrofit customer filtered by YELP)


Filtered Review of Bay Area Retrofit 1/12/2012
They did a very good job for me.
What I appreciated the most were the videos that have on their… Read more »

Arienne L.
San Francisco, CA

I have used this company for two houses near the Hayward fault. And I am going to call them for my latest acquisition in San Francisco. I have a lot of faith in engineering and they base their work on sound engineering practices. I am very happy with their work and the education that I have received from them over the years. I highly recommend their work.


Anita j. M.
El Cerrito, CA  Review of Bay Area Retrofit filtered by YELP

We had the pleasure of having Bay Area Retrofit as our company of choice to complete the job initiated 20 years ago but not completed.  Howard Cook, President of the company, provided his professional opinion on the work previously done and found it to be sound, to our relief.  We, of course, did not know whether he would say it was an inferior job and were at his mercy related to the quality of work.  Rather than trying to make more money for himself, he did the opposite and praised the workmanship.  This, to me, said volumes about his integrity and honesty. He proceeded to evaluate our needs and said a number of times that our home did not need specific reinforcements and that they would not make a valuable difference to the retrofit.  Again, saving us money.

When Howard Cook presented what work needed to be done, he did it in such a way that even non-professionals could understand.  I felt that our home was safe in his hands.  I was fortunate to find their website, http://bayarearetrofit.c… that provided  information on earthquakes and the services they provide and much more.  The section on “Hillside Homes” got my attention and led me to the company.  If you do look up the company’s evaluations on “yelp”, look for the “Filtered” sign at the bottom of the page and click to read more customer reviews for a more balanced view.

Furthermore, the two-man team was respectful, professional, tidy, and prompt.  They were eager to show us what they were doing when we had questions or were just curious.  The work was completed in approximately 4 days, and we are grateful for having been so lucky to have had them working in our home.

Our experience with Bay Area Retrofit has been positive and productive in so many ways and we recommend them without reservation.  (We did our very best as always but YELP removed our 5 star review as always)

Dolores S.   & A. Madrid

Fremont, CA

They did a very good job for me.
What I appreciated the most were the videos that have on their separate educational videos website.  Based on this I was able to determine exactly what I was paying for and why, so that I am very confident that this retrofit will work. (YELP filtered this review}

Lori C.
El Cerrito, CA


YELP review of Bay Area Retrofit 12/28/2011
The Bay Area Retrofit website home page has an excellent PBS NEWS PROGRAM about the HAYWARD FAULT, which I found extremely informative!

It gave me a more realistic perspective and comprehensive view of our predicament, I feel, motivating me to increase my preparedness, not only in the area of assessing our 1957-built home, which we moved into recently, in regard to retrofitting, but also in installing an automatic gas shut-off valve, which we can easily turn back on without the help of PGE, and to try and organize a Neighborhood Disaster Preparedness Group for survival in the event of a calamity.

Howard Cook, the owner and contractor, I truly appreciate for his dedication in helping to educate the populace from his unique experience in assessing the damaged homes and buildings after the North Ridge quake in LA when he worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Howard inspected our home and was exceedingly helpful and polite. He responded promptly to my calls and emails and patiently answered my questions.  He actually determined that our home didn’t need any reinforcement from his company, as we have a one-level dwelling on a concrete slab, without a cripple wall, among other factors.  He agreed, though, that on our own we could put a few more nails in the posts that support the overhang over our small front patio.

Many thanks to Bay Area Retrofit!

ritchie f.
San Quentin, CA


YELP review of Bay Area Retrofit 11/29/2011
Serafim Reis and his crew  did an excellent job on the retrofit of my house. An added benefit is that my house  doesn’t shake when the winds are strong which happens a lot.
Howard Cook is a leading expert in this field . I reccomend them highly

Dane E.
Sonoma, CA


I have read the three reviews of Bay Area Retrofit (BAR), and have to agree with the two good reviews (now three, with my review).  BAR did a great job of retrofitting my single-story, wood frame, no cripple walls home in Sonoma.

Having decided to have my 1983-vintage house foundation retrofitted, my research showed BAR to have an excellent BBB rating, their Contractor’s License showed up as valid and as having current Worker’s Comp insurance, and no complaints.  Plus, their web site was far more detailed and credible than any of the other structural retrofitting web sites I looked at.  So it was an easy decision to select BAR.

My e-mails were promptly responded to.  I elected to have BAR obtain a Building Permit, which added about $600 to the job cost.  On the scheduled install date their crew called me in the morning to confirm they were on their way, which was appreciated.  When they arrived it was a two-person crew that was polite and not scruffy looking.

Now here’s what really impressed me:  They taped heavy protective paper over my carpet and closest with the trap door access to my foundation, and when they were done thoroughly cleaned everything up.

The job took about four hours, and I could hear and feel the vibration as they worked their way around my house, under the floor, installing the Simpson UFP10 and L90 plates.  I had asked that they use my camera to take “before” and “after” pictures, which they did, and that story is now a Webshots album, at http://home-and-garden.w….  Feel free to take a look, it’s a public album.

The BAR crew asked if I needed them to call to schedule a Sonoma County Building Department inspection of the completed job, but I decided to do that.  The Building Inspector came out the next day, liked what he saw, and signed off on the job.

I have learned a lot about seismic retrofitting from the BAR site; it turns out that the owner, Howard Cook, has literally written the book on how to do seismic retrofitting.  And the examples of bad (ineffective) retrofits, and WHY they were ineffective, were an eye-opener.  It became clear that having a seismic retrofit done is very much caveat emptor, even if you elect to have a Building Permit obtained.

So I am giving BAR a well-deserved five stars; it was a pleasure doing business with them.

Update:  12-19-2011.  Just discovered that Yelp has suppressed my review.  It speaks poorly to Yelp’s brain-dead filtering algorithm.  This was a legitimate review, which anyone visiting my Webshots album showing the project would see.

Further update:  6-02-2012.  Looks like my review has been un-suppressed; good.  I still think that Yelp’s suppressing of reviews sucks.  I would rather have the option of making my own judgment on reviews, without having to do the two-step process to see suppressed reviews.

Further updated:  12-15-2012.  Well, my review is back to a “filtered” review; i.e., suppressed by Yelp.  I have read reports of Yelp filtering favorable reviews if a business doesn’t buy advertising from Yelp; I call it “Yelportion.”  You be the judge of whether Yelp is doing this.  And no, I am not a business owner, or have any financial ties with BAR, nor was I asked to write a favorable review or offered any incentive for doing so.  It just galls me to see the time I spent writing up a detailed Yelp review wasted.

Otney B.
Oakland, CA


YELP review of Bay Area Retrofit 6/15/2011
Love these guys.  Doing an awesome job seismically retrofitting our house.  Now better chance house won’t slide off foundation in case of large quake on Hayward Fault. They are reliable, honest, reasonable, polite, patient, neat, professional and the work they did is stellar.

We changed our minds in the middle about some stuff and they handled it with aplomb. We also had some permit tussles with City of Oakland, nothing big, and even though our architect kinda let us down, Bay Area Retrofit DID NOT LET US DOWN.  Also put in a bathroom for us.  I am not telling you this is a discount group – it is not.  You will pay a lot of money to seismically retrofit your house – that is just the reality of all that work and time and all those supplies. No matter who you hire.

These folks, Jeff Bailey in particular, are just a joy to work with. We have been working with them since about February 2011 and we have not had any issues whatosever re communication, at all. We did NOT experience anything like that other guy here did in any of our interactions.  And no one at Bay Area Retrofit even mentioned Yelp or anything like that to us. And trust me, I was not paid to write this review or make it pretty; this is my unsolicited opinion.  Come see my basement, if you don’t believe me.

The quote we got from them was written and specific and also took into account that once they started on the work, they might find stuff in our 95 year old Craftsman house’s basement that would mean more work or less work or more money or less money.  It was less, in fact, than we thought it would be.

Look on the web site for the Association of Bay Area Governments, (ABAG) to find out more about seismic issues and your house or other building.  And look at the Bay Area Retrofit website for information on the same topic.

Vera C.
San Rafael, CA


YELP review of Bay Area Retrofit 5/14/2011
Even though my structural engineer friend looked over their work and said it would be very effective and the workmanship was excellent, I got a call from the owner Howard Cook and he said he was not quite sure they had put enough bolts in one section in light of some research he had done.  He came back over and installed a couple of more bolts.  I was impressed with this conscientiousness.   Not many companies  would do this.

I went to this company because they had the most informative web site of all the sites I saw and I also looked at their filtered reviews and they had a lot of good things to say.  I encourage anyone thinking of retrofitting to at least inform themselves from this site before hiring anyone.  .

They looked at my house and told me about things that did not need to be done while I heard elsewhere that I needed these things.  They were able to show me with illustrations and a crawl under my house why these things were not necessary.   I got three bids and what each contractor wanted to do something different.  I really recommend you educate yourself.   A structural engineer friend came and looked at the job and he had nothing but stellar things to say.  I was able to pay with a credit card and got some miles.

Scott H.
Santa Rosa, CA


YELP review of Bay Area Retrofit 4/13/2011
I have only great things to say about this company. I live in Santa Rosa, a fair distance from Berkeley, but I found the service (including both the initial visit by the Operations Manager and the retrofit work itself) excellent in every way. (In fact the only reason I did not give them a 5-star rating is because several 5-star ratings have inexplicably been removed from this company’s review page.)

I learned about this company from a neighbor who had a copy of the Journal of Light Construction that contained an article by the author. That article is available on the company’s website, and I highly recommend it to anyone seriously considering a retrofit by any company.

No, it’s not cheap to get a state-of-the-art retrofit for your house, but I have made up for the cost in savings from my canceled earthquake insurance policy. I’d rather my house stay on the foundation in the first place than try to deal with a questionable form of insurance. (Even my insurance agent agreed that was a smart move.)

I’d like to add a word of skepticism about the scathing review on this page, in case it’s still there: It is very hard to imagine the reviewer was dealing with the same company that I dealt with. Everyone I dealt with in this company–from the Operations Manager who bid the job, to the office secretary, to the 4 men who worked under my house–were professional in every way. I couldn’t be more satisfied.

Marsha Q.
Berkeley, CA


YELP Bay Area Retrofit review 2/14/2011
Howard Cook & his team (Jeff & Thor) not only have fantastic expertise, they are easy to deal with and do an excellent job….start (inspection, plans) to finish(getting the City of Berkeley permit sign-offs)!  I trust them.I also like their easy to understand explanations and informative website.  I consider earthquake retrofit a priority for my clients investment, since I’m a real estate agent. I like to refer my clients to Howard because I know he won’t rip them off & has solutions to issues with our older homes.

carl h.
Oakland, CA


The most positive helpful experience I can remember!
Jack M
Albany, CA


YELP Bay Area Retrofit review 12/14/2009

I’ve been completely renovating an old hillside side house. We have a lot invested in it so putting emphasis on structural strength is important to me. There’s more to earthquake retrofitting than just bolting and nailing but that’s all my engineer could really tell me. As I gathered bits and pieces from the web I found Bay Area Retrofit’s site. They offer a discussion board where the owners answer questions about retrofitting. Long story short, the owners contacted me right away, came to my house and put me back on track with the work I’m doing. I’ve worked with a lot of contractors and a lot of them don’t value and or understand quality work. B.A.R knows the science and cares about making your house safer. Do your homework and that should lead you to them.

Mary W
El Cerrito, Ca


I had Jeff Bailey and Bay Area Retrofit perform an earthquake update on my home in November 2009.  If you are considering this work, you know it is expensive and complicated.  I interviewed multiple organizations and decided to give the job to Jeff.   He was on time for all appointments, did the work on schedule, and did several other jobs that needed to be done in my crawl space at the same time.  In addition, he prepared all the paperwork for the permits and Berkeley transfer tax partial offset.  His prices were fair and the work quality is professional.  I give Jeff and Bay Area Retrofit and excellent recommendation.
John Winston
Emeryville, CA


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Headquartered at:

Bay Area Retrofit
427 San Pablo Ave
Albany, CA 94706
With field offices in San Jose and Hayward.

Company License Info

Works' Comp #3900008328-011
Contractors Lic #558462
Bond #511-67-26
Liability Ins GL 3984008