Written by McCall Robison | Last Updated October 31st, 2019McCall Robison is a Senior Content Marketing Strategist who is passionate about content marketing and SEO. She frequently writes about business, finance, and home-related topics. She currently manages a variety of BestCompany.com blogs.
It’s no secret home warranties do not have a good reputation. However, that reputation does not change the fact that there are reliable, reputable home warranty companies out there; you just have to know what to look for. Not all companies are attempting home warranty scams.
There are many details to take into consideration before deciding if a home warranty company is worthy of your business, but don’t worry; we’ve created a comprehensive guide for you to follow and help you find the right home warranty company for you, all the while avoiding the scams.
Look for top-rated home warranty companies in your area
Before you spend a great deal of time researching home warranty companies, you want to make sure they 1) service your area 2) are top-rated in the home warranty industry.
You don't want to waste your time researching a company that doesn't service your area and/or is low-rated with an overwhelming amount of bad reviews.
How do I find top-rated home warranty companies?
Go to a trusted consumer review site like BestCompany.com and see which home warranty companies in your area have the best rankings. Best Company makes it simple by having state filtering already set up without you having to do anything.
When you visit the home warranty page, BestCompany’s website will automatically know from your browser where you are located and will immediately filter the top home warranty companies to reflect ones that are near you. Or, if you want a list of home warranty companies in a different state, you can filter it manually. You can also choose if you want the results filtered by Top Ranked companies or by a company's Star Rating.
On BestCompany.com, we rank home warranty companies on a variety of different data points. User reviews make up 75% of the company's score, and company details, such as fees, contract length, and time in business make up 25% of their score.
Here's the exact breakdown:
1. User Review Index Score (75% of Overall Score):
- Star Rating of Reviews (52.5%) – The average 1-5 star score of a company’s published consumer reviews.
- Number of Reviews (17.5%) – The total number of reviews that have been published about a company.
- Responsiveness to Reviews (5%) – A company’s responsiveness rate to its consumer’s reviews that have a star rating score of 3 or lower.
2. Market Index Score (25% of Overall Score):
- Recurring Fees (5%) – The affordability of any fee a company charges its customers on a recurring basis.
- One-Time Fees (5%) – The affordability of a company's up-front or onetime fees it charges its customers.
- Contract or Warranty Length (5%) – The length or term of the contract/warranty to which a company requires/offers its customers to consent upon purchase of the company's product and/or service.
- Brand Search Volume (2.5%) – The number of online search queries made by consumers that contain the company's brand name.
- Time in Business (2.5%) – The number of years that a company has provided its products and/or services to consumers.
- Verification of Data (5%) – If the company has "claimed" its profile on Best Company.com and verified that the information regarding the company is factually accurate.
As you can see, consumer reviews make up the majority of the score because we believe consumer satisfaction is the best way to determine a company's credibility. This is also one of the quickest way to see if a home warranty company is a scam or not.
Read through the company's consumer reviews
Consumer reviews are the most important thing to look into when considering a company, especially a home warranty company. Because home warranty companies are known for scamming and being untrustworthy, you need to find companies that have positive reviews that verify the home warranty is not a scam.
Experienced Home Inspector, Michael Marlow, gives us this advice when looking into reviews: “Be forewarned that many people only write a review to complain, so when reading reviews, look for the story behind what is written. Most review complaints are from homeowners that were denied claims for uncovered issues, or from preexisting condition exclusions.” Try to gather the facts in reviews, rather than just focusing on the emotion intertwined in them.
You also need to ensure the consumer reviews you are reading are legitimate. Many companies, regardless of the industry they’re in, will fake their consumer reviews to make it look like they are a good company when in reality, they really aren’t. To avoid this, only visit consumer review sites with verified reviews and unbiased data. Here at BestCompany, all reviews are verified to ensure authenticity and that they are not forged from the company itself. Look at a company's overall rating in the industry as well as their star rating from consumer reviews.
You can also compare a home warranty company against the top-ranked home warranty company on BestCompany. This will allow you to show the company highlights side by side and determine which business you are most interested in researching further.
For example, this is TotalProtect compared side by side to our top-ranking company, Landmark Home Warranty.
Research contracts in-depth before committing
People are quick to label anything as a home warranty scam when it comes to tricky wording in contracts. You should be wary of companies that hide loopholes within their contracts. However, homeowners need to understand that home warranty plans can’t cover everything—this would quickly put any warranty company (not just home warranty companies) out of business.
A common disappointment with home warranties is the “pre-existing condition” loophole that is laid out in the terms and conditions. Some companies tend to cover themselves in cases of large expenses by claiming that the appliance or system in question had a pre-existing condition—this defeats the purpose of home warranties.
To avoid this, make it a point to ask potential home warranty providers in which specific cases the pre-existing condition applies. You should also be analyzing the terms and conditions for such loopholes. This is extremely tedious but will save you heartache and money in the end.
Also, Identify and list the most vital home systems and appliances you would like covered in your home warranty plan. Use this list when you deal with home warranty companies and ask company representatives to show you where in the contract these items are discussed. This will allow you to understand exactly what the terms are in regards to each of those systems and appliances. Be extremely meticulous when it comes to reading the contract and talking to representatives so as not to miss a crucial detail.
Check if any cases have been made against the home warranty company
It’s important to look into a company’s legal history to see if any cases have been made against the company. Marlow explains that “All home warranty companies are supposed to register with the states they do business in. Normally this is with the department that regulates insurance, but it may be different in some states.”
Check if the home warranty is registered in your state and then go further by researching its legal history. Look for any lawsuits and other red flags that would indicate the home warranty company has a negative legal history.
Determine replacement times and quality of customer service
Many bad quality home warranty companies delay repairs as long as possible to lengthen the process and save money. Even if you desperately need a replacement, they may only “repair” the system or appliance and then it’ll break again soon after. You want to make sure they don’t try to do everything they can to get out of replacing something, especially larger systems, such as an air conditioner.
To avoid this common home warranty scam, check with past customers, either through word of mouth or through consumer reviews, and determine what the company’s reputation is for customer service and repair time. If it’s lengthy and the company doesn’t have a guaranteed response time, they could likely be a scam.
Look for available online claims
With nearly everything being online nowadays, online claims may be something you need in a home warranty provider. Home warranty companies that have online claims guarantee a level of convenience because you don’t have to spend time talking to customer service and waiting in a long phone line. However, just because a company has an online claims process, that does not mean their response time is quick. Still make sure to check their repair time and their customer service reputation.
The better the claim process, the more likely the warranty company is not a scam.
Pay attention to customer service hours
In addition to having quality customer service, having customer service available 24/7 is also a sign of a quality home warranty company. 24/7 customer service also gives you peace of mind that you never have to be left without help, even if it’s 3:00 AM in the dead of Winter. Home warranty providers that are recognized and reputable companies often have customer service available at all times so as to always have people available to help customers.
See if a company has quality contractors—or opt for a company that gives you the option to appoint your own
A large part of a home warranty is the contractor that comes to your home to fix or replace any damaged systems or appliances. Whether or not it is a quality contractor will likely determine your satisfaction with your home warranty. Check consumer reviews and talk to home warranty companies about their contractors. Ensure they are quality servicemen.
There are also home warranty companies that allow you to select your own contractors and the company will reimburse you for the charge. This is convenient for people who already have contractors they trust and want to do business with. If this is the case, look for companies that allow this.
Marlow says home warranty companies that allow homeowners to select their service contractors are the best to do business with. “One of the biggest complaints we hear is about the incompetent contractor that was sent by the warranty company or the long wait to get someone out. The best companies give you the option of picking your own contractor and being reimbursed for the covered expenses. This allows you to get your regular service provider out and have them out on your schedule.”
Consider a company's time in business
Although time in business isn’t the main determiner of whether or not a home warranty is a scam or not, it is definitely something to consider. If a home warranty company is fairly new and doesn’t have a large number of reviews and customer testimonials, you won’t know if you can trust that company or not. You also don’t know how experienced that company is in the home warranty business. They may have previous experience or they may not know much at all. Talk to your home warranty company about their history and check out their “About Us” page on their website. This will tell you a little bit about their experience will likely help you determine if you trust them with your business.
Determine if the company has customizable coverage—and if that’s something you’re interested in
This isn’t always the case, but customizable coverage is typically a sign that a home warranty company is not a scam. It demonstrates to consumers that the company is flexible and is interested in best serving individual customers’ needs. Talk to home warranty providers and see if they have warranty plan options that work for you. If the company doesn’t cover what you need and they are not willing to budge to accommodate you, they’re likely not the company for you.
Beware of prices that are too good to be true
This isn’t just advice for avoiding home warranty scams; It’s advice for avoiding all scams. Always be cautious when a company or individual tries to get you to “act fast” or offers you a price that is too good to be true. In many cases, a company will advertise cheap prices for their most basic home warranty plan that likely will not cover everything you would like it too. Purchasing without the proper research could leave you with a bill and a hefty long-term contract and the improper coverage for your systems and appliances.
Look through all home warranty packages to ensure you are selecting the one that works best for you. Also note, many home warranty companies upsell their premium packages. Only consider paying for extra protection if your circumstance meets two requirements: 1) you have costly home appliances or systems, and 2) you are absolutely certain that the company is not overselling its premium warranty plan.
How much should a home warranty cost?
This will vary based on your specific needs. The average home warranty cost ranges between $350 and $600. Basic coverage should be on the lower end and more extensive coverage should be on the higher end.
The average trade service fee for a home warranty is between $50 and $100. Most often, home warranty companies will allow you to select a cheaper service fee if you pay a larger annual fee and vice versa. Make sure the home warranty company has a reasonable service fee and it’s a bonus if it’s flexible with a variety of warranty plans.
What is the home warranty contract length?
Most home warranty contracts last the duration of one year. If a home warranty company requires a great deal more than that, it could be possible it is a home warranty scam. You don’t want to be locked into a contract longer than 12 months in case something goes wrong or you don’t end up liking the company.
Is there a cancellation fee?
Most home warranty companies don’t require you to pay a cancellation fee in the case that you terminate coverage. If a company notes an expensive cancellation fee, this is a sign of a home warranty scam. Make sure to research the cancellation terms and if it is legitimate or if the company is attempting to lock customers in a deceiving way.
Is a home inspection required?
Quite often, no home inspection is advertised as a positive for a home warranty company. However, this is how you would know if there was a pre-existing condition on any of your home’s systems and appliances. Without knowing, appliances and systems may not be covered if they are a certain age. A home warranty company could refuse to repair or replace it because it wasn’t properly documented beforehand. Consider getting a home inspection to avoid this difficulty. It will ensure more transparency within your policy and less likeliness that you’ll get scammed.
Marlow goes further in depth of why a home inspection is important.
You should look for a company that will cover the appliances that you have, regardless of age. You should also ask what their policy is on preexisting conditions. Some of the better companies will take your home inspection report and use that to determine if a system was operational at the time you purchased the house. This is what you should look for to avoid the company being able to duck paying out any claims.
Don't skip regular system and appliance maintenance
Having a home warranty doesn’t mean you can skip your home appliance and system maintenance. Not properly taking care of your appliances and systems could show misuse to your home warranty company and they could opt out of fixing or replacing such items. Make sure you regularly check all systems and appliances and do any necessary maintenance to ensure no lapse in your home warranty coverage.
Real home warranty experiences
Homeowner, Carol Gee, explains her experience with a home warranty and how to avoid the scams.
When we purchased our first home 27 years ago (prior to that my military spouse and I had lived 17 of our 20 years in service in base housing), we bought this lovely older home. At the closing, the sellers gave us American Home Shield for 1 year. We didn't know what this was until they told us it was because the cooktop and other appliances, while in good condition, were old. After the first couple of years, we were determining whether we really needed this as it was kind of expensive. About a month before we were to renew it for the following year, I went into my laundry room and thought I needed a boat. The hot water heater had died. I immediately called the company and they told my husband how to cut off the water to it, then took down my info.
The next day a repairman came out, replaced it, and hauled the old one away. However, before writing a check to renew [the home warranty], I called several friends to see if they had a warranty and who with. Those who did had AHS. They had always had good things to say about them. I already knew the company had been in business since the early 70s which I liked. We had used them a couple times prior, so hurriedly I wrote my check to renew.
In order to avoid [bad home warranty companies], I try to use services based off of references from folks I know. In turn, I happily refer good companies to those I know.
"A good company to me is one you can depend on to offer continued good service. Others who take your money and fail to provide the services they offer are scams."
Experienced Home Inspector, Michael Marlow, has some last advice for us.
Look for a company that will cover the majority of the house systems without charging extra for every little thing that most houses have. Some of the common things to charge extra for are multiple HVAC systems, water heaters, or kitchen appliances, washer/dryer, underground sewer lines, Icemakers in the refrigerator, and termite treatments.
"Make sure that big-ticket items like roof leaks are covered in the basic policy."
With 27 years of full-time experience as a real estate broker, Jerry Grodesky has some advice for anyone looking into home warranty coverage.
In the past, the biggest problem with warranty companies was that they prorated problems based on age. Hence, one could have a leaking hot water heater the day after closing, and because it was 12 years old, the buyer would get $1.00 from the warranty. It made many people upset. While many warranties now have better ways to fix or replace problems, there still may be a cost like $70 to have a contractor inspect the problem first.
"I would caution every [home] warranty buyer to fully review what is covered and the additional costs for adding areas of interest beyond the general warranty."
Is a home warranty worth it?
If you’ve budgeted really well to cover home emergencies and improvements, a home warranty may not be necessary for you. However, if you haven’t budgeted for extensive home emergencies, then a home warranty could save you money and you likely wouldn’t be asking yourself “is a home warranty worth it?” It would be clear in your money saved that it most certainly is.
Also, if you have an older home, your appliances are likely older and will need more repairs and replacements. Paying the yearly cost and service fee is going to cost you a great deal less than having to pay full price for a repair or replacement.
Here is the average cost of replacement for common household appliances and systems. The data is from landmarkhw.com.
As you can see, replacements are costly, and those numbers are based on the lower end of estimated replacement costs. To know how often they need to be replaced, here is the average lifespan of each of the above household systems and appliances. The data is from landmarkhw.com.
The majority of these household systems and appliances last nearly 10 years. However, unless you have a brand new home, most of them are likely aged and will need replacing soon enough. This is where a home warranty could save you ample amounts of money.
The Bottom Line
If you have a quality home warranty company you can count on, you can have peace of mind knowing the systems and appliances in your home are covered and you won’t have to be scrambling if something breaks or malfunctions at an inopportune time. Home warranties are there to ease the stress on you and your wallet.
No matter where you look, you will always encounter home warranty companies that will try to make money off of other people’s oversight and attempt to practice home warranty scams. Rest assured that there are many legitimate home warranty companies that are ready to help you when you’re in need and won’t take advantage of you.
You have the right and obligation to be irritatingly inquisitive when dealing with home warranty providers and now you know everything you need to ask and look for when researching companies. If you’re properly researching home warranty companies, home warranty plans, and asking the right questions, you’re sure to avoid home warranty scams and find the best home warranty company that fits your circumstances.