June 16, 2024

Read the fine print before buying a home warranty

Spend any amount of time watching television, and you’re likely to encounter a barrage of advertisements for home warranties.

Well-written and engaging, the ads play on consumers’ well-founded fears of suddenly being faced with a major repair bill on an appliance or vital home system.

Homeowners insurance is required with every mortgage loan. Homeowners insurance steps in when your home or property is damaged due to a qualifying event.

Home warranties cover normal wear and tear of interior home components, such as appliances and built-in systems. A nominal monthly fee in exchange for peace of mind can be very enticing. Maybe you even know someone who saved plenty when their home warranty covered multiple breakdowns.

Trouble is, home warranties sometimes don’t deliver what’s expected.

These “service contracts” cost $350 to $500 in premiums a year, but unlike insurance policies, home warranties don’t cover losses from theft or catastrophes like floods or fires.

Always read the fine print of your home warranty service agreement to ensure you understand your coverage, including any exclusions or limitations of liability.

The basic package usually covers breakdown of your plumbing, most kitchen appliances, water heater, heating and electrical components, sump pump and fans. Optional coverage is available for things like the washer and dryer, AC, garage door opener and septic system.

Beyond the premiums, there is generally a service fee added for each individual repair.

Before buying a home warranty, make sure to read the contract thoroughly. Often, there will be exceptions for items improperly installed, improperly maintained, or just too old.

Watch for oddities, as well. Some warranties cover the refrigerator but not the icemaker or other gadgets. Others may cover your hot water heater but not the tank.

Consumer Reports has long recommended putting money into a savings account dedicated to product repair and replacement rather than betting on a home warranty. That way, the money is there whether something breaks or not.

This strategy depends a lot upon the age and condition of your appliances. Sometimes the manufacturer’s warranty provides better coverage, and there may be other protections if you bought the item with a credit card.

If you’re a recent home buyer, you may have even received a “free” home warranty as part of the sales contract.

These are generally okay to accept, at least while they’re free. But remember, even if the premiums are paid, there will likely be a service fee added when the repair person actually shows up.