Buyer beware: Customers say home warranties cause more headaches than help

ATLANTA — They sell peace of mind and protection if things go wrong in your home. But many customers say their home warranties brought them nothing but more headaches.

Eric Ebell has no complaints about his new air conditioner after spending most of the Atlanta summer in sweltering heat.

“We were without air condition for four weeks, and ... we had to stay in a hotel for 10 nights,” Ebell told Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray.

Ebell expected that his home warranty would pay to fix the AC when it went out.

A year warranty came with the purchase of the DeKalb County home, and each year he paid to renew the warranty. Then he needed it.

“I understand fine print. What I didn’t understand was I was not in control of the timeline for getting my utilities repaired,” Ebell said.

What followed was weeks of headaches.

“Every day, I would call the warranty company to get an update on the process,” Ebell said.

From no-show technicians to long waits for approval, the process kept going and going while the heat in the house kept rising.

“The temperature in our house is approaching 90 degrees because its 90 degrees outside, and I can’t live that way,” Ebell said.

A family member was recovering from a major medical procedure at the time.


But Ebell is not alone in his frustration. An entire Facebook group is full of thousands of people with home warranty horror stories.

If you check the Better Business Bureau, you see the biggest home warranty companies rack up thousands of complaints every year.

Lori Silverman runs the Team Clark Consumer Action Center and told Gray that home warranty complaints are among their most frequent calls month after month, year after year.

“People buy home warranties thinking it is going to buy them peace of mind, and many times it does the opposite,” Silverman said.

After weeks of waiting and racking up hotel bills on his own dime, Ebell finally gave up on his home warranty.

“After four weeks, I’m fed up waiting on them. I’m like, ‘I’ll just replace the system myself,’” Ebell said.

The warranty’s cash option will pay Ebell some money, but only a fraction of the cost to replace the unit.

That’s why the Consumer Action Center recommends that consumers set aside the cash instead of paying a monthly premium.

“We really encourage people, instead of spending the $500 or $600 a year for the warranty, to put that in a fund for your home,” Silverman said.

Over the years, Ebell estimates he’s paid his home warranty company more than $3,000. But in the end, he still paid for most of the cost of the new AC system on his own.

“It didn’t feel right, but I knew if I was going to make it right, I had to repair it myself,” Ebell said.

In nearly all cases, the Consumer Action Center encourages people to just say no when offered a warranty.

Silverman said whether it’s homes, cars or electronics, the smarter financial move is to set up your own reserve fund rather than pay for the warranties.

The only exception is extended automotive warranties provided directly by the manufacturer.