When I bought my first house years ago, my real estate agent requested that the seller purchase a home warranty to cover our home for one year from the date of sale. It didn’t cost me anything, and I only used the warranty once that year when the dishwasher started leaking water all over the kitchen floor. I called the warranty company, and for a $60 service fee, a contractor repaired the dishwasher, a service that would average somewhere between $100 and $200. Once the year was up, I had to decide whether to pay more than $500 to renew the warranty or let it lapse.
You may find yourself facing the same decision, whether you’re deciding to extend a warranty past the initial year or buy a warranty when the seller is not willing to foot the cost. So, do you need a home warranty?
Unlike a homeowners insurance policy, which is typically required by your lender, home warranties are completely optional.
A home warranty is a service contract on your home’s appliances and systems. Unlike a homeowners insurance policy, which may cover your home’s structure and belongings in the event of a fire, storm, or other accident, a home warranty covers repairs and replacement of systems and appliances due to normal wear and tear. This might include:
- Electrical systems
- Plumbing systems
- Heating and air conditioning systems
- Washers and dryers
- Kitchen appliances
How much does a home warranty cost?
The cost of a home warranty varies by location, coverage, and provider. American Home Shield, the largest home warranty company in the country, has plans that cover appliances only starting at $360 per year. Systems plans, that cover heating, air conditioning, and electrical systems but not appliances, start at around $408 per year. Plans that cover both systems and appliances start at around $516 per year.
Cedric Stewart, a residential and commercial sales consultant at Entourage Residential Group at Keller Williams in Rockville, Md., says home warranties range in price from $400 to $650 on average but can go much higher if you opt for additional coverage options. Those options may include coverage for spas and swimming pools, additional refrigerators, water softener systems, or water wells.
How to shop for a home warranty
Your realtor may be able to recommend one or two home warranty providers that they work with on a regular basis and let you know how much the warranty will cost and what is covered. Take a look at a sample contract and read the fine print to see exactly what the warranty will and won’t cover and how much you will pay per service call.
Next, look for online reviews from reputable review sites like Consumer Reports, Angie’s List, or the Better Business Bureau. Pay special attention to the bad reviews. Did customers have to wait days for service? Does the company deny a lot of claims? Were customers happy with the contractors hired to perform the work? These can all give you an idea of whether you’ll be happy with your purchase or experience buyer’s remorse.
Benefits of buying a home warranty
Some people love home warranties for the peace of mind it gives them. “In the event your hot water heater or furnace stop working,” Stewart says, “you make a service call, pay the fee to have someone come out, and they’ll repair or replace that item. Whether it’s the first or the 365th day of the warranty, the coverage is the same. So you could end up getting a $4,000-$8,000 system replaced for $400 bucks.”
Downsides to buying a home warranty
There are many arguments against buying home warranties, especially since home warranty companies have historically been one of the “worst graded” categories on Angie’s List.
- Your claim can be denied if the problems existed before. Stewart says you should think of a home warranty like an insurance policy. When something happens, you file a claim (referred to as a “service call”). An adjuster comes out to assess the damage and submits his findings to the home warranty company, which renders a decision. That decision could be a denial of your claim. Stewart says one of the most common reasons home warranty companies deny claims is due to pre-existing conditions, or problems that existed before you purchased the policy. The company may even require that you turn over a copy of the home inspection report to ensure that the issue wasn’t cited during the inspection.
- You can’t pick your contractor. Warranty providers require that homeowners work with specific, pre-approved contractors. Homeowners may sometimes be disappointed in a long wait time for service or poor quality of service provided by these contractors, but they can’t fire them and pick their own.
- You may get repairs when what you want is a replacement. The service technician will always try to repair the appliance or system first and replace it only if it is beyond repair. That can be a hassle. I found this out when I rented a townhome covered by a home warranty. Several contractors told us that the 20-year old A/C unit should really be replaced, but the warranty company wanted to keep repairing the old system. As a result, the A/C went out three times over the course of one hot summer in Phoenix.
4 questions to ask yourself before you purchase a home warranty
Rocky Lalvani is a wealth coach and rental property owner, so he is well versed in what can go wrong in your first year in a new home. He recommends asking the following questions before deciding whether to purchase a home warranty.
- What condition are the home, systems, and appliances in? If the heating, air conditioning, and appliances are older, the greater the need to protect against failure.
- Can you afford to repair the items yourself? If replacing the furnace or buying new appliances in the next year would cause a financial hardship, you may be better off buying a warranty.
- Are you planning on replacing the items in the near future? If you know you are going to remodel the kitchen and purchase all new appliances shortly, it doesn’t make sense to protect them.
- What is covered and what is excluded? Read the policy so you know what coverage it provides. Each warranty provider has their own limits, rules, and caps on repair costs. “When you couple that with long wait times to go through the process, these factors may make the warranty not worth the cost,” Lalvani says.
Also, keep in mind that a separate warranty is typically not necessary for new homes since the appliances are covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. Homebuilders usually put a warranty on system and structural defects for 10 years. But read the fine print of your purchase contract to make sure you know what is covered.
The bottom line
If your seller is willing to cover the cost of a home warranty as a condition of sale, do take advantage of the free coverage. Just realize that you will have to pay a service fee, which could range from $50 to $75 per repair.
Otherwise, consider the age of each covered item and compare that to its average life span using this chart from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. The older the home and appliances, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. If the systems and appliances are newer or you’re planning on replacing them shortly after you move in, you may be better off setting the money aside in a home-repair fund. That way, you won’t end up paying for something that may not provide the coverage you expect.