Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My personal experience with using home warranty coverage to make a major claim on my central heating and air system...

I have always been an advocate of home warranties, and I thought I would share my own personal experience dealing with a major repair claim that I had on my own home recently. The short version of the story is the experience was extremely unpleasant. Here is the long version:

So first off, some of you may be wondering: just what is a home warranty? Well, unlike homeowner's insurance, a home warranty policy can be purchased to cover the repair of items in the home that break and need to be fixed. So for example, coverage may include things like fixing a leaking shower valve, fixing or replacing a broken dishwasher, fixing or replacing a water heater, etc. Coverage from plan to plan can vary to include a lot or a little, and there is usually a small service call fee of $60 when a contractor visits the house.

So in my case, when my husband and I purchased our current home in June 2014, we negotiated in our purchase that the seller pay for a 1-year home warranty policy for us. During our first year of ownership, we used the plan to repair a leak under our kitchen sink, to snake a backed-up shower drain, and make a repair to our air conditioning unit when the blower motor stopped working. Generally those repairs went pretty smoothly: we placed a claim with our warranty company, within a day a contractor called to schedule a time to visit the house, and within a couple days of that the repair was complete.

After a year of owning the home, in June 2015 we paid to extend the plan for another year, primarily because our HVAC unit was really old and we figured we would continue to have repair issues with it. This brings us to current day...

In early December, we re-roofed our home. The job started on December 9th, and the roofing contractor had to temporarily disconnect our HVAC unit, which sits on our roof. When they reconnected the unit after the job was complete on December 11th, they could not get it to turn on. So....

On Saturday December 12th, we made a claim with the home warranty company. It was immediately assigned to HVAC Contractor A (not going to disparage anyone). Then for some odd reason, the next day on December 13th we were notified by email it was re-assigned to another contractor, HVAC Company B. HVAC Company B called the next afternoon (a Monday) and the soonest both the contractor and I were available was Thursday, December 17th. Ugh, I guess a few more days without heat is manageable. We had already gotten out a couple electric blankets and a space heater, had a fire in the fireplace. So inconvenient yes, the end of the world, no.

HVAC Contractor B came out as scheduled on the 17th and diagnosed we had a cracked heat exchanger. Our unit was toast! It was not a repairable item, especially for a really old unit. He said the entire HVAC unit on our roof needed to be replaced. Unfortunately he was a one-person operation and said the job to replace this unit was beyond his capabilities. He called into the warranty company that afternoon, reported our unit needed to be replaced, and said a new contractor needed to be assigned for the replacement.

So that evening we were notified by email that HVAC Contractor C was assigned to our file. Ok...I guess a few more nights huddled with electric blankets and space heaters wouldn't kill us. The next day the newly assigned contractor contacted us and asked to come out on Sunday, December 20th. And he did. The technician spent less than 5 minutes at my house, didn't even get on the roof to look, didn't look at our ductwork...said he had enough information to bid the job. Umm, ok? He said he would call in the bid to the warranty company.

On Tuesday, December 22, I had not heard anything from the contractor or warranty company and was getting a little concerned. We were approaching 2 weeks with no heat and it was the week of Christmas. I called the warranty company, and the rep there told me they were waiting on information from HVAC Contractor C. I called the contractor and they said they had sent everything over. I asked them to again. I called the warranty company the next day on the 23rd, and again they said they did not have what they needed. I left a voicemail for the contractor asking them to send it in. Then over the next few days we heard nothing...granted it was Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and then the weekend. We enjoyed the holidays with our family and tried not to think about how cold our home was.

On December 26th I left another voicemail for HVAC Contractor C. The warranty company's call center was closed. I escalated the situation by contacting a local representative of an affiliated title company. She tried to help but really could not do too much except give me a direct phone number for a supervisor at the call center. So I called again on December 27th. Let's say by this point I was pretty irritated. I got a warranty company supervisor on the phone. She then informed me that HVAC Contractor C had refused the job. WHAT!? I was irate. This process was taking a ridiculous amount of time. Until that point I had not mentioned I am a Realtor and referred clients to this company pretty frequently, but I let her know that and how awful and frustrating this experience had been for my family.

The morning of Monday, December 27th I called the warranty company again. The rep I spoke to told me another contractor, HVAC Contractor D had been assigned. I never received email notification of that...she gave me their contact information and I called the company immediately. To that company's credit, they were able to send someone out to look at the job within a few hours. Progress!! The technician arrived, spent probably 30 minutes getting up on the roof, taking measurements, etc. Much better. That afternoon I heard from the contractor that the complete replacement had been approved by the warranty company. YAY! There would be some parts of the project not covered by the warranty -- the warrant company would pay up to $250 of the permit, up to $1000 for new ductwork, and would not cover the $400 testing of the ductwork for energy efficiency...but everything else would be covered. It was about a $10,000 total project, so paying a small fraction of that was ok by us.

BUT...then another set-back. Instead of being able to start the job right away, the warranty company had to ship a new HVAC unit to the contractor. Huh? So they could not just go down to a local supplier and get a unit and install they had to wait. It took another week to arrive.

On January 5th, HVAC Contractor D arrived and replaced all of our ductwork in the attic...and that day the HVAC unit arrived! YAY! But it was raining and since the unit had to be installed on the roof, we had to wait for a clear day. Ok, that's understandable. So on Thursday January 7th, the unit was finally installed. I came home that day to a warm house for the first time in a month. Hallelujah! But the drama doesn't end there.

Remember those uncovered costs?  The office manager from HVAC Company D called Friday asking for payment. Since the warranty company was covering part of the job and we were covering a small portion, I asked her to email me an itemized bill that showed exactly what the warranty company was paying and what we were paying. That email never came, and I arrived home on Friday evening to find a rep from the contractor standing in my driveway demanding payment. Luckily my husband and I arrived home at the same time because the guy was a little scary. He handed us a bill with three items on it: Permit $150, Ductwork $2,200, HERS Test $400.

The amount of the bill was more or less what we had expected, but the bill was not itemized as we had requested...AND, we had not been provided a copy of a permit, the work had not been inspected by Sacramento County and signed off, nor had the HERS testing happened. So the contractor was billing us in full for a job that was not yet complete. We had some unpleasant words with the guy in our driveway, and ultimately we wrote him a check for 10% of the job, and told him we would pay the rest once everything was indeed complete. We got a call over the weekend from the owner of HVAC Contractor D demanding payment again. We asked where the permit was, when the HERS test was scheduled, and when final inspection would take place. He claimed the permit was at their office, and it would be weeks before the HERS test and inspection. He then accusing us of never intending to pay them. Once we threatened to contact the Contractors State License Board for their behavior he backed off. That evening, Sunday the 10th, I checked online with Sacramento County -- they have an online permit look-up -- sure enough, no permit had been obtained for our job.

So on Monday, the 11th, my husband spoke with the contractor again...and that morning they had obtained the permit and they scheduled the HERS test and final inspection for Wednesday January 13th. Hmm, I thought that would take weeks to get scheduled? My husband and I think that if we had indeed paid in full when the contractor demanded payment a few days prior, we probably never would have heard from them again, and no permit, no HERS test, and no final inspection that we would have already paid for. So unprofessional. What a joke.

So at 8am this morning, the HERS test was completed, and by 10am the Sacramento County building inspector arrived and signed off the permit.

I'm still waiting for an itemized bill, and after speaking with the contractor again earlier, it seems they have over-charged us $400 for an extra duct. They charged us for 8 ducts instead of the 7 we have. So tonight, assuming the contractor provides a corrected itemized bill, we will pay them in full for the remainder of the job.

So I know this was a long story...while saving $8,000 on our new HVAC system was definitely awesome, I think that folks should be prepared for a long, drawn out process, and be prepared to stay on top of both the home warranty company and the contractor assigned to the job.

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