Home warranty worth it or waste? WREG investigates complaints against American Home Shield

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Paying for protection that never pays off? That's the question WREG is asking about home warranties.

This as the News Channel 3 Investigators dig deeper into mounting complaints against Memphis-based, American Home Shield, and how customers claim their warranty wound up being worthless.

"I've always believed in having a home warranty," said Maurice Moore.

"We thought it would be peace of mind to have a home warranty," said Jim Cohn.

Peace of mind and protection is precisely why consumers buy home warranties, but some say they end up with problems instead.

Jim Cohn lives outside Chicago but contacted WREG when American Home Shield, one of the largest home warranty providers in the country and Memphis-based, denied part of his claim for furnace repair.

"They said it's not covered because of lack of maintenance, but my argument was, I don't know how I can be faulted or cited for lack of maintenance when I have maintained this unit," said Cohn to WREG  via Skype.

Cohn said he even offered to send AHS receipts showing recent maintenance visits.

The News Channel 3 Investigators obtained them, including one from November 2015,  which was just weeks before the furnace went out.

The repair person even noted, "blower motor and or furnace needs replacement."

That was the part at the center of the repair and warranty coverage issue.

Ultimately, despite making monthly payments for 10 years, Cohn paid more than $400 for his furnace repair.

He said, "I tried to plead my case, they didn't buy it. They said 'sorry, it's just not part of your coverage, there's nothing we can do'."

Memphis resident Maurice Moore is also a long time customer with American Home Shield.

"They came back and said well, we're not going to cover it because it's a maintenance issue."

His 2013 claim for an air conditioner repair was initially denied for "failure to clean or maintain."

Moore said, "No one disassembles their unit to clean it."

After taking his complaint to the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs, Moore said AHS eventually paid for a small portion of the repairs.

WREG asked, "After you all got to that point did you feel a little better or did you feel, even worse about it?"

Moore replied, "I felt cheated."

A Brighton, Tennessee man was awarded a $33,000 judgment against American Home Shield after a battle with the company over his air conditioner and heater.

American Home Shield has more than 260 complaints with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs.

Seventy-eight of those were in the past three years.

From Tennessee to Texas, California to Connecticut, customers not only complain about "catch alls" for claim denials but things like bad customer service and multiple delays.

Nancy Crawford is the with the Mid-South Better Business Bureau.

"The customers were saying they couldn't get the company on the phone, their phone calls weren't being returned."

Crawford said those types of complaints, along with an increase in general prompted the BBB to contact American Home Shield recently.

AHS has almost 6,000 closed complaints with the BBB over the past three years, with more than 2700 closed within the last 12 months.

"Since that conversation, they have put a plan in place to reduce those customer service issues, they've hired more staff, they've started using a 3rd party call center for support," explained Crawford.

Crawford also said a company the size of American Home Shield, one with over 1.6 million customers, is bound to have some unhappy ones, which is why despite so many complaints, it still has a B rating.

She said before buying any home warranty, customers should check the fine print.

"As a consumer, you have to read the contract and ask questions."

Moore agrees but says companies that sell home warranties bear some responsibility too.

"Spell out what it's going to cover."

Despite the claim denial, Moore is still an American Home Shield customer, he said some coverage is better than none at all.

He does, though, have advice for others who want faster results.

"If they've been paying and they're making their premium and they feel they have to fight, fight."

Cohn took a different route.

"I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere with them so I decided to contact you to see if something could be done."

After the News Channel 3 Investigators got involved, American Home Shield contacted Cohn and decided to reimburse his out of pocket expenses.

He too remains a customer.

The company sent WREG a statement via email that read in part:

"In the past five years our company has spent over $1.6 billion resolving our customers’ repair needs, an industry record...We take great pride in providing quality service and valuable protection to our customers – and if we fail to meet these expectations, we work to do the right thing and ensure that the situation is properly resolved."

A spokesperson also noted AHS was named the top warranty company by the website Home Warranty Reviews.

Do you need a home warranty?

Consumer Reports advocates consumers avoiding service contracts with home warranty companies, including those with positive track records.

More on home warranties from Bankrate