Woman says city-backed HomeServe plan didn’t live up to promise

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis woman says her home repair service plan, backed by the City of Memphis, didn't quite pay out as planned.

Stephanie Toney has sink drains covered, and towels over the vents in her Memphis home to block out the stench she says that's coming from a plumbing problem she can't seem to get repaired.

"Sewer, the sewage, a backed-up commode," Toney said, describing the smell she's been living with for months, one she says that's even kept her from turning on her heat.

"If I cut the heat on, you'll smell it," she said.

Toney turned to News Channel 3 after months of back and forth with plumbers and HomeServe, the company she says she's paying nearly $30 a month for a home repair service plan.

"I need them to come fix it. I'm paying you every month, I need you to come fix it," she said.

Records show HomeServe sent out a contractor in September to clear a backup.

Toney explained, "A few weeks went by, and I started smelling this smell. So I called them back and said, there's a smell here."

Time passed, more plumbers came out, but Toney said nobody could seem to diagnose or fix the problem.

"Every time they sent somebody out, they come out. They ain't really looking."

So, with the help of a friend, Toney hired her own plumber who used a camera and discovered a hole in a pipe beneath her kitchen.

HomeServe then sent out a company and workers found the same, even capturing pictures Toney shared with WREG.

Locating the problem was the good news.

On the other hand, HomeServe said Toney would be responsible for out-of-pocket costs of almost $700.

She said she was shocked.

"And I go, 'Why do I need to come with some money when you guys told me at the beginning of this contract that I pay for every month, that they would come out and fix whatever you need?' "

Earlier this year, News Channel 3 reported when residents began receiving mailers including the City of Memphis logo, that included a pitch for a service plan, covering plumbing issues and emergency repairs to sewer and water lines.

We learned then, the city had partnered with HomeServe and allowed the company to use its logo to market its plans to Memphians.

The contract also revealed the city got $100,000 up front and would receive 12 percent of the payments.

City of Memphis Public Works Director Robert Knecht told WREG at the time about potential savings to costly repairs, "So, it can be a very expensive proposition if you don't know about it."

Toney recalled, "They tell you, 'Oh this is for your pipes, this this is where if you have a problem and your pipes get stopped up, you have a sewer problem from the street or your house.'"

She continued, "They just told me, 'Oh you pay this every month, and whatever problems you have, this helps cover it'. Because people get bills and it could be $10,000 and I’m like, oh ok, well that’s what really made me want to go ahead and do it."

However, that pitch of saving time and money wasn't paying off for Toney.

With tears in her eyes, she said to WREG, "Every single day, I`m calling. This is stressful, yes, it`s stressful."

A recent widow, Toney says she also purchased the plan as a safety net.

"My husband passed away, that left me no one to help me, with the things that I needed to do. So when that came in, I was like okay, there`s something to help me out."

We reached out to HomeServe to find out exactly what happened in Toney's case.

Spokesperson Myles Meehan told WREG by email that the full repair cost for Toney is $3,189, but her annual limit on in-home plumbing repairs is $2,500, which accounts for $689 in out of pocket expenses.

"However, as a gesture of goodwill given we are  picking up this additional expense due delays in servicing her repair," Meehan said.

Meehan said Toney's experience wasn't representative of the normal process due to delays in finding a company that could schedule the repairs.

When WREG visited Toney for the second time, she had a smile on her face and plumbers in her kitchen.

"I am so happy. Yes. It was less than 24 hours, they called me right after you left!"

She said, "I feel good because, you know, after all of what I did, I've been calling every day for the past two months almost and I talk to you and less than 24 hours, I got people out here digging my floor up."

Turns out, one of the earlier contractors had likely punctured a pipe when trying to clear it , and Toney's heating duct work is directly beneath that, hence the smell.

Workers were trying to get to the pipe to finally repair it.

Toney was excited about the progress, but the whole process left her with a warning for others.

"Do your homework, that`s what I`m going to say, do your homework before you sign up for anything, I don`t care what it is, it might be free. Investigate the free stuff too!"

Consumer experts advise homeowners set aside their own funds instead of paying for a home warranty or repair plans.

Consumers with HomeServe plans should check to see if their plan includes an annual limit.

HomeServe told WREG since launching in Memphis, it's saved residents more than $500,000 in repair expenses.

The spokesperson said, "In Memphis as part of the program the city has with HomeServe, there are 6,100 residents who hold one or more service plans that cover exterior water or sewer service lines and in-home plumbing."

WREG reached out to the city for comment on this story and had yet to hear back by air time.

During the earlier interview with Knecht, he said they'd be using some of the funds collected from the HomeServe deal to set up a special, emergency account for residents who couldn't afford repairs.