Bamboozled July 3, 2018: 49 days to fix an air conditioner? Home warranty customer is steaming

Len Torine said it took 49 days and more than 45 hours of phone calls with 32 customer service representatives to get his air conditioner fixed.

Torine said he bought a warranty for his East Hanover condo in 2016 after a recommendation from a cousin. It included all appliances in the home – no matter their age or origin – but not every kind of repair was covered. The warranty had a $100 deductible and cost $769 a year.

So when Torine’s AC died on May 5, he said he wasn’t too concerned.

He called for service, but the customer service representative couldn’t find a repair company in his area, Torine said.

“The warranty claims ‘access to a trusted network of more than 40,000 pre-screened service professionals,'” Torine said. “But not one in North Jersey?”

The days would pass and Torine would call for updates, but the many customer service reps he spoke to couldn’t find a company to do the work, he said.

At times, he said, it wasn’t clear what company was taking his calls.

The warranty was marketed as a Sears Home Warranty, and Sears partners with a warranty company named HMS National for the warranty. Some of the reps Torine spoke to identified themselves as Sears, others said they were HMS, and still others said they worked for Cross Country Home Services (CCHS).

Finally, a repair company was located.

“The company made four appointments to come to my house on four different days. They never called or showed up,” Torine said.

By now it was May 14.

Torine called the warranty company again and was given a new repair guy to call.

“I called immediately,” Torine said. “He said, ‘Why does Sears keep giving out my number? I’m not licensed for air conditioners.'”

Curious, Torine did a quick search to see how many air conditioner repair companies he could find in Morris County: more than 75 during a three-minute Google search, he said.

So what was taking so long?

After two more weeks, the warranty company found a new repairman.

He arrived on May 30. Torine said he paid his $100 deductible, and the repairman diagnosed the problem and called Sears to explain what parts would be needed before he left Torine’s home.

But subsequent calls to the warranty company for updates were troubling.

Some representatives apologized, others promised he would get a call back in a day. Still others suggested he find his own repair service, and one even said there was no record of the parts order, he said.

Throughout, no one reached out to Torine to give him an update, he said.

By June 20, there was news.

“They said the parts are in, but ‘far away’ and it costs $300 to deliver to my house,” Torine said. “I asked when and how will that happen. They don’t know, they said.”

Exasperated, Torine asked Bamboozled for help.

FIGHTING THE RUNAROUND

We reviewed Torine’s extensive call sheet and the warranty, and then we did some poking around.

HMS National is a brand of Cross Country Home Services (CCHS), whose warranties are underwritten by HomeSure of America. Making the names a little more complicated, HMS is in the process of rebranding to a new name: Cinch Home Services.

This all matters because a company’s reputation is linked to its name. Name changes and corporate layers, like in this case, make it hard for consumers to research a company.

Among the items we found: The Better Business Bureau (BBB)received more than 2,300 complaints about HomeSure nationwide in the past three years. That sounds like a lot, but as past Bamboozled columns have shown, it’s impossible to tell whether a complaint number is high or low without having the perspective of knowing how much business a company does.

We asked CCHS, but a spokeswoman refused to say how many warranties it has. She did say it manages more than one million claims per year.

BBB lists 18 alternate business names, including HMS and CCHS, for the company.

It’s common for a company with that many complaints to receive an low rating from BBB, but BBB didn’t rank the company. We asked why.

A BBB spokeswoman said it was evaluating complaints “right now” to determine if there are any patterns that it should address to the company.

The BBB complaints are not isolated. A quick Google search found hundreds of additional complaints, many with similarities to Torine’s experience, many citing confusion over the company’s name.

We asked CCHS to investigate Torine’s case.

A few hours later, Torine got a call from the repair company, which said it had a long conversation with an HMS rep.

The parts were in and an appointment was set for two days later.

Torine said then heard from a CCHS senior claims manager, who said she would be handle everything.

The manager also discussed the repair cost. The company would give a $325 “gesture discount,” but it would still cost $1,000 to cover the repairs.

Torine didn’t care anymore. He just wanted the AC fixed.

We asked CCHS what happened, but the answer back came from Sears.

A Sears spokeswoman apologized and said she was watching the case “very closely.”

But she offered no further explanation.

Our request for more detail was volleyed to CCHS.

A CCHS spokeswoman explained the $1,000 charge was because of “uncovered work.”

“Home warranties are a more affordable way to protect the home on day-to-day issues, and to prevent catastrophic losses,” she said.

We asked what took so long for Torine and what the average service time was in New Jersey.

“We aim to provide an easy claim experience and fast service delivery times to reduce hardship and inconvenience for our valued customers, but unfortunately service delivery time can often be dependent on weather, service provider schedule and other circumstances,” she said. “Extended service times are not representative of our goals for excellent customer service.”

So it a home warranty worth it? It depends. Before you buy, make sure you check out the company and carefully read what is and isn’t covered.

Back at Torino’s home, the air conditioner was fixed and he was happy with the repair person.

The next day, Torine received a customer satisfaction survey from HMS.

“I thought it would be fun and I marked all ‘very dissatisfied,’ but I just became more angry,” he said.

Angry, yes, but at least he won’t be hot and bothered anymore.

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