Many HomeSmart and Home Service Plus appliance repair plan customers like the peace of mind that the plans offered through Xcel Energy or CenterPoint Energy can provide. But a pattern of complaints on Google and Yelp show wait times of five to 20 days for some customers when a furnace or air conditioner goes on the fritz. Other consumers complained about difficulties canceling HomeSmart and Service Plus plans even after a move and technicians who never show up after the customer takes a day off work.
Similar to an extended warranty, appliance repair plans charge about $20 a month to cover four large appliances such as a furnace, central air conditioner, washer, hot water heater, dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher and range.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota lists a number of complaints, but consumers considering a service plan may want to check the hundreds of online reviews before committing. The two companies are rated between two and four stars on Yelp and Google.
Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook editor Kevin Brasler recommends skipping the service plans and socking away the $250 or more annual payments in a savings account for repairs. For a free look at recommended repair shops in the Twin Cities for furnaces and central air, go to www.checkbook.org/startribune/HVAC. For appliances, go to www.checkbook.org/startribune/ApplianceRepair. Companies are rated on quality of service and fair pricing.
Xcel’s HomeSmart basic program charges $2 less per month than CenterPoint’s Service Plus. The major difference is that CenterPoint offers immediate coverage at sign-up. Xcel customers are covered after 30 days. Xcel customers who initiate a service call before 30 days can still request a technician but are charged regular rates for the trip.
Consumers frustrated with the contract may get better results posting a complaint online than asking to speak to a supervisor. HomeSmart and Service Plus supervisors monitor the Yelp and Google comments and sometimes post a phone number to call them directly. Many people commenting mention wait times of 20 minutes or longer to speak to a representative.
1. You may still be charged after you move or want to cancel.
Few customers probably realize their service plan is a 12-month contract that cannot be canceled on a whim. Even customers who have moved to a rented apartment or to a different state have found themselves still paying for service on appliances they no longer own. Canceling the utility service when moving does not automatically stop the service plan because HomeSmart and Service Plus are separate companies from the utilities and are not publicly regulated.
Even a phone call may not be enough to cancel the service. Xcel requires the cancellation be done in writing. “I tried to cancel my service in November and was told I could not cancel until May,” wrote one person who commented about HomeSmart on Google. “ I was then told I would have to cancel in writing.” CenterPoint Service Plus members can call 1-877-477-1664 to cancel, according to CenterPoint spokeswoman Alyssia Oshodi.
Customers who want to cancel HomeSmart or Service Plus need to contact them directly not Xcel or CenterPoint. Customers are notified once a year of a contract, but the wording in the notice only hints at it. “Your coverage automatically renews on (date)” and “We look forward to providing you with another year of excellent service,” the Xcel HomeSmart notice said.
It is possible for customers to cancel their service due to a move if there has not been a claim in the past 12 months, but the customer may need to speak to a supervisor. “While the terms of service note that customers must pay for the remaining months of an annual agreement, we can generally work with customers to waive that amount if they haven’t had a service call in the last 12 months,” said Xcel Energy spokesman Randy Fordice.
Workaround: Ask when your plan renews, especially if you’re considering canceling or moving.
2. Waits of five days to two weeks for service are not uncommon if your furnace or air conditioning goes out during peak times. During the first heat wave or cold spell, many appliances don’t function properly and the supply of service technicians can’t keep up. That could mean more than a week without heat or cooling. Catherine Yang of Minneapolis was told it would be 10 days before a technician could make it to her house in July during a stretch of 90 degree days. She called an independent technician instead who offered same day service at a reasonable price.
Workaround: Call the company that sold or installed the appliance if it’s fairly new, or get a reputable independent repair place from friends or Checkbook.
3. Technician no-shows are a common complaint. Consumers commenting on Google and Yelp say they take a day off work to meet a technician to arrive between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. but no one never calls or shows. Colleen Norenberg of Brooklyn Center reported having to wait another 10 days for a technician after the first one from Service Plus never showed.
Workaround: Ask for an ETA if available on the day of service or schedule an independent backup for a later day.
4. Pay attention to the list of what’s not covered by the contract as well as what is covered. Furnace heat exchangers, air conditioning compressors, refrigerators in garages, water/ice dispensers on refrigerators and ceramic or glass cooktops are rarely covered.
5. Got an older appliance? Service plans won’t repair it if parts aren’t available. Some consumers have been denied service because the part was not available from the original manufacturer, even if it is still available from other sources.
Workaround: Ask HomeSmart or Service Plus if they will reimburse you for the part you ordered and have it installed by their technician or consider a maintenance agreement with a reputable dealer that services your brand/model.
6. Verify at sign-up if your appliance brand and model is covered. Some brand names or models may not be covered such as Amana HTM or Lennox Complete Heat.