To find the best home warranty, we read hundreds of reviews and talked to service contract experts to help us understand the inner workings of an industry plagued by a bad reputation. Then we got on the phone to quiz 17 providers on their coverage (multiple times), dug into each of their service agreements, and found the one that rose above the competition.

Guide to Home Warranties

How to get the most out of your policy

1. Review the basics

If we had to distill the entire subject of home warranty contracts down to one point, it would be this: A home warranty contract works to minimize the provider's liability. Like all insurance companies, home warranty providers only make money if they pay out less than they take in.

Don’t expect them to be extremely specific about the line they draw on coverage. Some contracts, like Sears', list all items that are covered and those that aren’t. Others, like First American, says it covers “all parts and components,” then follow it with a list of exclusions.

Either way, if you don’t see a specific scenario, part, or issue explicitly outlined, it is most likely not covered. Our finalists are free of major red flags, but we'd also encourage you to check out our additional tips for reading your contract in our FAQ section below.

2. Look for exclusions

The opening paragraphs of a contract often lay out the items that the provider is responsible for. This can include both systems and appliances. Appliances are self-contained units like a washer, fridge, or microwave, while systems are a bit more intricate or costly — think an HVAC system, hot water heater, or the electrical wiring throughout your home.

Most companies then list exclusions — the things they won’t cover. These will vary depending on your contract, but some we ran into repeatedly include: items with pre-existing defects or improper installation, items under recall, commercial grade equipment, and repairs or replacements requested before your contract starts. Understand the exclusions will help you ensure that your contract is giving you the protection you’re paying for.

3. Pay close attention to the repair timeline

When it comes to home warranty contracts, Jennifer Engler, attorney for The Orlando Law Group, told us to “carefully read any portions of the contract which discuss how quickly after you request a repair it will be completed. Read what happens if the repair does not work, or if the vendor who comes to make the repair cannot get the job done. Coverage is not usually an issue under these contracts, but how repairs get done — and when — vary from company to company.”

A little extra attention in these portions of your contract will ensure reliable repairs or replacements later on.

4. Ask questions

Home warranty contracts are often complex by design. Evan W. Walker, Esq. of the Law Office of Evan Walker, explained that a home warranty contract “is not written to be understood by the consumer.”

In that sense, it is important to ask your home warranty provider any questions you have about their policies. The best will have friendly and knowledgeable representatives that provide thorough answers to your questions, no matter how many you have. We’re happy to report that the reps from each of our home warranty finalists were up to the task.

5. Negotiate prices

Don't be afraid to ask for a lower price. All service contract prices are negotiable — that’s why we recommend getting a quote over the phone. Online, there’s no way to pitch for a more competitive rate.

Case and point: During one of our calls we were quoted $570 per year. We told the representative that our budget was $450. He responded, “Okay, let me work on this,” and 30 seconds later returned to inform us that they were running a special promotion that brought our bill down to (you guessed it) $450. That’s not to say that a little haggling will always score you a $120 price drop, but it may be well worth your time to try negotiating a deal.

Home Warranty FAQs

What is a home warranty?

A home warranty is an optional service contract that covers home systems (like electrical and heating/cooling) and appliances (like your refrigerator and washing machine) for a specified amount of time, usually one year.

What’s the difference between a home warranty and homeowners insurance?

Homeowners insurance covers the structure of your home and most belongings inside. It typically doesn’t cover major systems or appliances unless the damage occurs in a covered type of “sudden and accidental” event (such as a fire) — so wear and tear would not be covered. A home warranty covers damage to specific systems and appliances regardless of the cause (but does not cover structure or other belongings.)

What does a home warranty cover?

For the most part, you can expect the mechanical components of a unit or appliance — the parts necessary for function, like a drain pump in your clothes washer or the pilot burner in your water heater — are covered. But the inert plastic bits, like knobs and covers, usually aren’t.

If all that’s wrong with your appliance is a cracked knob or dial, this repair is usually deemed “cosmetic.” You’ll have to hit up Home Depot or call an independent handyman to replace these parts. In any case, reviewing your contract and checking with your warranty provider is the best way to determine the exact amount of coverage your warranty will provide for each appliance.

How do I make a home warranty claim?

Your contract should specify what steps you need to take to make a claim. Usually, you’ll be instructed to call a 24/7 customer service hotline, but keep an eye out for contracts that state the company is closed on holidays (a problem we ran into with America’s First Choice).

After you call the hotline, many contracts stipulate a 48-hour wait period as they get in touch with a service technician, who will then reach out to you to set up an appointment. But again, pay attention to the specifics: Weekends and holidays can combine to kick you up to 4 days of waiting with companies like First Choice.

What if the repair or replacement doesn’t work?

Because not all problems are an easy fix, make sure a recall period or workmanship guarantee is present within your contract. If you discover your unit is still not working properly within this timeframe, the service provider will schedule a second appointment at no charge. TotalProtect and Sears come with impressive 180-day recall periods, and American Home Shield offers a respectable 60 days. But many home warranty providers don’t offer them at all.

How does a the company decide between repairs or a replacement?

Home warranty companies will replace a unit when they determine it’s “beyond economic repair”. If you qualify for a replacement, the company will either choose a base model for you (the standard unit, zero enhancements, and the color of their choice), or give you the cash to purchase on your own. Fair warning: If the old unit needs to be carted away, you’re usually responsible for disposing of it.

Can I cancel my home warranty?

You should have 30 days after first signing up to cancel your contract without penalty. After that, you’re liable for a one-time termination fee. First American charges a $50 cancellation fee, for instance, while American Home Shield charges the same amount as your monthly payment.

Most contracts are good for one year, but companies like Home Warranty of America, TotalProtect, and Sears automatically renew your contract at the end of 12 months. We’d recommend always reading through the renewal information to make sure pricing hasn’t increased and that none of the terms or conditions has changed.

The Best Home Warranty: Summed Up

American Home Shield
SEARS Home Warranty
TotalProtect Home Warranty
First American Home Warranty
Our top pick
180-day workmanship guarantee
Runner-up: Generous liability caps
Lowest service fees
Service fee
$75, $100, or $125
$75, $100, or $125
$75 or $100
Customizable coverage
Recall period
60 days
180 days
180 days
30 days