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I wrote the following for a class I took a few years ago. It’s a bit rough and still unedited, but I’m posting it here because (a) it’s been a while, and (b) it goes hand-in-hand with the upcoming March edition of the Yet-to-be-Named Newsletter for the Chico Writers Group.
American Home Shield offers a warranty that homeowners are probably most familiar with when purchasing a home. It’s a nice little bonus realtors like to throw in to sweeten the deal. But for those of us who renewed when the year’s end rolled around, we know that the human body can only handle so much sweetness before it gets violently ill.
You might rationalize that the cost of service alone is well worth the policy. You may even look at the reduced coverage on large appliances and other big-money items is worth the annual fees even when the premiums are increased. But if you look closely and carefully, you’ll start to notice that the restrictions have doubled, then tripled and even quadrupled. Got a leak on the exterior faucet? Too bad. Not covered. Air conditioning conked out? Tough luck, you didn’t perform the recommended prevention maintenance as we recommend. Got a repair service provider out that is a lazy bum and claims the two dollar soldering job done on your thermostat will solve the problem and a week later, your furnace dies? Not their problem, they’ll tell you. “We’re just going off of what the service repair person reported, who is the authority in this matter.”
I really wish I could tell you that I got these examples from places like Consumer Affairs, but no, these are actual examples after talking with family, friends and our own experiences when using their “service” since 1995. In the years, we’ve even see the contractors that have been sent out, change. Spend any time waiting for an AHS representative to answer your call while listening to their recorded message loop around, and you’ll understand they’ve become, more or less, a monopoly. They use Cleanmasters, Servicemasters, and have an umbrella of other services that include Terminex (and that in and of itself is scary if you spend any time looking into them for pest control services, gives me the eebie jeebies just thinking about it) among others. I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but these aren’t the people I want anywhere near my home, let alone tromping around to fix and service this or that.
A few years ago, when our policy came up for renewal, we decided to let it expire. Shortly after I received a call from an AHS representative. I explained that the lump sum they required was no longer affordable and we weren’t so sure we needed the since watered down services they still offered. He was a damned good salesman. By the end of the call, we renegotiated the terms and he had my credit card information along with an arrangement to bill me monthly for a more affordable amount, no added fees tacked on and, as he explained, able to be terminated any given month.
As you probably know, when things roll over to a credit card, you tend to forget about the charges. Until the card is about to expire, they send you a “friendly email” and then you’re back to reconsidering – do we really need this service? When’s the last time we even used it? Is this an expense we can cut when things are as tight as they are? Can we make a claim against our homeowners policy if something big happened and exceeded our hefty deductible? That was us and we came to the conclusion, let it ride.
A couple of months passed and -wham- in comes a letter from a collections agency. It says that on behalf of AHS, their client, they’re reminding us we still owe AHS several hundred dollars. They were even nice enough to include their client’s billing address and phone number. Of course, it wasn’t toll free.
As a homeowner, you’re probably well aware of the importance of protecting your credit history. It’s almost as precious as a baby. I phoned the number provided, waited a painful seventy-seven minutes to their messages that repeated so much I heard them in my sleep for days after, and finally was connected to a representative. I politely explained the situation, got the typical run-around that went along the lines of still owing money up until the policy was set to expire, which according to their records wasn’t until November. I knew my rights, I knew their own limitations, and I made it clear that once we rolled over into the monthly billed amount, that these supposed “life of the policy” rules were no longer effective. That’s when the representative said I had to call to another department and they would make a final decision. I stood firm. No, I fulfilled my end of the bargain, I chose not to renew my credit card information, they had no legal grounds to come after me, they were to immediately cease and desist with their attempts to collect and that if they continued, if there were any bad reports made against my credit history, I would sue them to the full extent of the law.
The representative said she would share this with the other department and that they’d have to call me to confirm the cancellation, so on and so forth. Good luck, I told her. I won’t be around to take the call, I was heading out of town in the morning and could make it just as difficult for them as they’d made it for me. Regardless, the demand still stood, they were, I repeated firmly and made her repeat back to me, to cease and desist. She said she understood and would “relay the information.”
Dated a week after my phone call that took an entire ninety-two minutes of my time (billable at $100/hour for a 3-hour minimum), another letter was sent from the same collection agency. I was informed that the clock started ticking when I received the first correspondence and had a mere thirty days to respond to their communication. It seemed vague about anything further than that, but the intent was loud and clear. That’s when I began digging into AHS online and found hundreds of complaints filed against the company for a wide variety of things including this type of tactical (or maybe, tactless) maneuver in attempting to collect on debts that they really don’t have a right to do.
I followed the advice on many of those complaint boards, went straight to the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) and filed a complaint according to their form driven website. Earlier today I received an email from the office that handles complaints about AHS and was told I would be hearing back from them soon.
A word to the wise, avoid American Home Shield. I can’t suggest another warranty service that might be a better choice because I’m still dealing with this and haven’t researched any, but given the headaches and the frustrations of dealing with this particular company, American Home Shield, which I’ve heard complaints have also come from many of the legitimate service companies AHS used to send out to service the policy, you’re better off putting that money in a money market account and using that to make your repairs.
You know that saying, “that picture doesn’t do [him/her/it] justice”? It’s a line you want to avoid like the Dickens when you’re advertising your home-away-from-home. And don’t let anyone tell you differently, getting the right shots that show off your rental property well isn’t always that easy.
Should you hire a professional photographer? No, not really. In a way, that’s like getting professional photos of yourself to put up on a dating site. It sends out the wrong message. You’re better off saving that money for the repairs and maintenance that come hand-in-hand with owning any property. A digital camera that allows you to take hundreds, even thousands, of pictures and a good editing program are about all it takes. Even the editing program is a luxury.
Make sure you set the size of your digital photos large enough to capture the colors and finite details. It makes it easier when it comes time to prep the photos to put on your site or load to an online photo album your guests can peruse.
Snap away from every angle imaginable, be sure to get several photos of each room and from different places within the room.
Staging is important. Take time to make sure all the chairs are lined up and linens are straight. A lopsided edge, a slightly angled leg can stick out like a sore thumb. If your kitchen is fully appointed, make sure you take a few shots of cupboards with doors open so your guest can actually see the dishes, utensils and so forth. Don’t provide linens? It’s okay to throw a blanket or bedspread over the bed so it doesn’t look sterile even if that blanket/spread isn’t actually provided. Just be sure that you are clear the guest must bring their own linens (some advise to have a section that the guest must initial in the contract to show they’re fully aware of this). Adding a disclaimer near the picture that states the item isn’t included is acceptable and highly recommended.
Fish-eye shots are great, if you’re in the hotel business. But they are deceiving which is why you don’t need to do this when taking shots of your property. You can achieve dramatic pictures simply by changing the angle. Get down on the floor, step up on a chair, lean over a balcony, lay across an ottoman. Be creative.
When you’re done with the photo session, offload them to your computer and take your time browsing through them. Sort out those that you really like into a different folder to come back to. Before you start working on the pictures you selected, be sure to go through the selected pictures and make certain you have at least three pictures of each area/room of the house, five of the more important rooms, such as the kitchen, living room and bedrooms. And make sure you have different angles, too.
Keep in mind that the picture doesn’t have to be perfect. The most important thing is to show plenty of pictures, leave nothing to the imagination. Having several shots of a room allows your guest to be more comfortable with making a decision to choose your home to stay in.
The good news is, when you have several pictures of the room, you can load them to a free photo sharing site, such as Flickr or Picasa (through Google), Photobucket or a number of other sites, then link the album to your page and include a link in your email correspondence. Just don’t link folks to an album that requires a password or the user to join or create an account.
If you’re interested in having us take a look at your site or help you develop a site to showcase your rental property, let us know by leaving a comment. Have concerns or considerations you’d like us to address, leave a comment here and come back to see if we answered it!