Carrying over from last week's question about manufactured (mobile) homes and warranty concerns, I decided to copy the idea of some big hit movies and make this column a "prequel." So with regard to actually buying this type of home warranty initially, clip out today's column and keep it handy when you begin to shop.
Manufacturers, retailers and installers might offer separate warranties, each of which covers a different part of the home. Be sure to ask for copies to take home and compare against packages from other retailers. Also get a copy of the complete warranty, not just a summary, and look at the combined terms of all the warranties that cover a home. All new homes should have a warranty, but used homes may not, or perhaps they have a very limited warranty. Be very suspicious of homes sold "as-is" with no warranty. When shopping, you need specific answers to the following questions:
* How long does the warranty last?
* What is covered and what is excluded? Generally, warranties aren't responsible for normal wear and tear, consumer abuse, site preparation and neglect of maintenance issues. Additionally, many exclude what we call "cosmetic" items, such as painting, wall cracks, leaky faucets, and doors and windows. Used homes typically have extremely limited warranties so, again, be very sure of the exact coverage.
* What can void the warranty? Sometimes moving or selling the home can void the warranty. Too, improper site preparation for the mobile home can be a "voider." Does the home need regular maintenance to keep the warranty in force? What kind of maintenance may be necessary?
* Are appliances that came with your mobile home covered by a separate warranty? If so, who do you contact for service and at what upfront cost to you? (My husband and I carry a home warranty on our conventional home and appliances and pay a $50 charge each time something needs repair. Boy, we've saved boo coos more in out-of-pocket repair costs than a periodic $50!)
* Who performs the warranty work? How do the retailer, manufacturer and installer split responsibility? Whom do you contact first? While Consumer Reports suggests buyers purchase directly from a manufacturer, this isn't always possible in all states because of licensing laws. Again, find out the explicit information to save you lots of problems later on.
* Be wary of "extended warranties," which often mean little more then high-priced insurance products issued by third party companies. Terms of extended warranties may be different then the original warranty, so evaluate them as closely. If you are financing the extended warranty, factor in the interest costs, which may be substantial.
* Do the contract terms state arbitration is your only means for disagreement/compensation? If so, be especially wary; these terms limit any right to sue and are more prevalent in this type of home than with a conventional house.
* Where's the list of former customers? As I always advise, thoroughly check references and especially folks who've lived in their manufactured homes long enough to be aware of the quality of any warranty service.
* How long has this business been around? Check the manufacturer, retailer and installer's records at agencies such as the state attorney general, or the state manufactured housing agency. Many states require retailers to be licensed so make sure their license is current. And, as always, what about complaints? It's been my experience when a person takes both time and energy to issue a formal complaint, the problem isn't trivial so make note before you purchase. Have they posted a bond? How long have they been in business? If the manufacturer does not contract with the dealer to perform warranty service, you should check the history of the manufacturer as well.
Editor's Note: Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.