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Consumer Warning: Do Your Homework Before Buying Home Warranty

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) - Home ownership can be rewarding and frustrating because things break from time to time.

For many homeowners, especially those who have older homes, home warranties can be a good option.

But, they don't cover every mishap.

Chuck and his wife, Ruth, haven't had a working refrigerator for nearly seven weeks and now rely on ice to keep their remaining food from spoiling.

"We have thrown out everything, At this stage, it has got to be probably $500 worth of food," Ruth said.

The situation is made all the more frustrating because, like many seniors on a fixed income, they pay monthly for a home warranty to protect them from things like this.

Home warranties can be useful for older homes. It's essentially an umbrella service contract designed to cover things that aren't insured.

Depending on your plan, home warranties can cover everything from heating and plumbing to your garage door and refrigerator.

So, when the couple's fridge went out nearly two months ago, their first call was to First American - their home warranty company.

Their $55 per month policy is supposed to cover small repairs, appliance fixes, and replacements, when necessary.

First American did send a local third-party contractor out, who attempted to fix the fridge four times.

"Nobody knows if they have ordered parts," Ruth said.

Instead of fixing the fridge, the couple says the contractor damaged their floor.

"It is important for a consumer to ask the company who they contract with in their area," California Department of Insurance Deputy Press Secretary Allison Castro said.

Castro said it's common for home warranty companies to send out a third-party, but they are responsible for that contractor's work and they can't work on repairs indefinitely.

"Most home warranty policies include a provision. They will replace the appliance, the air, the heating, but that could be at a depreciative value," she said.

After nearly two months, Ruth and Chuck weren't even offered that option.

"I don't know if I am going to have a refrigerator today or tomorrow or when," Ruth said.

Fed up, they called CBS San Francisco, who called First American. Within a few days, the couple had a new refrigerator and an offer to repair their damaged floor.

"You don't know how much you are going to miss things until you don't have them," Ruth said.

First American would only say it checks for license and insurance, but would not comment on reviews or references.

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