Defining Homes: Better to have than have not

Having total peace of mind or … how buying a home warranty was the best decision I ever made

By Steven Lindsey

It’s 106 degrees outside and after five days of scorching heat, there’s no relief in the forecast for at least twice that long. A few margaritas, frequent dips in the pool and sleeping directly under an air vent become key to survival (or at least essential to staying comfortable, if I’m to be a little less dramatic). But what happens when disaster strikes in the middleof the night?

That’s exactly what occurred a few years ago one record-breaking July. The house my partner and I share isn’t large by most standards, but its high ceilings and open floor plan make it necessary for us to operate two air conditioners for several months of the year. So when we awoke in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, it was not a good sign.

An arm raised up to the vent and the verdict was clear — the air conditioner was not cooling. Instead it was blowing like the hot, stale-coffee breath of an old man. Something was seriously wrong. We tossed and turned until morning and called for help. Within the day, a repairman fixed a compressor, replaced a spark plug or gave the whole system a rotate-and-balance (not really sure of the technical terms), and it was good as new. And for only $60.

That’s only because we had a home warranty, though Sharon Harrison, president of Nations Home Warranty, based in Dallas says “residential service contract” is a more accurate description.

Shortly after air conditioner No. 1 was repaired, air conditioner No. 2 went out and had to be completely replaced. No amount of oil changes or new shock absorbers was going to bring this one back to life. Two days later, we were the proud parents of a brand-new air conditioner. Retail value, $1,600.

It’s scenarios like these when a home warranty can really benefit a homeowner.

“Most people don’t budget for household repairs,” Harrison says. “We may set aside money for car repairs and health care, but generally people don’t wake up on Jan. 1 and decide to put money away for their homes.”

Harrison says the biggest ticket items that she has to replace are air conditioning and heating systems, but the worst repeat offender for her is swimming pools.

“I spend an exorbitant amount of money on swimming pools because water and motors don’t work nicely together,” she says. “When I look through my profit and losses at the end of the year it is always those blasted swimming pools. They’re always on the blink!”

So if you own a pool and don’t have a home warranty, it may be worth considering. At Nations, adding on a pool costs a mere $160 per year, which I can say from personal experience is less than even the most minor single repair to a pool.

For most people, a home warranty is included at the time they purchase a house, which is especially important when buying a pre-owned home.

According to Jenni Stolarski, a Realtor with Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, “They’re not required, but I rarely see a contract come through that doesn’t have one. It’s one of those things that’s become de facto.”

In her experience, the only downside can be certain home warranty companies trying to always repair rather than replace, and that can get frustrating if the company seems unwilling to shell out the money for a new appliance, for example.

Harrison, however, is dedicated to keeping her customers for life and pledges to do whatever she can to make her customers happy.

However, people need to understand exactly what a home warranty does replace, whether using her company or another.

“Home warranty companies are responsible to repair or replace equipment that has broken. If there is damage that results from an appliance breaking, that is not covered. That’s where home warranties and homeowners insurance go hand in hand.”

And that’s a powerful combination for peace of mind. Last year, a pipe burst in one of the air conditioning units in our attic and damaged the ceiling and walls in three rooms of our house. The insurance agency covered the $20,000-plus in damages, but the home warranty came through to repair the actual air conditioning unit, which would’ve been an additional $700 out of pocket otherwise.

Some people may be tempted to drop their warranties after years of not needing them, but Eric Pratt, owner of Taddy’s Pet Services, has kept his home warranty service for 12 years and swears by it. His biggest replacement was also an air conditioning unit.

“Bingo!” he exclaims about the very expensive item he had replaced.

He says the only downside is paying for the warranty on the years when you don’t use it at all, but when you do need it, the benefit can more than make up for the difference.

“Just keep track of who they are sending out,” Pratt says. “Check out reports on the [service] company, if there’s bad reports, call your home warranty company and ask for someone else to do repairs. If there’s someone you have liked in the past, ask if the same vendor can help on the issue you are having.”

Finally, it’s important to note that home warranties don’t have to be purchased at the time of buying or selling a home. They can be obtained at any time and rates can be as low as $30 to $40 per month, but it’s important to read carefully what is covered so there are no surprises. Sometimes you need to add on a supplement for certain appliances, like washers and dryers, or those pesky pools. Termite and pest treatments can be options, as well as a green plan like Nations offers. Through that program, they’ll replace appliances with more energy efficient units, such as tankless water heaters to replace broken traditional water heaters.

Really, home warranties are as flexible as you need them to be. And for a little extra peace of mind when it comes to one of your most valuable assets, a couple dollars a day might just be worth the additional expense.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Queer Music News: Singer Rufus Wainwright is now a daddy; James Franco is no Cher

• I had no idea singer Rufus Wainwright was in want of a family. And now he has one — in that modern family kinda way. This was posted on his website this past Saturday. And this doesn’t makes us feel icky like another celeb and his new baby.

Feb 18, 2011

For Immediate Release:

Darling daughter Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen was born on February 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California to proud parents Lorca Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and Deputy Dad Jorn Weisbrodt. The little angel is evidently healthy, presumably happy and certainly very very beautiful.

Daddy #1 would like to offer everyone a digital cigar and welcome the little lady in with a French phrase from his favorite folk song, A La Claire Fontaine : “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, jamais je ne t’oublierai.”

CORRECTION: In many of the articles announcing the birth of Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen, Lorca Cohen is characterized as “the surrogate.” Of course, she is no such thing. She did not carry the child for someone else. Lorca Cohen is the mother of the baby and Rufus Wainwright is the father.

Towleroad posted this track of James Franco’s version of Cher’s “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from Burlesque, which was to be an apparent gag drag performance for this weekend’s Oscars. Now, it isn’t — and that’s a good thing.

—  Rich Lopez

BEST in show

IT’S SHOW TIME | Breeders Linda Moore, left, and Laurie Foley, along with champion bitch Miranda, are all the proud parents of Beckham, a cocker and favorite headed into the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show later this month. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Partners Linda Moore and Laurie Foley love their dogs like kids — really gifted kids who are national champions

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor

If you think that breeders of show dogs would be akin to the high-maintenance stage parents seen on Toddlers & Tiaras, well, that’s just not Linda Moore and Laurie Foley. It all begins with a love of animals.

Moore’s first dog as a child was a Dachshund; Foley’s, a cocker mix — both, coincidentally, were named Princess. They both love pets, though 22 years ago, Moore went in a more serious direction, becoming a breeder of cocker spaniels and other purebred pooches.

She achieved some success on the dog show circuit. But nothing like what’s happened in the last year with Beckham, her solid black American cocker spaniel.

“There are two ways you get into the Westminster Kennel Club Show: If you are a ranked dog, you are invited; otherwise, you have to apply. Last year, Beckham was so young he hadn’t qualified so we made the entry,” Moore explains.

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM | The top cocker in competition, Beckham trots to victory with his handler at a recent dog show.

Oh, the difference a year can make. In 2010, Beckham was the No. 1 cocker spaniel, the No. 2 sporting dog and the No. 5 overall dog. In the world. In 2011, Westminster asked him to show up for the most prestigious dog show on the planet. And on Valentine’s Day, that’s just what he’ll do.

“Westminster is so unique because of its long tradition,” says Moore. (It’s second only to the Kentucky Derby in history of its continuous operation; the show later this month will be its 135th.) “It’s the only show where only champions are shown, so it’s the one show where virtually every top dog will be there.” Think of the Academy Awards with flea collars. Or the Nobel Prize for shiny coats.

Because it comes so early in the year, it can also catapult a relative unknown into the stratosphere. That’s basically what happened with Beckham last year.

“Theoretically, a dog of any age can win,” says Moore, a lawyer by day. “Generally, though, you need to be over a year old — some judges think you don’t have the maturity before that. There is one judge in particular that at the first of last year would not put us as high in the sporting group because she didn’t think Beckham had the maturity.”

Now just over two-and-a-half, Beckham is still at the start of his career, and with 23 best in show finishes last year, the sky seems to be the limit.

Moore admits, however, that she didn’t always see the championship potential in the striking solid black American cocker spaniel that is probably the favorite this year for the winner’s circle.

“Even as a puppy, there was a little bit of seriousness to him,” Moore says, but she was betting on his sister to become the star of the litter.

“We knew her whole litter, just in looking at it, that it was very, very good.” Moore says. “They just kinda had a look, even as babies, of being balanced: The front and the rear go together, they don’t have the angle on their shoulders. This whole litter was very nice. But I thought the sister was standout.”

Then at 10 weeks, a friend with show dog experience saw Beckham and declared, “He might really be great,” Moore says. There was a lot of discussion about him being a bit different.

“He just took to it,” says Foley. “It’s like he was born to do this.”

Not everybody agreed, though. “There is a good friend of ours who is a judge who saw him when he was four months old and didn’t like him; she has since given him a best in show,” Moore beams.

Beckham lives most of the time with his trainer-handlers in Tennessee. But the household for the rest of their brood is much like any other pet-friendly place.

“We have 14 dogs,” Moore says without batting an eyelash. “We have kennels, of course, but there aren’t too many rules.”

“Well, there is some furniture they can’t get on,” chimes in Foley, who, until she met Moore 10 years ago, was more of the mutt-loving, dog-rescuing variety pet owner.

While Moore breeds and shows cockers (American and English) and pugs, she also has a standard poodle as part of the household — and, of course, Beckham’s mom, Miranda. And they have a sense of humor about their four-legged children: All the pups in that championship litter were named after sex symbols: Harrison (Ford), Patrick (Swayze) and of course Beckham, who ended up astonishing everyone.

“The goal is to breed the perfect dog — which of course is not possible,” Moore concedes. “Each breed club develops written standards for what the perfect dog would be, everything from the coat texture to their head to their eyes, teeth, shoulders, movement. Miranda was reserve winner’s bitch and she was second-best black bitch in more than 100,” so Beckham had the genes to be a champion.

Even if he hadn’t been the best, he’d still be their sweet cocker. But on Feb. 15, they hope he might be something else, too: Best in show at Westminster. That would be something to bark about.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright