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I got real put off." On the other hand, Gayle Wilson of Los Angeles says she's successfully utilized her AHS home warranty 10 times in the past five years for repairs to her washer, dryer, refrigerator, freezer, microwave and clogged drains.

For the most part, a home warranty comes with the purchase of a house.

Homeowners also are denied coverage if the item wasn't in good working order prior to purchasing the home.

"We don't inspect properties; however, we ask that in good faith, plan holders do not place claims on pre-existing defects," says the industry veteran.

"It's something I recommend on every transaction," says real estate agent Beth Smith Shuey of Keller Williams Realty in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"But I warn my clients that not everything is going to be covered." Mark Finchem, an associate broker for Long Realty Company in Tucson, Arizona, says it's about liability control and requests sellers pay for a home warranty on every contract to reduce their chances of being sued if an appliance or system breaks down.

"The repair cost more than $1,000, but HMS only wanted to pay $250," he says.

"On top of which, they sent a low-quality contractor." In order to minimize misunderstandings, experts stress the importance of reviewing and understanding a service contract before purchasing a home warranty. "Lots of folks can finance a service contract but cannot finance a new $4,000 HVAC unit." The average cost of a basic coverage plan ranges from $350 to $600 a year, with the cost of an enhanced plan adding $100 to $500 depending on the desired amount of additional coverage.

"It's unfortunate when the services rendered do not meet expectations." To obtain the most value from a home warranty, Gallagher says it's important plan holders read and understand the coverage that's offered, and the limitations.