As solicitation letters go, it looked pretty official. Perhaps even from your local government.
Homeowners throughout Kansas, including in the Wichita area, received the letter in the mail this week imploring them to buy a water service line plan that would help cover costs of any repairs.
It came complete with a label with the homeowners’ address for their convenience and detailed reasons why buying the plan was important. A tri-fold pamphlet spelled out the homeowner’s “responsibilities.”
But the letter wasn’t from the city of Wichita or any other local government. It was from HomeServe USA Repair Management, a Connecticut company trying to sell the plans.
At the bottom of the letter, it stated that HomeServe “is an independent company separate from your local utility or community.”
Nonetheless, the letter has spawned some confusion, resulting in calls to city officials in Wichita asking what’s up.
“The callers generally want to know whether it’s a city program or if it’s required,” said Ben Nelson, the strategic manager for public works and utilities.
The answers, he said, are no and no.
“HomeServe is not sponsored by the city,” Nelson said, “and there’s no requirement that homeowners have water line insurance.”
It is true, however, that homeowners are responsible for water lines from the meter to their house, he added.
The city of Augusta went beyond answering its residents’ questions. Earlier this week, Augusta officials took the proactive step by tweeting:
“SCAM NOTICE – Letters from Homeserve trying to get you to buy insurance for water line coverage, are NOT LEGITIMATE. DO NOT SEND MONEY.”
“I hate saying that it is a scam when it may not be,” said Josh Shaw, Augusta’s assistant city manager. “But from everything that we’re seeing, it may be.”
“That’s pretty disappointing on a number of levels,” HomeServe spokesman Myles Meehan said. “One of those is we go out of our way to reach out to the communities where we do business.”
He said explanation letters dated Nov. 25 were sent to mayors of all the cities where homeowners would be getting letters from HomeServe – including Wichita’s Carl Brewer and Augusta’s Kristy Williams.
“It’s pretty clear the letter is from us,” Meehan said.
Shaw said because of the way HomeServe’s letter is presented, “it seems very official and creates a sense of urgency that homeowners should be paying for something.”
Thursday afternoon, Augusta removed its tweet about HomeServe.
Meehan said HomeServe is licensed to do business in all 50 states and is active in almost all of them. Letters were sent to homeowners last week in 10 to 12 states, including Kansas, he added.
He said the plan being offered comes with local repair service providers, who have already been vetted by HomeServe and have agreed to do contract work for the company’s customers.
HomeServe is not accredited with the Better Business Bureau, according to the organization’s website, but HomeServe does have an “A-” rating from the bureau.
HomeServe, which also has plans for other types of in-home repairs, has been operating for about a decade and has about 1.4 million customers nationwide, including 26,000 in Kansas, Meehan said.
The company’s website indicates it partners with about a dozen utility companies in the United States and Canada. Meehan acknowledged that didn’t include any companies in the Wichita area.
In September, the Wichita City Council considered going with a water-line insurance plan through the National League of Cities, but decided not to.
“It was declined for the simple fact that private companies can offer it direct to the citizens, without the city sponsoring one over the other,” Nelson said. “Whether (HomeServe’s) plan is good or bad, it’s up to the consumers to figure out what makes sense to them.”