With last year’s devastating California wildfires, it’s getting much harder for homebuyers to find affordable homeowners insurance in fire-prone areas. The result has been significant delays and problems during escrow, or even transactions falling out of escrow altogether. In this challenging insurance market, it is important for homebuyers to be proactive, diligent, and patient. Below are the five top tips for homebuyers in finding insurance:
Plan ahead and seek the assistance of insurance agents – The most important tip is to start shopping for insurance early! It takes time to complete applications and obtain quotes. Insurance agents can make the task easier. When contacting insurance agents, check to see if the agent works exclusively with one insurance company or is an agent who has access to multiple carriers. Keep track of which insurance companies are being contacted by each of the agents you work with, to make sure there is a thorough search of all options. Use this tool from the California Department of Insurance for finding an agent or broker near you.
Check for policies written by admitted insurance companies. It is only admitted insurance companies that are backed by the California Insurance Guarantee Association (CIGA). They must file their rates and policy forms with the California Department of Insurance (DOI) and, most importantly, they are part of CIGA, which provides protections if the carrier becomes insolvent. The DOI has a list of admitted insurance companies.
Compare the types of coverage and limits, and feel free to ask questions. You can compare the types of coverage and limits using the DOI coverage comparison tool. Also remember to check whether the insurance company will lower the quote for fire hardening (e.g., clearing trees or brush around the perimeter, or having fire-resistant roof materials).
Check surplus lines insurance options, if you are unable to obtain coverage through an admitted carrier. Surplus lines (aka “Non-admitted”) carriers do not file their rates and policy forms with the DOI and are not part of CIGA (which means CIGA will not provide protection should these non-admitted carriers become insolvent). However, these carriers often provide more flexible offerings. You should investigate the overall financial strength of the surplus carrier.
The Fair Plan is available as a last resort. If there are no other options, you or your insurance agent should contact California FAIR Plan at 1 (800) 339-4099. The FAIR Plan policy can be expensive, and it only covers certain losses caused by fire and smoke. For other perils such as theft and liability, consumers will need to buy Differences in Conditions (DIC) insurance to fill the gaps. List of DIC carriers.
Article from California Association of Realtors | Photo courtesy of USDA