The home of your dreams may be a nightmare to insure if it’s built in a disaster-prone area, is above a certain age or has a checkered claims history.
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It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t find homeowners insurance anywhere, but you may end up paying a steep price for it.
“Many times you can’t find (a price) you’re willing to pay,” says Lynne McChristian, Florida representative of the Insurance Information Institute (III).
While the average homeowners insurance premium was $952 in 2013, if you lived in Florida you paid a whopping $1,991, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Residents of four other states – Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma – paid more than $1,400 on average. At the other extreme, Idaho residents got a bargain, paying just $518.
Most people buy homeowners insurance on the standard market, but millions of homeowners around the country are forced to buy their insurance on the residual market, which is sponsored by each state and provides coverage when it’s not available through traditional private homeowners insurance companies.
About 7 percent of homeowners file a claim each year, says the III, with wind and hail claims the most frequent and fire claims the most expensive.
If you own one of these hard-to-insure homes, you may have to dig deep into your pocket to get the insurance coverage you need.
Homes in disaster-prone areas
Each year the United States gets hit with dozens of disasters, from hurricanes to earthquakes to tornadoes to wildfires.
And while you probably adore your beachfront home or secluded nature retreat, because of the risks tied to the location, you’re probably paying big bucks for homeowners insurance.
But you can take steps to decrease those risks. If you live in area that’s prone to wildfires, you can clear brush from around your home or make sure your roof is made from non-combustible materials.
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you might want to add hurricane shutters or install straps to secure your roof to your home.
“The standard market will be more likely to insure you if you’ve taken certain appropriate measures to mitigate the likelihood of wind damage,” says Chris Hackett, director of personal lines policy for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has information on its website on how to protect your home from various types of disasters.
You love the charm of your 1920s bungalow or Victorian-era home, but the age and style make them harder to insure.
Interesting architectural features can make older homes unique, but they also can make them more costly to repair, McChristian says.
Insurers also are likely to shy away from insuring your home if the electrical system and plumbing haven’t been updated or the roof hasn’t been replaced.
“If a consumer owns an older home, insurers will be interested in learning about any upgrades, remodeling and updates that may have occurred over the years,” says Mario Menesse, head of home and umbrella insurance for Farmers Insurance.
It helps if you can provide your insurer with blueprints, receipts, photographs and other documentation to show the remodeling and upgrades that you’ve made, Menesse says.
Your vacation home may be your own personal retreat, but because it’s unoccupied much of the year, it can be a challenge to insure.
Because you probably only visit your vacation home or second home for a few weeks or months each year, a problem such as a water leak can go undetected and cause major damage while you’re away, Menesse says.
It also can become a magnet for thieves. “Homes that are known to be unoccupied for a period of time could catch the attention of unscrupulous individuals, who may view the home as an attractive target,” he says.
He recommends installing a burglar and fire alarm to help decrease your risks, and asking neighbors to help keep an eye on your property.
Homes with a trampoline or pool
Having a swimming pool or trampoline might make for good summertime fun, but your homeowners insurance company may see them as an “attractive nuisance” that can tempt children to come into your yard when you’re not home, Hackett says.
You also run the risk of someone being injured on your trampoline or hurt or killed in your pool, and you could be sued.
Some insurers may refuse to insure your home if it has a pool or trampoline, or charge you higher rates.
Putting a locked fence around your pool and having a net around your trampoline could help reduce risks.
Homes with certain pets
Americans love their dogs, sharing their roofs with more than 56 million of them in 2013.
Certain breeds can be expensive, not in terms of what you pay for them, but in terms of insurance liability.
Last year there were more than 17,000 dog-bite claims, according to the III and State Farm, with payouts surpassing $483 million. The average claim paid out $29,396, III says.
You may find your insurer will set limits on the amount it will pay for a dog-bite liability claim, with you having to pay the rest out of pocket, or even deny you coverage if you own certain breeds, such as a pit bull. In some cases you can only get coverage if you take your dog to obedience classes or make sure he’s restrained.
You’ve gotten a great deal on a vacant foreclosed home, but insuring it could cost you.
You’ll need to have a home inspection to determine the extent of the problems – and the length of time the home might need to remain vacant while it’s undergoing repairs.
Homes that have been vacant for long periods of time deteriorate faster than those that are occupied. And they can draw unwanted attention from bad guys.
“All kinds of things could go wrong if no one is minding the property,” McChristian says.
Even a major remodeling project on your current home – regardless of whether you need to move out or not – can cause additional insurance concerns, such as liability and workers compensation insurance, Menesse says.
Farmers, for example, offers coverage to protect you from vandalism and coverage for certain perils, such as fire or wind damage, if your home is unoccupied.
Homes with a lengthy claims history
It may not even be your fault, but owning a home with a lengthy claims history can drive up your rates.
You can purchase a C.L.U.E. (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) Home Seller’s Disclosure Report, which has information on the insurance claims filed at the home over the past five years.
A history of multiple claims could indicate major maintenance problems with the home, McChristian says.
When you can’t find homeowners insurance
When all else fails and you can’t find insurance with a private company, you can look to the residual market.
In fiscal year 2013, these policies covered about 3.2 million homes, with a value of $639 billion, according to the III.
Most states have Fair Access to Insurance (FAIR) Plans, five coastal Southern states have Beach and Windstorm Plans, and Florida and Louisiana have state-run insurance companies.
Florida had by far the most policies covered under these plans, with 1.4 million, followed by Texas, with more than 400,000 policies, and North Carolina, with almost 400,000.