After Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, many of the best Florida home insurance companies began to leave the state. Many more exited Florida after the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. Today the few name brand companies that remain for the most part don’t write any new business. What was once a prominent list of over 500 companies is now a short list of about 40 brand new start up companies that most people have never heard of.
With all of the chaos in the Florida home insurance market, what is the best way for you to find the best Florida home insurance companies?
For starters, it’s never been more important to have coverage with a private company – staying away from the bureaucracy of Citizens Property Insurance Company. While Florida’s state run insurance company of last resort, is charging below market rates and competing with the private market, there are plenty of storm clouds on the horizon.
Citizens has stated that it does not charge enough in its rates to cover the risks that it is taking. Consequently, the company must borrow even before hurricanes hit in order to have enough cash available to pay claims. It has enough cash to pay for smaller hurricanes but a major event would send Citizens into the bond markets looking to borrow to pay your claim. After major storms, if you are a Citizen policyholder you will be subject to special assessments that will be higher than those who have coverage in the private market. Last but not least, Citizens has not distinguished itself with fast and fair claim payments after major hurricanes.
Moving to the private market of Florida home insurance companies, you should look for companies that have most or all of the following:
Longevity – companies that have been around longer simply have more experience and better developed systems to write policies and process claims.
Financial Stability – high financial ratings, a large surplus to pay claims, and backup reinsurance from companies that also have high ratings.
Risk Diversification – a core base of policies that include an appropriate mix of newer, inland homes balanced out against older homes that are closer to the Florida coast. The company’s policy base should be geographically distributed across most of the counties in the state of Florida – not just concentrated in the South Florida coastal counties. Finally it is better to find a company that has expanded its policy base to other states in addition to Florida.
Customer Service – the company should have a reputation for excellent policyholder customer service along with a track record of fast and fair claims processing. In other words when you call them someone quickly answers the phone. If you have a billing question, they have the people skills and the systems to make things right. After a hurricane, it means that an adjuster will be scheduled quickly to come visit your home and assess the damages. And when he leaves, the company quickly values your damages and sends you a check.
Here’s what you can do to figure out if the Florida home insurance company you are considering can meet your expectations in these areas:
Check the websites maintained by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and find out when the company first started doing business in Florida. Try to find a company that started doing business before the 2004 hurricanes.
Get the company’s NAIC (National Association of Insurance Commissioners) code and use it to check its financial ratings with AM Best and Demotech. Find out how much surplus the company has to pay your claim. Don’t bother trying to assess the quality of the company’s reinsurance – the Best and Demotech ratings take that into consideration.
Ask your Florida insurance agent about each company’s policy diversification across Florida and into other states as well. Find out what you can about the type of risks the company is writing. As a general rule, home insurance companies in Florida that have taken out policies from Citizens have a higher risk policy base that must be offset against newer homes that are located in the interior counties of Florida. Finally, ask your agent about the company’s complaint history for the past couple of years. Rule out any company that has had a higher number of complaints filed against them relative to the amount of insurance premium they have written.
If you follow even half of these recommendations you’ll be doing a lot more than the average Florida insurance consumer to find the best home insurance company to meet your needs.