You’re probably paying too much for homeowners insurance coverage.
Each year, Puget Sound-area homeowners let hundreds of dollars slip through their fingers because they continue coverage with high-priced companies. Nonprofit consumer group Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook collected price quotes from major insurers for four local families and found each could save at least $1,000 per year by choosing a lower-priced company.
Check your company
Most homeowners stay with their insurance companies year after year, perhaps thinking they are getting a discount for their loyalty or because they haven’t had any claims. But, although you might be getting a price break from your current company, its competitors are likely happy to offer lower prices to lure you away.
For example, Checkbook’s sample family living in Ballard would pay $1,147 per year with Allstate or $1,164 with Safeco, but would pay more than $2,000 per year with Country, Mutual of Enumclaw, State Farm or USAA.
Checkbook has compared prices and quality of service offered by property insurance companies for 30-plus years, always turning up big price differences among the largest insurers. And often, highly rated companies offer low premiums. Because pricing methods and premiums can dramatically change over time, shop around for a better rate every other year or so.
To help you find a low-cost, high-quality company, Seattle Times readers can access Checkbook’s ratings of homeowners insurance companies for free through June 15 via Checkbook.org/SeattleTimes/homeowners
If you’re considering an insurance swap, know that you don’t have to wait until your policy term ends to sign on with a lower-priced company. Although you might have to pay a small administrative fee to cancel your current insurance, this fee is usually much less than the savings you’ll get from a lower-cost carrier.
Check your policy
Even if you select a lower-priced company, don’t waste money on the wrong coverage. Some tips on minimizing premiums:
Take a high deductible: You’ll get a big discount, and it will make you less likely to file small claims that may generate future premium hikes. Keep in mind that the purpose of insurance is to protect you from losses that you can’t afford to cover yourself. If you buy insurance for small losses, you pay insurance company overhead — sales, administrative and claims handling costs — to deal with losses you could cover out of pocket.
Obtain an accurate estimate of what it would take to rebuild your home: Many homeowners do not maintain adequate insurance coverage, leaving themselves financially vulnerable in the event of a total loss. Don’t count on your insurer to keep your policy up to date. Every few years, have your insurer re-estimate your home’s replacement cost and then adjust your coverage as needed. But know also that some insurance agents inflate these estimates to sell excessive coverage. If you buy too much coverage, you’re paying for insurance you can’t use.
Limit the number of claims you make: Filing a claim will result in higher premiums from most insurers, and may cause an insurer to drop you — which will make it difficult and more expensive to get insurance elsewhere.
Maintain a good credit record: With many companies, your credit score will influence the rates you’re offered more than anything else. Customers with poor credit are usually offered rates that are double what people with excellent credit get. With some companies, the poor-credit penalty more than triples their rates. And insurers increasingly use other secretive and opaque methods to calculate rates.
Consider declining optional higher coverage limits and other add-ons: Raising limits for some types of coverage —such as liability coverage — won’t increase your premium much, and most consumers find the extra protection worth it. But be wary of agents and companies that try to tack on extras without discussing them with you first.
Earthquake coverage is separate — and pricy: Most area homeowners don’t buy it. Even if you want it, you might have trouble getting coverage, as many insurers won’t write earthquake policies for masonry homes, and most insurers won’t write a policy for either a masonry or a frame home unless the house is bolted to its foundation — a practice not required by local building codes until the 1960s.
If you can get (and want) an earthquake endorsement, shop for that first: If your house qualifies for earthquake insurance, consider the cost of both the basic homeowners policy and the earthquake endorsement when choosing a company. Firms that offer the best rates for earthquake coverage don’t necessarily offer the least expensive basic homeowners policies. Because the earthquake endorsement can be very expensive — particularly if you own a masonry home — focus first on finding insurers that offer low-cost earthquake coverage; then, as a second shopping step, compare their premiums for basic non-earthquake policies.
Consider buying your homeowners and auto policies from the same company: Many companies offer dual-policy discounts to customers who insure both their homes and cars with them. But such discounts are usually small and won’t change a high-priced policy into a good deal.
No matter which company you choose or which coverage you select, you’ll want a company or agent that offers unbiased information and quotes accurate prices. Unfortunately, Checkbook’s undercover shoppers often found many agents were more interested in selling them too much insurance and offering unwanted options than dispensing solid advice and reliable price quotes. Often their information was incorrect, even dishonest. When shopping for insurance, speak with several companies and agents — and question price quotes that seem excessive or include unrequested coverage.
Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate. See Checkbook’s full report on homeowners insurance, including ratings of companies, free of charge until June 15 at Checkbook.org/SeattleTimes/homeowners