What is a good homeowners insurance company?
Solvent enough to pay your claim in a large disaster such as a fire or earthquake, and willing to pay you a reasonable amount of money in timely manner.
After the 2008 financial crash, many insurance companies are far less solvent than they used to be, so it’s very important to see if they’ve still got the money to pay you, especially after a major disaster when there are a lot of claims.
How to find these companies
I live in California, so I’m going to zero in on finding insurance in this state, but you can find similar information in many other states (though probably not those captured by the insurance industry with insurance commissioners elected by insurance money).
I keep an excel spreadsheet of my findings so that I don’t have to start over from scratch every year, and I can see if my current insurance carrier has risen or fallen in the ratings.
1) First, find out what companies can sell insurance in your state so you don’t waste time calling companies that aren’t available (i.e. several of the most highly rated companies in Consumer Reports aren’t available in California). Every state has an insurance website, for instance, this is California’s. You can also look for help state-by-state at United Policyholders.
2) You can cross off many insurance companies from your list because you aren’t eligible — i.e. you’re not in the military (USAA), don’t work for a particular company (i.e. General Electric), or you live within half a mile of an earthquake fault or flammable wild area.
3) Other companies can be ruled out because they have a high complaint rate from their policyholders, which means that if you ever have a claim, they’ll deny or low-ball your claim.
4) There are other factors to consider too. I found 3 very highly rated companies (financial strength), but one was twice as expensive as the other two. I went with the one that had the fewest homeowners, in the hope that will make it even easier to pay a claim if we have a disaster.
1) In California, you may want earthquake insurance from the state of California, so you’ll want to see which companies that have contracted with the state.
Financial Strength – how solvent is the company?
1) Weissratings.com has ratings of the Strongest Large Homeowners Insurers (you have to sign up to see this, but it’s free). They also have the weakest.
2) A. M. Best now requires you to pay a hefty subscription fee, which means you have to go the library reference desk or library online system to see the ratings (call your library first to find out if they’ve paid for a subscription).
Will they pay you in a timely fashion?
Once you’ve found some highly solvent insurance companies, go back to your state insurance website to see how many complaints have been filed, and you can also try looking at these websites to see if they mention the company you’re thinking of insuring with: Insurance Company Reviews, Consumer Reports magazine, www.badfaithinsurance.org, www.consumerwatchdog.org and perhaps there are others out there now — try doing web searches on the insurance company name and bad faith, complaints, and so on.
Before you call for a quote, read the Buying Tips at United Policyholders.
Take the time to answer the detailed questions, because there are many ways to lower your rate, i.e. you are near a fire hydrant, have smoke alarms, deadbolts, fire extinguishers, and so on.
Getting all of your insurance — auto, umbrella, liability, earthquake, and home with the same company often lowers the rate substantially.
Read the policy!
Ask for the policy and read it before you pay for it! This is what you’re covered for, not what you discussed on the phone. The insurers aren’t used to this, very few people ask for, let alone read their policy. Policies are very hard to understand, but with a few hundred thousand dollars at stake, it is worth the time it takes to read through it.