By Stephanie Goedl
June 26, 2019
Don’t Forget The Insurance
Have you ever had a real estate transaction that was held up until the buyer could obtain homeowners insurance? In this episode of our podcast insurance agent Michael Williams of Williams Insurance discusses the importance of starting the insurance process early and situations of fire-risk, flood insurance and past claims that could hold up the transaction.
Why Order The Policy Early?
Homeowners insurance is such a big piece of owning a home but it’s usually one of those last-minute items buyers think of in the home buying process. It really shouldn’t be. Michael suggests that once you open up escrow the buyer should contact their insurance agent. It’s not that hard to get an initial quote even before escrow or the lender start requesting information. One of the main reasons to start the process early is due to the fire exposures in our state. Unfortunately, the wildfires have been tremendous and Michael explained that they are reshaping how the industry works. He said that people are going to be very shocked to see their premiums change and a lot of non-renewals. Houses that you wouldn’t think are fire-risk are going to have a much more difficult time getting coverage.
I was in Sacramento recently for the annual California Association of Realtors conference and this was a hot topic. Fire-risk on properties is impacting the housing affordability. I asked Michael about the how the insurance industry is dealing with this. He explained that there is a system called “Fireline” that assesses the “score” of the house and the likelihood of exposure to a wildfire. That number combined with a special hazard square that they come up with determines whether a carrier wants to write a policy for a house in that area. The mapping for that is changing and also the acceptable scores are changing. Michael said carriers used to be much more lenient than they are now. Houses that you wouldn’t think have a brush exposure are getting denied.
There are a number of things that come into play when a home or area is “scored” through this system. They look at road access, utility quality, the wind and a number of different things that go into deciding whether it’s acceptable. Michael told us about a program the state runs called Fair Plan and how the insurance carriers partner with this government fund for hard-to-place risks. It can be a lot more expensive, on average a 25% increase over what most people expect their premiums to be. They will take higher risk properties but it’s more complicated and there are multiple layers of the policy.
Here’s a scenario that happens more often than you think and it is the exact reason you should encourage your buyers to start the insurance process early:
You’re nearing the close of escrow, the lender is requesting proof of homeowner’s insurance, you’ve removed contingencies and the buyer learns that the property is in what the insurer considers a high-risk area. Two things could derail this transaction – 1) The policy is more expensive than they can afford or 2) The property is uninsurable. What do you do now?
Another thing to consider is if the property is going to need flood insurance. Michael explained that they are re-mapping the flood zones which means that flood insurance is another policy that could be required by the lender. Homes that have not been required in the past to get flood insurance are now needing it. He reminded us that this requirement will be an additional cost to the buyer, so it‘s in everyone’s best interest to call the insurance agent as soon as possible to avoid surprises at the close of escrow.
Michael explained that insurance companies also look at “claims history” on the property. The claims history of the property made by the prior owner could affect the eligibility and rate for the buyer. Not all carriers have that stipulation but a number of them do. Another thing to keep in mind is the claims the buyer has had at their current property could actually follow them to the new property they are purchasing. This could also affect the rate and insurability of the property.
We hope this information will help you guide your buyers as they start the homebuying process. You don’t want to hold up an escrow with something that could have been avoided with a little bit of forewarning. Knowing these potential hold ups will allow you to get your buyer on the right track from the start.
Listen to the show to discover more about the insurance process for homebuyers.
About the author: Stephanie Goedl is Chief Operating Officer and Broker/Owner of CENTURY 21 Discovery. If you are interested in becoming part of the CENTURY 21 Discovery team or would like more information about our services or training we provide contact us at 714.626.2069 or Careers@C21Discovery.com.
Michael Williams is the president of Williams Insurance in Fullerton, California. They have been around since 1941. They are a Property and Casualty Agency that handles home, auto and umbrella policies as well as commercial, health and life insurance. You can reach Michael at 714-526-5588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.