Many insureds need help to obtain homeowners insurance due to new wildfire modeling and scoring. This is particularly true in areas near recent catastrophic wildfires.
Homeowners should consider adding extended or guaranteed replacement cost coverage to their dwelling policy. This coverage ensures they have the money to rebuild their homes to current code standards.
Generally, homeowners’ policies cover damage to homes and their contents. However, suppose you live in an area highly susceptible to wildfires. In that case, some home insurers increase premiums or restrict coverage and may even decline to renew policies in fire-prone areas. Fortunately, it’s possible to find homeowners insurance that includes wildfire coverage in most cases. But you need to shop around. A reputable independent or captive agent can help you navigate the options available. They can also provide information about discounts that may be available to you.
If a homeowner policy doesn’t include wildfire coverage, you can obtain coverage through a state program such as the Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plan. You can also buy a surplus lines insurance policy through an insurance broker. These non-admitted insurers don’t have to abide by the same state regulations as admitted carriers and may offer policies that standard insurance companies won’t.
Additional Living Expenses Coverage
If a wildfire damages your home, you may need to live elsewhere while it is rebuilt. In this scenario, loss of use coverage can help pay for hotel stays, restaurant meals, and pet boarding. This coverage is typically tied to your dwelling policy limit but can be raised. In addition to personal property coverage, many homeowner policies also include additional living expenses (ALE) coverage, which can help pay for the costs of displaced homeowners after a fire destroys their home, or it is declared uninhabitable. ALE usually covers up to a percentage of your dwelling policy limit and includes food, hotel bills, pet boarding, and transportation costs. ALE coverage is often less generous than a standard home insurance policy, and it can be limited by certain factors, such as the timeframe allowed for rebuilding or content replacement after a fire.
If your home is in a high-risk wildfire area, you may be required to buy a special type of policy, such as a wildfire insurance policy, that protects your home and other structures on your property from wildfire damage. These types of policies are called dwelling fire policies, and they are normally cheaper than homeowners insurance but generally offer less protection. Sometimes, if your risk is too high for a private insurer to cover you, a government-backed plan known as FAIR will provide coverage.
Personal Property Coverage
After a wildfire, it can be very difficult for homeowners to find coverage. The number of homeowners denied or non-renewed has risen recently, especially near areas that have suffered from catastrophic fires. However, several things can help. These include submitting a full, accurate home inventory, avoiding shopping at renewal time, and focusing on reducing the risk of damage from wildfires.
Condo owners must know the potential for personal property coverage under their policy. This can cover the cost of replacing items like electronics, furniture, and appliances damaged by a wildfire event. While this is not guaranteed protection, it is a good idea for these insureds to re-evaluate their policy every year to ensure they are properly protected.
The same holds for rental properties. Renters should ensure that their personal property coverage is sufficient for the value of their contents and consider a loss control inspection of the building, including re-evaluating any storage sheds or other outbuildings. Additionally, it is a good idea for landlords to consider re-evaluating their tenants and providing training on how to mitigate wildfire risks best.
There are alternatives for those still looking for homeowner’s insurance due to their location in a high-risk zone, such as surplus lines insurers. However, this option should be considered carefully as these policies are typically not backed by a state guaranty fund and can have severe restrictions.
Loss of Use Coverage
In addition to the standard homeowners’ policy, some fire-prone areas may require a standalone insurance plan that specifically protects homes from wildfires. This type of policy is often called a dwelling fire insurance policy.
This coverage, also known as additional living expenses, helps cover costs like hotel stays and rental properties if your home is uninhabitable due to fire or other damage from a wildfire. It’s typically tied to the amount of your dwelling coverage and can be increased if you need more. Some insurers have also implemented extended rebuilding or content replacement timelines, requiring policyholders to communicate with their insurers about these changes. As these policies evolve, it’s important to work with a trusted advisor to help you navigate the options and choose a policy that best meets your needs.
Choosing a wildfire insurance policy requires a thorough understanding of your home’s geographical location, value of assets, and the specific terms and conditions of the policy you are considering.
Always do your due diligence to ensure the policy covers all potential losses and damages that may result from a wildfire. This includes specific issues like wildfire smoke damage, all of which can be devastating for your home in the long run.
Furthermore, consider seeking professional advice to help you choose a policy that aligns best with your financial capacity and risk profile. Remember, the goal is not just to protect your home, but also to attain peace of mind knowing you are well covered in case of a wildfire.
Though some areas are more prone to wildfires, no location is 100% immune from an accident or natural disaster. Having the right tools in place can help ensure that your home and loved ones are as protected as possible.