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Homeowners insurance - protect what you love - house in the woodsHomeowners insurance is increasingly difficult to obtain and to keep due to the many fires that have been sustained in California in recent years.

Since about 2020, we’ve known that homeowners insurance in areas more prone to wildfire have seen premium prices shoot up like a rocket. I remember one client who looked at property in the Santa Cruz Mountains recounted that the insurance quote was for $30,000 per year.

Homeowners insurance in the high fire risk zones – and nearby

Part of the challenge for us in trying to anticipate the more and less troublesome zones is that Cal Fire’s published fire hazard zoning map does not line up with the insurance companies’ maps, which are not public information. That said, it is probably safe to assume that the insurance companies are looking at broader areas in terms of what they consider risky.

Recently Clair and I wanted to show some homes in the Blossom Valley area of San Jose, zip code 95123, in which the homes were close to the beautiful Santa Teresa Foothills (but not adjacent to them).

Our buyers took our advice to heart when we suggested checking on insurability upfront. We had expected the homeowners insurance premiums to be more costly due to the proximity of the hills. Instead, that insurance company said that both of those homes were not insurable by their company at all! Those homes were not in either the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone or in the High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (Cal Fire’s labels).

I reached out to my own insurance agent to ask how we can know about what’s insurable. He replied:

“The best rule of thumb is that homes that are within 1000 feet of natural hillside brush or trees on any side of the home will have trouble getting insurance with many carriers.”

Carriers canceling, giving warnings

Some neighbors report receiving cancelation notices due to conditions that the insurance company no longer finds acceptable. I heard of one with a flat roof, but the home owner was persistent, and provided documentation on the roof being newer and of a high quality, and the insurance company backed off.

Last week we had a company session on insurance and the person leading it explained that carriers are sometimes flying drones over properties to check on condition. If they see something deemed risky, such as a couch on the front porch, tree branches overhanging a roof, or debris piling up in the yard, they can issue a warning letter with 4 months to remediate the problem. (We had a “drive by” inspection a couple of years ago.)

Additionally, some insurance providers are now doing in person visits. We were told that if the insurer does not like the property’s condition and finds that it increases risk of claims, they can cancel or provide a window of time to fix it. As examples, she quoted cracks in foundations or stucco. It’s a good time to make sure that vents (to the foundation and attic) are in good repair, there are no additional fire risks next to the house, and there’s no debris piled up in the yard, patio, or porch (the debris can be a problem with rodents as it can become rat harborage, too).

If your coverage is canceled, there are other options. The least desirable is the California Fair Plan, which costs more and covers less than traditional homeowners insurance.

Review your coverage

There are many limitations to coverage with homeowners insurance.  In many cases, flooding and mudslide damage is not included in a regular policy. Nor is damage for earthquake. Did you know there’s a distinct policy for the water line that connects the public water in the street to the water in your house? Those water supply lines belong to you, the homeowner, and if they break it is up to you to repair or replace them. But the water company is pushing for all of us to purchase insurance for this water line. (Similarly, the sewer line is the homeowner’s responsibility, but if there’s insurance for it, I’m unaware of it.)

Further, there are often price caps and deductibles to factor in.

If you’ve never read your homeowners insurance policy, it’s a good idea to do so and make sure that your coverage is adequate. Don’t assume it’s all OK because you’re paying for it. You may be over exposed and under insured.




Related Reading:

Earthquake insurance (on this site)

Homeowners insurance (article on our Valley Of Hearts Delight blog)

Homeowner’s Insurance, Title Insurance and Home Warranties (article on our Valley Of Hearts Delight blog)