How to find the best homeowners insurance for your property

Finding the best homeowners insurance company for you starts with making sure you’re shopping for the right coverage. A standard policy covers your house and other structures, but the amount of coverage you need depends on how much it would cost to rebuild your home.

What’s Covered?

Homeowners insurance policies generally cover destruction and damage to a residence, the loss or theft of possessions, and personal liability for harm to others.

Three basic levels of coverage exist: actual cash value, replacement cost, and extended replacement cost. Actual cash value covers the cost of your house and items after factoring in depreciation. Replacement cost fixes or replaces your home and possessions without depreciation factored in. Extended replacement cost gives you an additional buffer of 25%, 50%, or 100% coverage on the primary structure.

Policy rates are largely determined by the insurer’s risk that you’ll file a claim. They look at your prior claims history, the condition of the home, and the location and terrain of your property.

When shopping for a policy, get quotes from multiple companies, and check with any insurer you already work with.

What a Homeowner’s Policy Provides

Damage to the Interior and Exterior of Your House

In you suffer damage from a fire, lightning, burst water pipe or other covered disasters, your insurer will compensate you so your house can be repaired or rebuilt. Destruction from floods, earthquakes, and poor maintenance is generally not covered and you will need a separate policy to insure for them.

Clothing, furniture, appliances, and most of the other contents of your home are covered if they’re destroyed by a covered incident. Your policy should even cover your belongings off premises, so you could file a claim if your belongings were stolen almost anywhere in the world. There may be a limit on the amount your insurer will reimburse you, however.

If you own high priced or unique items it’s worth looking into adding a rider to provide coverage. Most policies have limited standard limits for things jewelry, art, musical instruments, antiques, and other items that may need appraisals.

Loss of use or additional living expenses

This pays for temporary housing while your home is being rebuilt or repaired. It can take several years to rebuild a home after a wildfire. Make sure you have enough coverage here to rent for 1-2 years in your area at a minimum.

Building ordinance

Pays for updates to undamaged portions of your home if your city says you need to bring the home up to current code before they’ll issue permits to rebuild. This can be very pricey when you consider interior sprinklers are required for brand new homes in California.

Replacement Cost vs. ACV

On your homeowners insurance policy, you’ll see either “replacement cost” or “actual cash value (ACV)” as the claim payout method for your home and belongings. If your home has been updated (roof, plumbing, heating, electrical) within the last 30 years it likely has replacement cost coverage as a default. With older homes or roofs in bad condition, it’s not uncommon to see ACV coverage.

Actual cash value takes depreciation into account, and is the lesser coverage. Take your 10 year old TV and try to sell it on your own today, and it’ll likely be worth pennies on the dollar compared to what you paid for it. Your 40 year old roof may be worth 10% of what it would cost you to replace with a brand new one.

Replacement cost doesn’t factor depreciation into account. That means your 10 year old tv gets replaced with a brand new equivalent, and your roof does as well.
If it’s an option, you want replacement cost every time on your home and personal property.

What are your home insurance options for high fire areas?

Have you received a double digit increase on your homeowners insurance rate or been flat out non-renewed? It’s becoming more and more common in California every year, and the trend doesn’t appear to be stopping any time soon. Over 350,000 homeowners were non-renewed from 2015-2019, and we expect an even greater increase in 2020 due to the Paradise fire and others.

So what are your options?

Depending where you live, there are still standard homeowners insurance companies actively issuing new policies. The more traditional companies like Nationwide, State Farm, and Travelers will be your best bet because they offer the most comprehensive coverage at competitive rates. If you’re far from a fire department, a tough to access area, or a public fire hydrant isn’t nearby, that might not be an option though. What do you do if the standard market won’t insure you?

The California FAIR plan is a state backed insurance program that will insure your home for some of the more basic, but costly, claims scenarios: Fire, lightning, smoke, and optionally windstorm/hail, explosion, riot, aircraft, vehicles. The FAIR plan isn’t as complete as a traditional homeowners policy, and is missing coverage like water damage, collapse (fallen tree), liability, theft, and more. A handful of companies offer a “Difference in Conditions” policy, that works in tandem with the FAIR plan to create something very similar to a traditional homeowners policy. There are only about a dozen companies currently offering coverage.

If the standard market and FAIR plan can’t offer what you want, then the “Surplus Lines” market is going to be your last option. They deal with the very tough to place homes in extremely high fire areas that have unique characteristics or high rebuild values. With Surplus Lines policies you have more flexiblity to choose the coverage you want, but be aware that most limits don’t come standard, and you have to specifically request the coverage you want.

In any scenario, working with an insurance broker who has multiple options and specializes in high risk homeowners insurance is going to be your best bet. They should have contacts and options for any of the three scenarios outlined above.

Does My Business Need Workers Comp?

This is a pretty common question I get from our small business owners; whether or not you need to have a workers comp. policy or not. If you do an event and have a booth at a tradeshow, go on site to a client, or have a contract with a vendor, they’ve probably sent you a list of insurance requirements. This is going to spell out your general liability, auto insurance, and workers compensation requirements.

If you have a W2 employee then it’s pretty straight forward and you do need a policy. If you’re a sole proprietor who truly works by yourself and don’t have any payroll, then a policy is not required. Likewise if you’re an LLC or a corporation, you may either not need coverage, or may be able to exclude owners. A corporation can exclude owners and executives, and individuals with an ownership stake in the business (check with your carrier for requirements). It isn’t until there is a W2 employee on the payroll who isn’t part of the ownership structure that you need a policy.

What Does An Additional Insured Mean For a Contractor?

Contractor Additional Insured (AI’s): What are they, how do they work, and why do companies require them?

On the surface, an AI is exactly what it sounds like; the business or person is also insured under your policy for the work or project you’re doing. This makes it so your landlord, general contractor, or other additional insured can file a claim directly against your policy and get protection for damage you cause, rather than filing against their own policy. There are several AI forms, and they operate in different ways depending on what the AI’s interest is in your work. Here are a couple common scenarios involving the more “standard” forms before we dive into more complex areas:

Construction Workers image

Landlord listed as an AI:

Very common when you’re leasing an office, shop, or yard. If you get sued for an injury at your office (someone trips and falls, etc.), this extends coverage to your landlord if they get wrapped into the lawsuit as well.


Similar to the landlord AI. If the lender gets wrapped up in a lawsuit for property damage or bodily injury, your policy will help defend them.

Vendors and companies leasing you equipment:

If you rent construction equipment, and cause damage or injury with it, an additional insured in favor of the rental company protects them if they’re dragged into a claim or lawsuit.

A business you’re doing work for:

If you injure someone at a business’s location, or cause damage to their building or property, an AI will let them file a claim directly to your insurance, rather than needing to use theirs first.

Another contractor:

The contractor can file a claim against your policy rather than theirs if you damage something. The general contractor is ultimately responsible for damage to the project because they hold the contract with the client. If a sub causes a fire or their machinery damages a structure, an AI in favor of the general contractor allows the GC to file a claim directly with the sub’s insurance policy.

Won’t my insurance cover damage I cause though? Why do they need me to list them as additional insured on my policy?

Simply put, an AI provides a straight path for a landlord or contractor to file a claim. If you’ve caused damage, the AI can immediately get the claim rolling, and they can go through your policy rather than their own. There usually won’t be the question of “does this person have insurance?”, and an AI endorsement formally shifts more of the responsibility onto your policy.

The certificate holder clause says that the insurance company will notify the additional insureds in a timely manner if the policy is being canceled, so that gives an additional layer of protection for the AI.

In the next article, we’ll dive into the 4 most common additional insured forms, how to interpret them, and what you need to look out for. We’ll also go over what “primary wording” and “waiver of subrogation” forms are.

Will a Car Crash With an Animal Raise My Insurance Rates?


If a deer jumps out from the side of the road and you crash into it, does that count as an at fault accident and will it raise your rates? The short answer is no, but there’s an asterisk. Your insurance company and DMV knows that often there isn’t much you can do about an animal running in front of your car, and it’s not your fault that they did! It’s considered a “comprehensive” claim, which are not at fault in almost all cases. If you have comprehensive coverage on your car then you’ll have to pay your deductible, and your car will get fixed right up. If you don’t have comp., then unfortunately you’ll have to pay for the repairs out of pocket, because that critter you hit probably doesn’t have enough cash to get it fixed for you.

Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

So what about the asterisk? If you swerve or try to maneuver away from the animal and run into something else, then it turns into an at fault accident. Once you turn the wheel and try to correct, then you’ve taken an active role in the accident. So as heartless as it sounds, if little Bambi jumps in front of you, you’re better off not trying to avoid it. Swerving away can make a bad situation even worse if you lose control of your car or get into a head on collision.

Which Tickets Increase My Insurance Rates?

Not all tickets go onto your DMV report, and not all tickets on your DMV report will impact your rates. So which will? Anything considered a moving violation is going to get you points on your license, and increase your insurance rate. That includes speeding tickets, failure to yield, red light and stop sign violations, DUI’s, reckless driving, and more. The minor citations stay on your record for 3 years, and majors like a DUI will stay on for 5 years. DUI’s also remove your California good driver discount (20%) for 10 years!

So which tickets won’t bump up my rates? Fix it tickets, seatbelt tickets, parking tickets, and surprisingly cell phone tickets don’t for most companies. Cell phone tickets are still recorded on your license and show up on your report, but they don’t actually count as a chargeable moving violation fortunately.

What can you do if you get a ticket? If you haven’t done so in the past 18 months, the DMV lets you go to traffic school to remove 1 minor violation. You can take a course online and submit it to the DMV, but keep in mind that you have limited time to complete it. Check the back of your ticket, and it should say that you have a 90 day window to take traffic school. It’s worth it every time, because even 1 ticket could cost you a thousand dollars or more over 3 years in increased insurance costs!

How to Make Your Insurance Claim Go Smooth As Butter


Insurance claims suck! They’re stressful, slow, confusing, and worst of all you’re filing one because something bad happened. After being part of hundreds of claims, I wanted to put together some of the best practices that we and our clients have used to make them a LOT less painful for everyone.
Probably the biggest time saver of us all is utilizing your insurance company’s in-network companies. Whether that’s an approved auto body shop they work with, a restoration company for your home, or a physician network for workers comp., this is going to save massive time and headaches. Most policies allow you to fix your car or repair your house from whomever you choose, as long as your adjuster approves of the repairs. It can take a week or longer for that negotiation between the adjuster and body shop to get an approval. And that’s before the repairs can even start! When you go with a body shop in their network, the body shop acts as your adjuster, and can start repairs immediately. You’ve saved yourself a week +, and the work is now probably guaranteed for the life of you owning the car. Win-win.

Be flexible for your adjuster. Unless you’re doing something that can’t wait, pick up the phone if they call. They’re probably working on dozens of other claims besides yours, and getting them on the phone is usually pretty tough. They return calls when they have time, and 9/10 times you’re going to get their voicemail if you call them. If you miss their call it coule be hours or a day before you can get back in touch.

To piggyback on the last point; be organized. Have all your questions written down, and go into calls assuming this is your one chance for the day to speak with the adjuster. It might be hours or the next day before the adjuster can get back to you.

Is Water Damage Covered Under My Homeowners Insurance?

The answer is yes…and no. It’s going to depend on what causes the water damage and where it comes from. We’re going to dive into a standard California homeowners policy to answer this. Your policy covers a “sudden and accidental discharge of water”. Here are a couple examples that would fall into that category:

  • A pipe bursts in your wall
  • Dishwasher hookup breaks off and pours water all over your kitchen
  • Washing machine pipe bursts

You can also get coverage for water backup (sometimes called sewer and drain backup). This won’t come standard on your policy, and must be added. It protects you if a toilet overflows while you’re on vacation, or if a sewer or drain backs up. You should add this coverage to your policy 100% of the time!

The key with these is that they happen suddenly, and they’re not a wear and tear issue. Which brings us to what’s not covered:

  • Wear and tear
  • Gradual leaks
  • Leaky faucets

All of these fall into the same bucket of being maintenance or wear and tear problems, and are not covered under your insurance. If your plumbing system is getting up there in age (15 years or more), make sure you have it checked regularly, and fix or replace any problems. Water damage can be dramatically expensive if not fixed quickly. We’re talking thousands or tens of thousands of dollars!

Damage from a flood is also not covered, but can be insured under a separate flood insurance policy. A flood is water that enters your house from the outside, unless related to a burst pipe.