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Survey Shows Inattention to Homeowner’s Insurance Could Prove Devastating in the Event of a Disaster

For the majority of Americans-even those making six figure incomes-their homes are their single biggest asset.  Furthermore, the value of homes continues to rise with the continuing strength of the real estate market.  Yet, a significant percentage of affluent homeowners are just not paying very much attention to protecting their most valuable personal asset, according to a survey conducted for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company by Harris Interactive.

According to the survey, 94 percent of the respondents nationwide stated that the value of their home increased during the past five years.  The National Association of Realtors® reports that median existing-home prices in 2004 were 6.6 percent higher than a year earlier.  In some states such as California, a strong real estate market saw home values jump more than 20 percent in some areas from the previous year.

Yet, more than a quarter (27%) of those surveyed said they had not increased their insurance coverage to reflect their home’s increased value. Some of the most common reasons cited were lack of time to look into the need to increase coverage, and simply not knowing that they needed to change the policy’s limits to reflect a home’s change in value.

In addition to the rise of property values, home reconstruction and replacement costs are also climbing at a steady rate. With a healthy rise in new construction, recent hurricanes and ongoing trade disputes, the cost for lumber, plywood and other building materials is continuing to rise. According to the lumber industry publication Random Lengths, framing materials alone, such as 2-by-4s, rose nearly 40 percent in 2004 over the previous year.  Without the right insurance coverage, homeowners who experience a loss could see these higher costs coming straight out of their own pockets.

The survey, based on responses from more than 1,000 affluent homeowners nationwide, uncovered a consistent gap between what homeowners think is included in their coverage, and what actually is covered. Of those polled, 88 percent said they know what their homeowner’s policy does and does not cover, yet further questioning revealed that many respondents also believed that their homeowner’s policy covered more property than would actually be covered in the event of a disaster.  Only 37 percent of respondents correctly answered six of 12 questions about basic coverage on their homeowner’s and auto policies, such as the maximum amount of stolen cash that would be reimbursed if a home were burglarized ($200) or how much a standard policy will pay in temporary living expenses while a home is being rebuilt ($60,000). 

The survey showed that most affluent homeowners spend far more time managing their investment portfolios (an average of seven hours a month) than they do staying on top of the insurance coverage for their homes.  Seventy-six percent of those surveyed had reviewed their financial assets or investments within the last two months, but only half had reviewed insurance for their property assets within the past six months.  The survey found that respondents spend an average of 4.7 hours per year-a fraction of the time spent on their investment portfolios-managing their insurance coverage on their physical assets including their home.  This is true despite the fact that for nearly half (47%) of respondents, the value of their non-financial assets exceeds the value of their investment portfolio.

“The survey findings show a critical need for homeowners to communicate with their insurance agents and learn what their policies actually cover and when they should be updated, to ensure they are fully protected in the event of a disaster,” said Scott Garfield, vice president of Fireman’s Fund. “Homeowners also need to know that all policies are not created equal, and to understand the array of insurance options available in comparison to their current coverage before they are faced with a costly disaster.”

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