A new study that came out just shortly before the one-year anniversary of the California fires overwhelmingly shows that people consider it their responsibility to keep their homeowners insurance current. Yet surprisingly many do not make it a high priority to update their policies to meet their changing needs.
Seventy-one percent of Californians told an independent poll, commissioned by the Insurance Information Network of California, that it is their responsibility to keep their insurance policies updated. The number increased to 74 percent in San Diego, where nearly 2,400 homes were lost to wildfires last year. Nineteen percent said it was the responsibility of their insurance agent and seven percent said it was the responsibility of their insurance company to keep their homeowners insurance up-to-date.
"Most Californians get it. They know that it's their home -- not the insurer's, not the agent's, nor anyone else's -- and that they not only have the ability, but the responsibility, to maintain adequate insurance on their most valuable asset," says Executive Director Candysse Miller of the Insurance Information Network of California.
About 800 homeowners and renters in California participated in the three-day poll. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed were homeowners, while 18 percent reported that they were renters. Ninety-eight percent reported having either homeowners or renters insurance.
"The interesting thing is that only 39 percent said that they had looked at their homeowner insurance policy in the last year. Twenty-seven percent had said that it has been at least three years since they last read their policies. So it shows that people understand that it's important [to review their policy] but they don't find the time to do it," says Pete Moraga, Communications Specialist for Insurance Information Network of California.
Despite not having read their policy in anywhere from under a year to about three years, 60 percent of the respondents still reported that they believe they have enough insurance to cover the total loss of their home and its contents.
"But if they're not reading their policies and not understanding what their policies cover, then chances are in actuality that number is much lower and that's what we're trying to avoid," explains Moraga.
"The more insurance savvy you are, the better you're going to be after a disaster and even before a disaster ... It's also about being a good consumer, getting the best price for your insurance, because when you understand the coverage, you can compare it and go out and shop it," says Moraga.
And in California arming yourself with education about your policy is vital because there are so many choices. There are more than 165 companies selling homeowners insurance throughout the state. The high number of companies is fueled by the fact that more than half of California's 12.5 million homes face wildfire dangers. According to the California Department of Forestry more than 7.2 million California homes are categorized in the three highest fire risk levels.
The on-going drought in California and Santa Ana winds are shaping up to make this year even more ripe for fire conditions.
"One of the many traumas of a catastrophe like the 2003 wildfires is discovering too late that your insurance has not kept pace with your needs," Miller said. "The poll shows that Californians understand their critical role in being properly insured. The question remains whether they are following through."
In addition to reviewing your homeowner's insurance policy, the network recommends that homeowners have a financial recovery plan, which includes a current household inventory and, preferably, pictures or a video of your possessions. For a free home inventory guide, visit www.iinc.org.