Articles Tagged with homeowners

In California, it has long been the law that it is up to the homeowner to decide how much insurance she needs, and that if a homeowner is uninsured, it is her fault.  This is the law despite the fact that insurance companies set the amount of insurance offered in a policy and do not inform insureds that they have not just the right, but the responsibility, to confirm that the amount is adequate if they need to rebuild. As a result, most homeowners who find themselves needing to rebuild lack the funds to do so.

The California Department of Insurance is aware of the problem and created regulations to address the issue. Since 2010, there has been an insurance regulation in California requiring that insurers take steps to provide accurate replacement cost estimates for homeowner insurance.  This regulation, 10 CCR Section 2695.183, was tied up in California courts for seven years as the insurance lobby fought against it. In January 2017, the California Supreme Court ruled that the regulation was valid.

What does Section 2695.183 say? First, the insurance company or agent does not have to provide an insured with an estimate of replacement value, or provide a suggested amount of insurance. If the insurer chooses to do so, then the estimate must include certain elements. It must include the cost of labor, materials and supplies.  It must include overhead and profit.  It must include the cost of debris removal.  It must include the cost of permits and architect plans.  It must consider and include the specific features of the home to be rebuilt. That includes the type of foundation, the type of frame, the roof, the siding, any issues relating to slope, the square footage, the geographic area, the age of the structure, and the materials used in the interior and the finishes.

When a homeowner obtains insurance, she generally assumes the insurance company will accurately estimate the cost of rebuilding the home in the event of a disaster such a fire. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. Insurance companies rely on computer programs to generate an estimated cost to rebuild in an area. Some insurance companies will calculate the amount based solely on the square footage and age of the home. If an appraiser is not sent out when insurance is requested to inspect the home, upgrades such as vaulted ceilings, wood beams, updated kitchens and baths, hardwood floors, outdoor kitchens, finished basements or attics, or other enhancements will not be included in the amount allotted to rebuild your home.

Courts often decline to reform the insurance policy to fix errors in the estimated replacement cost, noting that the homeowner should have reviewed and contested the amount when she received the policy. Insurance policies often have extended policy limits that will add an additional 25% on the insured amount for just these situations. However, an additional 25% may not be enough to rebuild.

The West Coast is an especially high cost of living area, and that includes construction costs. The San Francisco Bay Area, for example, is currently the most expensive area of the country for new construction, with construction costing an average of $417/sq ft. Construction costs in California have been rising 5-6.3% per year. This is especially true in areas at high risk of wildfires. While many of those areas are more rural and populated with homes that are less expensive than those in major cities, the repeated years of fires and construction have affected the cost of construction in those areas.  It routinely costs $300-$350/sq ft to rebuild in rural wildfire areas.  Years of fires have created a huge demand for construction labor, and chronic shortages of materials.  County offices are also overwhelmed with permit requests. Delays have increased to the point that the California Department of Insurance has mandated that for wildfire disasters, the time provided by insurance companies to rebuild and to pay Additional Living Expenses be extended from 24 to 36 months.

Fire season is beginning again in California, and soon throughout the West. Thousands of people are still trying to recover and rebuild from the years of past fires and related devastation. It is often taking three or more years to rebuild a home because of difficulties obtaining permits, contractors, and materials.

Ideally, your insurance company will work with you in this difficult time in your life. You will need to obtain a copy of your insurance policy and review it carefully. This can be harder than it seems if you have just lost all your possessions in a fire, as you may not even have access to a computer for some time. It is important to understand that the amount the insurance company set to insure your house may be much less than it would cost to rebuild your house. The insurance company will also only pay to rebuild your house as it was before, it will not pay for upgrades.

You will be asked to provide lists of the contents of your home. Then the insurance company will likely only reimburse you for the “actual cash value” of the possessions you lost in the destruction of your home, which removes depreciation from the value of your items. If your policy covers it, once you actually replace the item, you may receive a second payment covering that depreciation. But if you do not replace the item, you never will.

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