California residents who are buying or own property near high brush areas are finding it more and more difficult to obtain home insurance. Home owners are shocked and frustrated as insurance options have become limited in the wildfire zones throughout California.
Since 2008, Einhorn Insurance has been insuring properties in California’s high fire risk areas. Our agency has scoured the market to locate the best policies to properly protect your properties. We understand how time sensitive (especially if in escrow) home insurance coverage can be and assign high brush risks top priority.
Einhorn Insurance insures homes, condos, townhomes, renters, landlords, mobile homes and rental units throughout California in high brush and wildfire areas. We have access to many A-Rated insurance carriers that will insure your property whether it is a luxury estate, small studio or anything in between.
Our agency also specializes in escrow closings with properties in high brush regions and work directly with your lender and escrow officer to make sure your escrow closes on time.
EINHORN INSURANCE FEATURED AS EXPERT GUEST ON NPR’S “AIR TALK WITH LARRY MANTLE” RADIO SHOW
In November 2019, NPR contacted us to address the recent wildfires and their effect on homeowners and their current and future home insurance policies. You can hear the 15 minute interview by clicking the link below.
WHAT IS A WILDFIRE?
About 40 years ago, a large fire was one that damaged about 15,000 acres. Today, it’s not unusual for a fire to burn over 100,000 acres. Thanks to wildfires, global warming and arson, fire season is now year-round causing insurance companies to reassess which homes they will and won’t insure. Once an insurance company identifies your home’s geographic location as a high fire risk area, you may be denied coverage, or your current policy may be canceled (this can happen regardless of how long you’ve been insured with the same company).
Californians living in high fire locations are especially aware of the risk if their homes are a short distance from brush. While most insurance carriers won’t insure your property if you’re within 2500 feet of canyons, brush or a wild fire area, Einhorn Insurance can find an option to insure homes regardless of brush clearance (even if the property only has 100 feet of clearance from the home itself).
HOW DO INSURANCE CARRIERS DEFINE BRUSH?
Brush is any live or dead bushes, shrubs, thicket, trees or other “unmanaged” vegetation near your home or property. This brush can potentially light on fire, burn and/or fuel a wildfire.
Vegetation or trees growing in thick bundles (especially low to the ground) are more of a threat as a fire source. Homes within close proximity to native flammable vegetation are of great concern to insurance carriers. Piles of dead yard debris, tree branches, dried grass, etc. are also considered uncleared brush.
If you have a yard with manicured vegetation (i.e. groomed plants/trees), this is not typically a concern unless the greenery is touching the home, roof or hanging within 3 feet over the roof.
OTHER VARIABLES INSURANCE CARRIERS CONSIDER WHEN DETERMINING IF A HOME IS LOCATED IN A CALIFORNIA HIGH BRUSH ZONE:
Topography: This is your surrounding terrain and landscape. Poor road accessibility also plays a factor in your property’s insurability.
Wind Patterns: Your home may be in an area where the wind patterns blow flames toward your property.
Distance to the nearest fire station: You may be near a fire station; however, it doesn’t count if it’s a volunteer fire station. You must have your assigned RESPONDING fire station within a certain distance of your property.
Distance to a fire hydrant or water source: It is preferred you are within 1000 feet of a fire hydrant or a large water supply system.
Roof type: Certain roofs are more fire resistant than others.
PPC (Public Protection Classification): This is a rating from 1-10 (10 = very high fire risk).
FireLine score: This is an eligibility tool used by some insurance companies. It uses advanced remote sensing and digital mapping technology to determine the impact of 3 factors that deems a home a high wildfire risk: surrounding fuel or brush, the slope of your home and the ability to access your property at the time of a fire.
SHIA: A SHIA area, also known as Special Hazard Interface Area- homes in an area that are exposed to wind-borne embers.
IS YOUR HOME INSURANCE BEING CANCELLED OR NON-RENEWED DUE TO BRUSH?
If you are cancelled or not renewed by your insurance company, it’s important to find home insurance quickly. Once you’ve been cancelled and deemed an unacceptable risk, your lender is notified. At that time, you must immediately find another policy, or your lender will purchase insurance for you. This is known as “force placed insurance.” These policies are usually VERY EXPENSIVE, offer marginal coverage, and are usually not A rated. One of our client’s rates jumped from $150/mo to $900/mo with force placed insurance. After calling Einhorn Insurance, we were able to issue a policy for about $180/mo.
WHAT ARE ADDITIONAL LIVING EXPENSES (ALEs)?
Home insurance has several major coverage categories:
- Dwelling: This amount is used to rebuild/repair your home in the case of a covered peril (fire, wind, vandalism, sudden burst of water, etc.).
- Separate Structures: Coverage for pools, driveways, fences, barns, sheds, workshops and items separate from the main home/structure.
- Personal Property: Your personal belongings.
- Liability: Coverage if someone gets hurt on your property, if you accidentally hurt someone (at and away from home) or damage caused by you (not while driving a car).
- Loss of Use: Provides compensation for living expenses while living away from home at the time of a loss.
When people buy home, condo or renters policies, insurance agents tend to focus on the following 3 coverages: Dwelling, Personal Property and Liability. Loss of Use, also known as Additional Living Expenses (ALE) is also a very important coverage, especially now, as wildfire claims are at an all-time high.
When buying insurance, I find customers focus on dwelling coverage and the cost of the policy. Most don’t think about the costs they will incur if they are displaced from their home due to a covered claim (i.e. damage from fire, smoke, water, vandalism, no electricity, etc.). Additional Living Expense coverage is one of the first topics that come up when you are forced to live elsewhere. This coverage provides compensation (up to the policy limit) for reasonable living expenses (i.e. lodging, food, etc.) if your home is unable to be lived in while it’s being repaired or replaced. The insurance company will typically pay out ALE expenses up to the policy limits (which is usually 20% of the Dwelling coverage) and/or for a specific time period (i.e. up to 12 or 24 months).
ALE coverage is often misunderstood. For example, let’s say you pay a $3,000 mortgage monthly and your home is deemed inhabitable due to a water claim that saturated the entire first floor of your home. While the home is being dried out and put back together, you’ll need to find lodging (and somewhere else to get your meals) while the home is being repaired. In most cases, you will want to stay in a hotel or a furnished property of similar lifestyle and building grade. In other words, if you were in a 2000 square foot modest home, the insurance will not provide compensation for you to rent a 3,500 sq. ft. luxury home. If you find a fully furnished similar style home for $4000 per month, the insurance company will provide $1000 extra per month for lodging (the difference between $3000 mortgage and $4000 furnished rental). This is where the “Additional” in “Additional Living Expenses” comes into play.
ALE may also consider paying for restaurant expenses, laundry, furniture rental, transportation, storage, pet boarding, etc.
It’s always best to understand what ALE expenses are (and more importantly) and are not reimbursable by the insurance company. Keep the lines of communication open with your claims adjuster and ask authorization questions (before you spend the $$) so there are no surprises if certain expenses are declined. To maximize your Additional Living Expenses coverage benefits, keep all receipts and a log of expenses. Without receipts and documentation, you may not receive reimbursement. The claims adjuster may require proof of your prior normal expenses to see if your “out of home” spending patterns are similar. Most adjusters have been around the block and know when someone is trying to take advantage of the system.
Einhorn Insurance offers California Fair Plan (CFP) + Difference in Condition (DIC policies)
When mainstream insurance providers aren’t available, California Fair Plan (CFP) is a home insurance option and satisfies lender requirements. CFP policies cover damage from fire, wildfire, smoke, wind, hail, riot, vandalism, explosion, a vehicle and aircraft. Replacement Cost coverage can be added for most homes. California Fair Plan also offers policies if a property is your primary residence, second home, a rental, a vacation rental or vacant. If you are building a home in a high fire risk area, CFP has course of construction policies too.
In addition to purchasing a CFP policy, a majority of property owners purchase a supplemental DIC (Difference in Conditions) policy; DIC policies are sometimes called “Wrap-Around” policies. A DIC policy fills gaps and provides coverage for many perils NOT covered by the CFP including:
- Water Damage (such as a pipe bursting or an accidental overflow from an appliance).
- Theft & Burglary (including items stolen away from your home…i.e. from your car).
- Liability (coverage if someone gets hurt on your property and/or if your pet hurts another person/animal).
- Liability covers you on and away from your home.
- Medical Payments To Others
- Falling Objects (i.e. tree falling on your roof)
- Weight of Ice/Snow/Sleet damaging your home.
- Freezing of Pipes
Together (as a 2 policy package), the California Fair Plan and DIC policies provide fairly comprehensive coverage for a home.
To expedite the home insurance shopping experience, call Einhorn Insurance as soon as possible. Our agency writes a large volume of high brush policies and has developed amazing relationships with underwriters.
We know you have better things to do than shop around for home insurance. Streamline the process by contacting an experienced insurance agency that specializes in insuring homes in California high brush fire areas. We will do their best to shop the market for the most competitive, comprehensive property insurance option. We are ready to help!
For tips on how to prevent fires if you live in a high brush zone visit: https://einhorninsurance.com/california-insurance/fire-season-now-all-year-longits-never-ending/
Frequently Asked Questions
Are older houses more expensive to insure?
Not necessarily. Larger homes in high fire risk areas are often far more expensive than an older home. If a home is older, as long as it’s in good condition and kept up, there are carriers that reward this by offering fair premiums.
What makes a home uninsurable?
An uninsurable home is one that does not meet the insurance company’s standards for coverage. This may be because of outdated wiring, old/worn roof, plumbing, or other old construction that no longer meets building codes, or because the building has become run down over time and doesn’t show pride of ownership.
What happens to your mortgage when your house burns down?
As devastating as it is to lose your home, this doesn’t relieve borrowers of their obligation to keep paying their monthly mortgage. When your home burns, you’ll need to live somewhere else. There’s a coverage on your home insurance policy called Loss of Use which covers additional living expenses (ALE). Loss Of Use covers the additional costs while living elsewhere as your home is being rebuilt. During this time, you are still responsible for paying your mortgage (even when you are not living at home).
Can my homeowners insurance be cancelled?
Yes. You can be cancelled for many reasons such as….If you have filed a claim (or several claims), haven’t paid your bill, are in a high fire risk area, your home doesn’t show pride of ownership. We hear from dozens of homeowners weekly saying they’ve been with the same carrier for 20 years and have never made a claim, but they are being cancelled. This is sadly happening throughout California due to the increase in wildfires. Every carrier is non-renewing loyal customers. It’s nothing personal. The wildfires have caused insurance companies to become unprofitable and by non-renewing policies in wildfire areas, they eliminate future risk.
How much wildfire insurance do I need for my home?
It’s best to contact a local contractor and ask what the average price per square foot is to rebuild in your area. Most average homes cost $150-$250/sq ft to rebuild, but if you live in an area like San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Malibu, Los Gatos…etc., this figure can increase dramatically. We also recommend a minimum of $300,000 in liability coverage and home owners should seriously consider an Umbrella policy for an extra $1,000,000 of liability coverage.
How much does wildfire insurance cost in California?
California fire insurance ranges in pricing drastically. This is like asking how much is car insurance? Well, what kind of car do you have? How old are you? Do you have any DUIs, tickets or accidents? How many miles a year do you drive? Full coverage or liability only?…etc. Home insurance pricing is generally determined by the home’s location, size, quality and prior claim history.
What does a California FAIR Plan policy cover?
A California Fair Plan (CFP) policy can cover damage from Fire, Lightning, Internal Explosion, Smoke, Wind, Hail, Riot, Vandalism, Malicious Mischief, Aircraft, and Vehicles. We highly recommend pairing the CFP policy with a Difference In Conditions (DIC aka Wrap-Around) policy. The DIC policy covers items that the CFP doesn’t such as water damage (the #1 reason for home insurance claims), liability (someone gets hurt at your property), and theft. The 2 policies combined mimic a traditional home insurance policy. A CFP policy will satisfy lender requirements. Learn about the 2021 updates to the CFP.
Can I be denied homeowners insurance coverage?
Yes, there are several reasons you may be denied home insurance. Today, most traditional insurance carriers aren’t insuring homes in wildfire and high brush areas. Homes are given several ratings/scores based on their location by a 3rd party known as the ISO (Insurance Services Office). These figures are used by insurance carriers to determine eligibility. Most insurance carriers won’t insure a home with a Fireline score over 3 and/or a home in a PPC (Public Protection Class) of a 9 or 10. Several other factors such as a home’s accessibility and wind patterns affect insurability too.
Do insurance companies cover wildfires?
Home insurance (aka Fire Insurance) covers damage caused by wildfires up to the policy limits. In very rare cases, a policy may have a wildfire exclusion. Even if the fire doesn’t directly damage a home, insurance covers indirect damage from smoke, ash and soot. Arson by the property owner is not covered by home insurance as this is an intentional act.
What does homeowners insurance cover?
Homeowners insurance is a type of insurance that helps protect your home and belongings in the event of a covered loss. It can help pay for repairs or replacement costs if your home is damaged or destroyed. Most homeowners insurance policies also provide personal liability coverage, which can help protect you if someone is injured on your property.
A homeowners insurance policy typically covers the following:
- Dwelling coverage: This helps protect your home’s structure, including the roof, walls, and foundation.
- Other structures coverage: This helps protect structures on your property that are not attached to your home, such as a detached garage or shed.
- Personal property coverage: This helps protect your personal belongings, such as furniture, clothing, and electronics.
- Loss of use coverage: This helps cover additional living expenses if you need to temporarily live elsewhere due to a covered loss.
- Personal liability coverage: This helps protect you if someone is injured on your property.
Some homeowners insurance policies also provide coverage for things like:
- Water backup and sump pump overflow: This helps protect your home from water damage caused by backed-up sewers or drains.
- Ordinance or law coverage: This helps cover the cost of rebuilding your home to comply with local building codes or ordinances.
- Identity theft coverage: This helps cover the cost of restoring your identity if it’s stolen.
Your homeowners insurance needs will vary depending on things like the value of your home, the amount of personal belongings you have, and your location. You can tailor your policy by adding or increasing coverage for specific items or risks. For example, you may want to add coverage for high-value items like jewellery or art, or increase your personal liability coverage if you have a lot of visitors to your home.
Homeowners insurance can help protect your home and belongings in the event of a covered loss. It’s important to understand what your policy covers and how to tailor it to fit your needs.