President's MessageBuy The Guide
Unraveling one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our time!
Welcome to the Home Insurance Buyer Guide!
I'm a Florida homeowner, just like you.
When I moved to Florida in 1995, I found myself trying to figure out the two biggest unsolved mysteries in my lifetime:
- Who shot President Kennedy?
- Which homeowner insurance companies were still writing new business in Florida?
The mystery of who shot the president continues to this day.
But as a new Florida resident, I found the homeowner insurance shortage in 1995 puzzling.
I couldn't figure out why Florida homeowners insurance was so hard to find.
Hurricane Andrew, I was told.
That made sense.
According to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, it caused $15.5 billion in damage, produced 650,000 claims, and contributed to the collapse of 12 insurance companies. Since many insurers were trying to recover from their losses, it seemed logical that it would be harder to find private insurance.
So I asked the next logical question:
"Which homeowner insurance companies are still writing new business in Florida?"
The silence was deafening.
I couldn't get anyone to give me a straight answer.
My friends told me: "Contact as many agents as you can and see what you can find".
I spent a month looking without any luck.
Finally, a friend of mine who wrote most of the commercial insurance where I worked managed to get me a private homeowner's insurance policy with Kemper.
That experience taught me that getting a good homeowners policy in Florida was mostly about who you know. And like most of my neighbors who also pulled strings to get their coverage, I felt it was important to remain quiet about where I found my insurance.
Don't get me wrong. My friend had done me a huge favor and I was very grateful for the coverage. It was a good, affordable policy, with a well known company. But the policy came with a steep price - as a condition of giving me the homeowners coverage, Kemper required that my auto be insured with them as well.
For 9 years they charged me about $1,000 per year above market rates to insure that auto - a cost I absorbed because I felt so fortunate to have the private homeowner's insurance policy.
In 2004, my home suffered damage from both Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. I did not file a claim for either storm. Like many of you, I feel my insurance coverage should be there only for the most significant events and will not turn in smaller claims even if they exceed the deductible - not to mention my fear that filing a claim would cause Kemper to drop my policy.
When Hurricane Wilma struck in 2005, I had no choice but to file a claim. Kemper settled that claim fairly and within a reasonable timeframe.
In June of 2006, I received a phone call at home from Kemper. It was the first time I'd ever heard directly from them in ten years. They wanted to know if the damage from Hurricane Wilma had been repaired. I thought they would be happy to hear that the repairs had been made. They asked me a second time: "Was the damage from Hurricane Wilma repaired?" Again I said yes.
I didn't know it at the time, but the company was following the provisions of a 2005 law passed in Florida which mandated that a homeowner's policy couldn't be non-renewed until at least 90 days had elapsed after the completion of home repairs resulting from a claim. I thought they really cared about the repairs being made to my home. The reality was that they were simply trying to find out if they could non-renew me.
Sure enough, about one week later in June, I received a letter from Kemper stating that I would be non-renewed in October since they were exiting the homeowner's insurance business in Florida.
I started to shop around.
I found the mystery of "who is writing private homeowners insurance coverage in Florida" to be alive and well in 2006. Just like it was in 1995.
My agent told me if I ended up with a Citizens policy that my insurance would cost over $10,000 per year - a huge increase over the $3,800 I had been paying Kemper. However, they found a private insurance policy for $7,700. While I definitely experienced sticker shock - I felt relieved to find a private carrier.
However, as you know, in Florida you are only one cookout or conversation away from finding out that your friend or neighbor has a much better deal on homeowners insurance than you do. That's what happened to me.
A friend told me about another agent who was writing private insurance with a different company at a much better price than I was paying. So I paid a visit to that agent. Sure enough, I found another policy with a private company for an annual premium of $5,500. I immediately signed up for this policy and thought I was doing great.
When I called my long time agent to cancel the $7,700 policy, they somehow managed to come up with another policy for me - for a lot less than the $5,500 policy I had just signed up for. So I ended up staying with my long time agent after all.
This experience taught me one thing……..
My long time agent didn't offer me insurance with the most affordable option until they figured out I was actively shopping the policy and that I understood the marketplace. I sincerely believe that this policy was available to me from the beginning, but the agent wanted to lead with the most expensive policies first.
But more importantly, after this experience, I was determined to find a way to help Florida homeowners take the mystery out of finding homeowners insurance. If Buyers Guides exist for cars and appliances, then why can't they be published for homeowners insurance?
This led directly to the creation of the Home Insurance Buyers Guide, LLC - an organization that offers you two weeks access to our on-line buyers guide database for just $19.99 in the Florida county of your choice.
Our service will help you find, screen, and contact the Florida home insurance companies still writing new business in your area.
Creating this service was a huge task.
It took us over nine months just to compile and verify the data. We've identified 40 licensed, private homeowner's insurance companies that are still accepting new business. (On average, there are 24 companies writing new business in each county.)
The larger, well-known companies are continuing to reduce their homeowner exposure in Florida. However, there are smaller, more recently formed companies that are providing private coverage to Floridians - good companies that may be able to cover you if you know who they are and how to find them. These companies are in short supply and many of them are only writing a limited number of policies in your area. You need to act quickly to obtain one of these policies.
As a result of this research, we've found some good websites out there that do a nice job reporting on things like financial stability, number of years in business, and customer service history. We've looked at all of that information and have developed a Buyers Guide Rating © - one rating that takes into consideration all of the above factors for each company and more. If you want to look at all those websites, we'll tell you how to find them. But if you only want to look in one place, the Buyers Guide Rating © helps you narrow the field to only the best companies and will save you hours of research.
I'm passionate about helping you to find affordable, private homeowners insurance in Florida. But I'm also excited about providing ways for you to rate your satisfaction with your current insurance company, share policy cost information, and to send a continuous message to your legislators.
Together, we can make sure this mystery remains solved once and for all. The Emergency Legislation of 2007 was a good start - but the crisis is far from over. We're pleased to be able to offer the Buyers Guide for the benefit of homeowners who want to take control of their insurance costs.
Finally, let's recognize an important fact that is lost in all of the negative reporting about the insurance crisis. Florida is still a great place to live!
Going forward, I hope you will help us find more ways to help you. Any and all feedback is welcome. I look forward to working together with my fellow Floridians.
Michael J. Letcher
Home Insurance Buyers Guide, LLC
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