Sunday, May 13, 2007

Can a claim by a previous homeowner on my house affect me?

Your homeowner insurance premium could very well rise if your house has what one insurance industry official called 'a history of problems.' A home that has "a history of problems, regardless of who owns it, faces higher premiums," emphasizes Dr. Robert Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Offering an example, Hartwig says that "a home with a history of burst pipes would reflect a plumbing problem that hadn't been addressed, so the new owner would probably face a higher premium until the problem is corrected. That should be a homeowner's incentive to make sure his or her home is in good working condition."

Among Hartwig's other observations on the subject …

  • A strong statistical correlation has been established between an individual property owner's prior claims history and the likelihood that claims will be filed in the future. Policyholders who file one claim are more likely to file future claims.
  • There also is a strong correlation between a particular property's claims history and the probability of additional losses at that location. Properties with a history of claims are likely to have more claims filed in the future.
  • As a result, insurers look at claims information related to both the applicant and the property itself. It is important to note that claims history is only one of many factors that go into determining whether to insure the property, and the appropriate premium to charge a homeowner.
  • Property claims history reports are collected and maintained in databases by at least two companies: ChoicePoint and the Insurance Services Office (ISO).

Hartwig's position drew no argument from Lynn Knauf, director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, in Des Plaines, Ill. "When evaluating applications for homeowners coverage, insurers may consider loss history of the dwelling as well as that of the applicant. Claims relevant to the dwelling may be an important determinate of future risk of loss even if those claims occurred prior to the applicant's purchase of the house.

Unfortunately, some homeowners insurers might find it necessary to take an adverse action on an application without requesting or waiting for proof that prior problems with a dwelling had been resolved or that the potential for future loss has been mitigated. This is because by law insurers have limited time to evaluate new business applications and often lack sufficient time for further investigations," says Knauf.

Offering a different perspective on the subject is Selective Insurance spokeswoman Cynthia Heismeyer. "While a damage claim made by a previous owner won't cause your homeowners premiums to be higher, the claim may be an underwriting factor that causes an insurer to not accept the risk," says Heismeyer, assistant vice president of corporate communications at Selective Insurance, in Branchville, N.J.

Elaborating on her point, Heismeyer offers an example. "While a claim such as off-premises theft would follow the person and not be a consideration during underwriting of a new homeowner policy," Heismeyer adds, "a claim for water damage might indicate a recurrent issue that would need to be considered during the underwriting process."

Your home's loss history is available. The Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange has a data base containing homeowners insurance claims history. "Your homeowner insurer may request a CLUE report on a given piece of property," explains Chubb spokesman Mark Schussel. "A bad report can hurt a seller's chances of getting the asking price, and could make homeowners insurance more difficult to obtain for the buyer."



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