What is Unique about Homeowner’s Insurance in San Francisco?

Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco CA

Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco CA

What is unique about writing insurance in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, and Marin Counties?
Why did I start an Independent Insurance Brokerage?
When I started selling insurance, I was originally ‘affiliated’ with one insurance carrier.  To be clear, it was a ‘family of insurance companies’ really, which is rather common in the property and casualty industry.  Perhaps I will explain that one day in a future blog post.   My original affiliation was a well known and marketed company – you probably have heard of them.  They made the rules about which homes they would write and offer insurance on and I worked to follow their rules and write as much insurance as I could.  The problem I found was that certain properties were very hard to place with this company – not all policies all the time, but some of them some of the time.  Marin County has to be one of the hardest counties to write in insurance in and around. It was exacerbated by the county I worked and lived in.   For agents that lived in Contra Costa or Alameda counties, agents that worked in Sacramento, maybe San Jose it was more likely less of a problem or an issue.  But for me, in Marin County, I found it a real challenge and issue.
“Marin County has to be one of the hardest counties to write insurance in”
That is why I left to become a broker and start my own Independent Insurance Brokerage – Agency, Marindependent Insurance Services several years ago (now Marindependent Insurance Services LLC).  We offer, home, auto, umbrella, small business and Term life Insurance.   We process standard and non-standard policies with admitted state carriers and non admitted carriers (such as Lloyds of London) when the time is right.  We are both an independent Brokerage and and Independent Agency.  What is the difference between a broker and an agent?
I found it to be a real challenge writing good insurance policies at fair rates for four main reasons.  Many of these reasons apply to other parts or regions in California and beyond.

Topography of the Bay Area

First, lets just say that there is the topography of the bay area.   According to Websters, Topography can be defined as “the configuration of a surface including its relief and the position of its natural and man-made features:  In short we have both the coast AND the mountains.  And of course we also have the weather here, if you live or work in Marin, Sonoma, or San Francisco –  you know what I mean.   As with most of the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area, we have fault lines right under the county.  We have slopes and we have homes built right into them.  We have narrow roads up those slopes.  Those thin roads up those steep hills are not easy for fire engines to traverse.  Marin’s flood planes are prone to water inundation.   Much of the county lies on the eastern side on a rather narrow strip of land that is often undeserved (in an emergency) by only one real highway, Highway 101.
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Perils of San Francisco and beyond

Second, the Perils – We all Know that California is something of a peril haven so to speak.- the San Francisco Bay Area is even more so.   We have forest fires, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and  mud slides –  all on top of the common perils of Theft, Fire, Lighting, etc. That is just a partial list really, there are a lot lot more.    Some of these are covered under a typical homeowner policy, but many are not.  Should you get flood insurance?  Should you consider adding Earthquake Coverage?  What about a sewer and backup as an endorsement? These are many of the common peril related options that we need to discuses.   I won’t even get into the liability side of your standard property insurance form with pools, pit bulls, and all.    With homeowners insurance the policy form that you have can be of particular importance, depending on your situation.   Having the freedom to shop for a certain insurance form can be a real benefit to my clients.
Third, I found the pricing to be a real challenge.  It has been said that in the absence of value, price is everything.  When you are selling a homeowners insurance policy and the initial quote comes back $650, there is really not all that much to shave off a quote like that.  Unfortunately for Marin residents, those types of premiums are not too common; a number such as $2,000 and up is not unheard of.   With the higher premiums, in my opinion, comes the direct need to go out and service your client better by pulling more quotes from other A rated companies and confirming that the correct endorsements are added onto the policy such as the Extended Replacement Cost EndorsementWhy should you concern yourself with the rating of the insurance company?  That is a complicated subject, in short I tell people that credit worthiness with insurance companies is almost always important.

Insurance Carriers:

Forth and possible last are the Insurance Carriers themselves.  Almost all insurance carriers have certain restrictions and guidelines on what they will and will not quote.  Some carriers will not write in tier one coastal counties, others will not write on certain slope angles, many have coverage A limits that are well below the typical home in Sonoma, Marin, or San Francisco counties.  (Coverage A is essentially the rebuild value on your house.)  One, I know of, won’t take flat roofs, many do not like open pier homes.   Some will not accept wood stoves or older homes in general.  Most wont take dogs such Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Chow Chows, Dobermans, Huskies, and others.  Some are more interested in writing a policy with you only if you have not had property claims.  Many will only take you as part of the full insurance package (with the auto insurance as well).  Its all a long and complicated list that takes time to sort through. How on earth the average consumer can figure this all out? – I really have no idea.
So those were ‘some’ of the challenges that I was faced with; the topography, the perils, the pricing, and the carriers themselves.  There were some other reasons, but those were the most salient.  That is why I decided to set out on my own course and set up a true independent insurance group.   I can now choose the best carriers as I see fit, the best carriers to fit each individual situation.

Why did I go independent and become a broker?

That brings me to the point of why I ‘went independent’.  I could have formed just another captive insurance agency, but instead I formed an independent brokerage – agency. I formed Marindependent Insurance Services LLC because I did not feel that I could serve clients in the Bay Area when I was only representing one insurance group or group of companies. If that insurance carrier came back and said that they would not consider the property in question or if they put up a price that was really high, I had very little recourse and essentially no other options.   Now, as a broker, I have a whole group of A rated companies to choose from.  They come in with various pricing and options on various insurance forms.  We review these quotes together, often times price wins the day and leads us to be the best option.  But not always, sometimes coverage types and forms are the most important, sometimes credit worthiness.   In essence, I gave up the coziness of a name brand and instead created my own.   This is essentially the real benefit of working with a broker.  Now you can reap the benefits of  working with a broker and that brand and that independence.
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How do we do business together?

To start off with, we start out by evaluating  what you have, your home, your auto, umbrella, you decide where to start.  Unlike many people in the industry I am comfortable starting with just one simple policy.  Click on the sidebar on the right and quickly fill out a contact form.    I will get you a quote in very fast order.  If I can not save you money or dramatically increase coverage – that I typically will suggest not making any changes at this time.

Marindependent Insurance Services LLC- Independent Insurance Services for the San Francisco Bay Area.  Broker and Agent.
Credit is given to Public Domain Photos for the use of their picture.
Note – Please always check the financial strength rating of any insurance company you are considering.
As with all of my Blog Posts, kindly read my full set of disclosures.  Reading online blog posts is not a replacement for meeting with and discussing your insurance needs with a licensed insurance broker or agent.