No two words in the English language cause me more confusion or anxiety than “homeowner’s insurance.”
It wasn’t always that way. Back when my husband and I lived a mobile home, we were covered by an amazing insurance company. Believe me, it’s a good thing we were, because the mobile home seemed to be cursed. A tree fell through the roof, another tree crushed our newly erected fence, a pipe burst while we were away and formed a pond on our wall-to-wall carpeting, and we had a power surge that killed everything electronic – from the TV and stereo system to the computer.
And each time, we contacted the insurance company and they said, “Take some photos of the damages, get an estimate and submit it to us, and then we’ll send you a check.” And they did, within less than a week. Simple, no hassle.
Sadly, when we built our new house, we had to find another insurance company because the one we’d been using dealt strictly with mobile homes.
The first company I contacted seemed thrilled to have me as a potential new client. The woman asked me several questions, one of which was if I owned any dogs. I told her I had two rottweilers.
She was silent for several seconds before she said, “Oh…I’m sorry.” Her tone instantly had transformed from warm and cheerful to so chilly, my ear nearly got frostbite. “Rottweilers are on our 10-most-vicious-dogs list. We can’t insure you.”
Up until then, I hadn’t been aware that such a dog list even existed.
So I called another company…and another. And each time, I received the same reaction. The minute I mentioned the rottweilers, the agents hung up so fast, I could feel the breeze through the phone. .
I decided not to waste any more time and just get right to the point when I called the next batch of prospective insurers.
“Look,” I said, the minute they answered the phone. “I have two rottweilers. Will you insure my property?”
Not one of them said yes. By then, I was so frustrated, I seriously was tempted to say I had two toy poodles.
“But if you conceal information from the insurance company and then you have a fire or something and the claims guy comes over and sees two rottweilers standing there, he can cancel your policy right on the spot,” one of my friends pointed out.
“I can always say I’m just dog-sitting for someone,” I muttered.
Finally, one company came up with a compromise. They said they would insure my house and property, but not my dogs. In other words, if one of my dogs decided to gnaw her way through a couple walls in the house, run loose and de-pants someone or make fricassee out of the neighbor’s chickens, I was on my own. Still, it was a risk I was willing to take.
I paid the yearly premium and breathed a sigh of relief. Our new house finally was insured! It had taken me three months and about 50 phone calls, but for the first time, I felt as if I finally could relax and not have to worry about every little breeze or raindrop turning into a hurricane or a monsoon and destroying my uninsured property. The only thing I had to worry about was keeping my dogs in line.
Six months later, the insurance company called and said they’d decided to drop me and would refund the remaining portion of my premium. Before I even could ask why, the agent thanked me and hung up. I never was told why I’d been dumped. I suspected they’d watched the movie, “The Omen,” and witnessed the rottweilers turning people into human jerky. But that shouldn’t have concerned them. After all, my dogs weren’t even included in my insurance coverage.
So once again, I had to hunt for an insurance company. Luckily, someone told me about one that supposedly had no problem with insuring pit bulls, so I figured my rotties just might have a chance.
Sure enough, not only was the company more than happy to insure my house and the dogs, their rates were lower and also included a smaller deductible and better coverage. I truly believed everything had worked out for the best.
So for six years now, I have faithfully paid my annual $655 premium, feeling confident that if anything ever happened to my house or belongings, I’d be fully covered and quickly reimbursed, just like with my previous mobile-home insurance.
One night a couple weeks ago, however, that feeling of confidence totally vanished.
I was watching TV when suddenly, I heard the wind howling outside. It grew louder and louder, sounding like a freight train heading straight toward the house. Then came a crash.
I knew from past experience that anything crashing, especially on my own property, never was a good thing. After several minutes of hesitation, I took a deep breath and slowly creaked open the back door. The only tree close to the house – a tall oak that holds my bird feeder – had snapped. And a big part of it was lying on my chain-link fence, which no longer resembled a fence. It was a heap of tangled, twisted wire with bent pipes sticking up out of it. I groaned. Not only did I need that fence to keep out the coyotes and other creatures in the Wild Kingdom where I live, I needed it to keep my dogs – the savage, drooling, beasts – in the yard.
The next morning, I called my insurance company, described what had happened, and asked about filing a claim. I wasn’t feeling any stress because I was certain they’d swiftly handle all of my problems.
The agent didn’t immediately respond. Finally, he said, “Well…I don’t want to discourage you, but let me give you some advice. If you file a claim for something as minor as this, it will void your non-claim bonus of $189, which then will be added to your premium from now on. And in the future, if something really bad happens, like a house fire, and you have to file another claim, the company will see that you already have a claim on record and probably will cancel your policy.”
I nearly was too stunned to speak as I tried to digest what he was saying.
“You mean,” I said, “if I file this claim, my premium will go up and even though I keep paying the higher price for the next 20 years, you still can cancel my insurance if I ever try to file another claim?”
“Basically, yes,” he said.
“Then essentially, what you’re saying is I’m allowed to file only one claim, so I’d better make sure when I do, it’s a really good one – like the Queen Mother of all claims?”
He didn’t respond. He didn’t have to. He’d made his point – too clearly.
I hung up, upset. What good was having an insurance company, I wondered, if I was afraid to use it? And the worst part was this company was one of the popular ones, always advertising on TV and making it look as if filing a claim with them was a pleasurable experience - all hearts, flowers and ice-cream cones.
The next day, I called a fence company to get an estimate for the repairs. The guy came right over, measured the fence, poked at it, and then scratched his chin and said, “Hmm,” a lot as he scribbled notes on a pad of paper. He said he would get back to me with the estimate. He did mention I’d need three new sections of fence and some new pipe. He also said I should remove the tree before it caused any more damage.
But due to the snowstorms over the next few days, the tree has remained on my fence.
No matter how much the clean-up and repairs end up costing me, I’ve decided to forget about filing a claim. No, I’m going to save what I assume will be my one and only claim for something bigger and much more important, like a giant sinkhole swallowing the house, or a meteor crushing it into a pile of kindling.
I recently read that my insurance company has $98 billion in assets.
Gee, I can’t imagine why.
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