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Homeowners insurance costs are increasing

If you're saving for a rainy day, maybe you should set aside some of that money to cover a likely increase in your homeowners insurance premium at policy renewal time.

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A California Department of Insurance spokesman acknowledges that the state insurance regulatory agency has been fielding numerous requests for homeowner rate increases in 2002. Through the third-quarter, said the DOI's Scott Edelen, "we received 72 insurance company requests to raise rates. We review each one to ensure all are appropriate."

Edelen indicated that more rate hike proposals are expected. "There's a trend there, and part of it has to do with increased claim costs and the general downturn of the economy."

Edelen's comments hit home with Granville DeMerritt, a longtime Northern California homeowner. "I have both my auto insurance and homeowners coverage with State Farm, and my agent recently informed me that my auto rates are going up by $80. I assume that he'll tell me pretty much the same thing when I renew my homeowners policy," said DeMerritt, of Santa Rosa.

"I'm not happy about what's going on with my insurance costs, but I'm pretty much in the same boat with my neighbors, so what can I do?" DeMerritt asked rhetorically.

DeMerritt takes little comfort from reasons cited for rising rates. "Homeowners rates are rising because of a continued high level of catastrophe activity," confirmed Dr. Robert Hartwig, chief economist with the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

As an example, Dr. Hartwig cited "the large hurricane that struck the Gulf Coast in October," causing some $600 million in insured losses."

Another III official noted that "catastrophe activity" isn't the only factor fueling homeowner insurance cost increases. "The emergence of mold claims are pushing homeowners insurance rates upward," said Loretta L. Worters, vice president of communications for III in New York.

Amplifying on her point, Worters said that "mold claims, which were virtually unheard of just a few years ago-cost homeowners insurers more than $1 billion last year, approximately five times the cost in 2000."

Worters characterized the rising mold claims trend as a "21st century phenomenon" and she singled out three factors fueling the pattern. "Multi-million dollar jury awards, sensationalized reporting in the media and profiteering by some individuals have led to an explosion in mold claims and costs," she asserted.

A lawyer with the American Insurance Association talks about insurance company losses. "Losses for insurers in homeowners coverage has skyrocketed in recent years," said Dave Snyder, assistant general counsel for AIA, a Washington, D.C.-based insurance trade group.

"There's been dramatic deterioration resulting from increased claims payments in part reflecting the hysteria over mold and overall negative financial conditions for insurers," added Snyder.

Snyder brought up an AIA-compiled statistic to buttress his point. "Profit from insurance transactions on homeowners insurance went from 5.4 percent in 1997 to minus 1.9 percent in 2000," the latest year where statistics are available, he said.

The National Association of Homebuilders reports costs of home repairs has gone up about 5% a year, and make no mistake, that trend contributes to the pressure felt by insurance rates.

NAH researcher Gopal Ahluwalia confirmed that the median age of housing stock is 30 years old. That means that homes are getting older, and as they age, they need repair. "Everything in the home has a certain life. Nothing last forever except for the foundation, which can last 100 years," said Ahluwalia, director of research at NAH, in Washington, D.C.

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