April 3, 2011

Storms blamed as home insurance rates rise in Kansas

C.K. ODell is not a happy home insurance rate payer.

C.K. ODell is not a happy home insurance rate payer.

Even though the Wichita retiree raised her deductible to $1,500, her home insurance premium still rose $117 last year — a 19 percent increase. It would have shot up by $299 if she had not raised the deductible. The premium rose the year before that as well, but not as much, after she raised the deductible to $1,000.

"Every year, I would go talk to my insurance agent and said, 'Hey what's going on?' " ODell said.

Homeowners insurance premiums have been rising in Kansas, and the increase partly stems from storm damage over the past few years, a state official said.

With particularly damaging storm seasons over the past three to four years, "those losses are working their way through the system and are causing rates to go up," said Jim Newins, director of the property and casualty division of the Kansas Insurance Department.

In 2009, it was not uncommon to see insurance companies raising rates by 10 to 20 percent, Newins said.

According to figures cited by Homeinsurance.com, the average Kansas home insurance premium rose from $886 in August to $930 in December.

September was a particularly bad month for storm damage. In September, weather-related claim losses for insured real and personal property totaled an estimated $150 million statewide, according to the Insurance Department.

The National Weather Service reported windstorms and hail on eight days in September. Hail hit especially hard on Sept. 15 in south central and southeast Kansas, including the counties of Sedgwick, Butler, Reno, McPherson, Cowley and Greenwood, said insurance commissioner spokesman Bob Hanson.

According to data reported by InsuranceSalesman.com, Kansas has some of the higher home insurance premiums because of damage from wind, tornadoes and hail. Texas and Florida have the highest rates in the nation. The site said that Forbes magazine reported that the average rate in Texas is $1,238.

In Kansas, the Insurance Commissioner's Office has received on average 514 complaints each year about homeowners insurance, not all of them about increases in premiums. There is no breakdown.

The Insurance Information Institute says that among factors used to determine the price of a policy are: square footage of the house and any additional structures; area building costs; the home's construction, materials and features; the neighborhood crime level; likelihood of damage from natural disasters; distance to a fire hydrant and fire station, whether the fire service is professional or volunteer and other factors that affect the time it takes to extinguish fires; and the condition of the plumbing, heating and electrical systems.

Some of the tips the institute gives for saving money:

* Shop around because prices vary.

* Raise your deductible.

* Buy auto and home policies from the same insurer: Some insurers will cut the premium by 5 to 15 percent if you buy two or more policies.

* Make your home more disaster-resistant by, for example, using stronger roofing materials, and modernized plumbing and electrical systems, to reduce risk of fire and water damage.

* Ask about discounts for home security devices.

* Annually review policy limits and the value of your possessions.

ODell, the Wichita retiree, said she has been so frustrated with her rising home insurance costs that she filed a complaint with the Insurance Department, which prompted her insurance company to call and say it would investigate her concerns.

So far, the insurance company has not given her an explanation for the increases, she said.

ODell has been with the same insurer for about 22 years and said she has filed only one claim during that time — when she had roof damage on one of her rental properties in 2009.

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