Over the past decade, it is estimated that 60% of residential homes are undervalued by roughly 15%-20%—and that was before the recent explosion in construction costs.
“Full coverage." Does that phrase sound familiar? It should because we've heard it said by claimants in errors & omissions claim after errors & omissions claim. Why does the insured have inadequate limits? Because you assured them—incorrectly, it turns out—that they had “full coverage." To make matters worse, you never mentioned a thing about coinsurance or replacement cost, which is how—they solemnly explain to the jury—they wound up with a severely uninsured loss.
Over the past decade, Marshall & Swift/Boeckh estimate that some 60% of residential homes are undervalued by roughly 15%-20%—and that was before the recent explosion in construction costs caused by supply chain issues, hurricanes, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. You've of course heard that the current rate of inflation may be as much as 8% on an annual basis, according to the U.S. Labor Department, but the cost to repair or rebuild a damaged property, residential or commercial, is up by about 15%.
Consider the implications of the number of underinsured properties in the context of your business. The odds are, many of your customers were already underinsured by their own choice but, even if their policy limits were exactly where they needed to be a year ago, inflation has put even those sensible customers at risk of incurring a coinsurance penalty.
If you're like the vast majority of agents, you have a lot of customers concentrated in a relatively small geographic region. What if it gets hit by a wildfire, hurricane, tornado, derecho or severe rainstorm? You could wind up with dozens of claims involving customers whose limits are not enough to repair or rebuild their property.
Sadly, given the number of customers who have claims each year and the likelihood that inflationary pressures have rendered their limits inadequate, it won't take a catastrophe to have claimants—and their attorneys—lined up at your door.
There is, however, a silver lining to this ominous, dark cloud. In ordinary times, if you asked a customer if they would like a quote with higher limits, their inevitable response would be, “Why?" And in ordinary times, your sensible reply—that it makes good sense to reassess limits periodically to ensure that the property is insured to value—would have often been met with a shrug or “Maybe next year …."
This year is different, and these are not ordinary times. Plus, inflation is very much in the news these days, so your suggestion that it is time to revisit limits and your explanation is much more likely to be heard.
Needless to say, your offer of a quote with higher limits should be made in writing, and you need to follow up to close the loop. If your customer still insists upon sticking with their current limits despite your explanation, that's their decision to make. Just be sure you document it.
If they express interest? Do not offer to assess the replacement cost of their property yourself—not unless you have serious training that qualifies you to make such an assessment, especially considering rapidly escalating prices. Ideally, their current property carrier will be willing to make that calculation. If not, be prepared to suggest a local professional resource, such as an appraiser or construction company, that can offer an expert opinion about the replacement cost of the property.
If the expense scares them off, suggest fallback options like an estimator program that calculates replacement cost based on location, square footage, construction type and a variety of other factors that your customer—not you—should provide. The insured is the best person to provide this data, and we have seen many E&O claims resulting from errors made when inputting key variables like square footage.
Once your customer has arrived at the correct value, obtain written quotes based on that figure. If the carrier has an available replacement guard endorsement, offer that, too. Again, document your customer's response, and if it is a “yes," get the new limit in place immediately. Remember: Too little, too late is no good for anyone.
Yes, this does sound like a lot of work. Bear in mind that many of these efforts will result in higher commissions for you as a side benefit of helping your customer. Still not convinced? Count the number of property policies written through your agency, then determine what the deductible is on your E&O policy—and the aggregate, if you're lucky enough to have one.
The real question isn't whether you can afford to make the effort required to contact all these customers; it's whether you can afford not to.
Matthew Davis is a vice president and claims manager with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions and works out of the Kansas City office. Insurance products underwritten by Westport Insurance Corporation and Swiss Re Corporate Solutions America Insurance Corporation, Kansas City, Missouri, members of Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.
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