Home Insurance in Truckee & North Tahoe in the Age of Big Fire

There’s no denying the historic impact wildfires have had on the state of California. Every year seems to achieve new feats of destruction.

We’re a state on the edge of the continent, subject to a wide range of dynamic weather patterns, and held hostage to Mother Nature’s many moods.

Yet, despite these risks, northern California offers countless lifestyle benefits to outweigh them, advantages that tip the scales steeply in favor of happiness and positively. Fires aside, we love it here.

Still, the realities are what they are, to coin a phrase, and we need to face them.

Wildfire Solutions in Northern California

The solutions to our fire problems are vast, complex, and involve getting over, around, and through a compendium of political and social challenges.

The best we can all do is abide by the number of simple things our combined fire forces recommend, such as respecting fire bans, creating defensible space around our homes, and being prepared to move quickly when wildfires are reported.

Unfortunately, another quickly growing concern among homeowners in many parts of forested California, especially here in Truckee and North Tahoe, is the trend of home insurance companies refusing to write policies for home buyers.

Craig Rowe, a homeowner who purchased a home in Truckee in June, 2017, was refused by three different companies—before that October’s massive Tubbs Fire.

“We didn’t think anything of it at the time, why wouldn’t a company want our business?,” Rowe said. “State Farm told us no, Farmers denied us. We landed at AAA.”

They bought their home in Olympic Heights, between Downtown Truckee and Glenshire.

The devastation in Paradise, CA last year brought to light the dangers of the wildland-urban interface, and its realities are something every family in the region has to understand before buying a home in Truckee or North Tahoe.

Thus, when it comes to looking for insurance on your new or second home here, don’t expect your current carrier to simply accept you with a smile and handshake. Wildfires have made home insurance a serious business in our area.

California Wildfires Growing Every Year

A November, 2018 New York Times article, written in the midst of the Camp Fire, stated that “Of the 20 worst wildfires in state [California] history, four were just last year, giving rise to a record $12.6 billion of insurance claims.”

Slightly less than half of our state’s homes are built along the wildland-urban interface, and are thus subject to additional scrutiny by insurance providers.

In another 2018 column about our fires, Inc.com published a story that included this from Los Angeles Times reporter Laura Newberry:

“As California wildfires grow larger and more intense, an increasing number of insurance companies are not renewing policies for customers who live in areas they deem too risky to cover. The state estimates that more than one million California homes are considered at high risk for wildfires.”

Thankfully, California has a number of rules in place to prevent insurance providers from spiking rates directly after a particularly disastrous year. Jumps in price have to be gradually put in place.

Nevertheless, with the right amount of paperwork, rate increases can be put in place after more moderate years, giving companies the chance to hedge their bets against ever-unpredictable wildfire seasons.

Home Insurance Companies On High Alert

Home insurance companies are digging deeper into the results of home inspections done during escrow, and sending their own teams over to investigate risks that at one time, wouldn’t have made a home uninsurable.

California isn’t the only state facing these kinds of challenges. Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and most of the Rocky Mountain west have their share of life-altering fire risks, too.

States look to one another for industry trends—after all, we’re talking about giant companies behind these policies. Despite how “local” your agent claims to be, they have little say in how policies are formed. This means that fires in other states affect what Californians pay.

So, what can you do?

Kari recommends …

  • Start working as soon as possible with your insurance agent. Similar to getting mortgage pre-approval, help your agent understand where you’re thinking of buying a home.
  • Ask them if they cover homes in the neighborhoods you prefer. Get a list of things you can do to possibly lower your rates in the face of increased costs because of wildfire risks.
  • Talk to others in the community who they work with. Jump on Next Door or Facebook and do a quick poll. You’ll probably learn more than you want to about folks’ opinions, but some wisdom is sure to come of it.
  • Review the Defensible Space sites for both Truckee, Tahoe Donner and CalFire.
  • Consider tree removal. We know. No one wants to anyone to take down trees around here. Isn’t it why we choose to live here? Truth is, sometimes the risk of fire outweighs the benefits of shade and songbirds. Plus, Cal Fire might very well order you to do it.

In the end, all we can do is exercise common sense and listen to the experts.

Remember what’s truly important in the face of wildfire risk: family. If your default is to protect that first, you ultimately won’t lose much.

Contact Kari if you need to speak with some potential insurance partners, or want advice from other clients already living in the area.

Be safe out there.

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