By Todd Wallack | BOSTON GLOBE STAFF JANUARY 28, 2013
Competition in the state’s car insurance market has yielded an unexpected benefit: Thousands of residents who once had to buy expensive home coverage from the Massachusetts FAIR Plan are increasingly able to find policies through other insurers, saving them hundreds of dollars a year on premiums.
The FAIR Plan, known as the insurer of last resort, provides home insurance in high-risk areas, including neighborhoods that have high crime rates or sit perilously close to the ocean. Home insurance companies have traditionally been reluctant to do business in such locations.
But since the state gave insurers more freedom to set their own auto insurance rates, starting in 2008 — something it calls “managed competition” — 13 more auto insurance companies have set up shop in Massachusetts, with most also selling homeowners policies or partnering with firms that do.
Over that time, the FAIR Plan lost nearly 27,000 homeowners insurance customers, or 16 percent of its base, an exodus few in the industry predicted.
“It is all driven by this shift in the competitive marketplace,” said Robert Tommasino, general counsel for the Massachusetts Property Insurance Underwriting Association, better known as the FAIR Plan.
Some insurers, including Narragansett Bay Insurance Co., also decided the escalating prices of premiums for coastal properties made it worth their while to start selling policies in those locations. Their strategy has been to undercut the FAIR Plan rates while still charging enough to turn a profit.
Bob Inello, whose waterfront home in Nahant is exposed to the wrath of storms, said he was forced to buy Fair Plan coverage for more than a decade. But three years ago, Inello said, his agent said he could switch to Narragansett, cutting his bill by $570 a year — more than 20 percent.
“I don’t feel like I am being held hostage anymore,” Inello said. “It’s very liberating.”
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There is now a new option for more than 58,000 Cape and Islands homeowners who have been relegated to the FAIR Plan for their insurance coverage.
Arthur D. Calfee Insurance Agency Inc., is introducing a new insurance program for Cape and Islands homeowners. Calfee Insurance have offices in Falmouth and North Falmouth but write insurance all over Cape Cod and throughout MA.
Homeowners switching from the FAIR Plan, which provides coverage for those unable to obtain it in the private market, can expect to save an average of $300 per year or more, said Davidson O. Calfee, President of Arthur D. Calfee Insurance Agency Inc.
"We think it's going to be pretty widely sought-after," Calfee said yesterday. "And the pricing is very competitive as well."
"We can write everything from waterfront, to those homes that might be located more inland such as the Mashpee and Sandwich area," he said. There is also
The new homeowner's insurance will be available to Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket homeowners with single-family homes worth between $200,000 and $5 million.
Homeowners insurance has been a significant concern on the Cape and Islands even before Hurricane Katrina hit the southern coast. Many private insurers began limiting their coverage in coastal areas or pulling out entirely.
Tens of thousands of homeowners were forced into the FAIR Plan. At the end of 2003, there were 10,007 Cape and Islands homes insured by the plan; today, it covers over 60,000 properties in the region.
Currently, 52 insurance companies offer homeowners coverage in at least parts of the Cape, according to the Web site of the state Division of Insurance. Other counties are served by dozens more insurers.
Some companies serving the Cape and Islands do so selectively, said Kevin Beagan, director of the State Rating Bureau, which reviews insurance filings for compliance with regulations.
It was this limited availability of homeowners coverage on the Cape and Islands that prompted Arthur D. Calfee Insurance Agency Inc. to develop its own product, Calfee said.
"The problem is, the reinsurance treaties have been getting more and more restrictive," Calfee said. "This creates an opportunity for someone to come in who has no exposure on the Cape today."
Calfee Insurance worked with UPC Insurance, to put together its new coverage offering. Because Buttine does not currently underwrite any homeowners policies on the Cape or Islands, it does not have to worry about incurring too much risk in the area.
United Property & Casualty Insurance Company ("UPC") is a Florida domiciled Property & Casualty stock insurance company located in St. Petersburg, Florida. UPC is a wholly owned subsidiary of United Insurance Holdings, L.C. whose parent company is United Insurance Holdings Corp., a publicly traded company.
The heart of the matter is the insurance protection you need for your home and family. UPC is your one source for superior and affordable homeowners protection to suit your lifestyle.
"We've been writing a lot of policies with Narragansett," Calfee said. He cautioned, however, that "not everybody qualifies and they are very selective."
State regulators and local insurance reform advocates were pleased to hear that a new homeowners insurance option is coming to the area.
"We always welcome new competition coming in to give a choice," Calfee said. "We're always happy to hear that there are companies that are looking to come back into the Cape."