Gerri Willis Commentary:
Top Tips by Gerri Willis Column archive
Getting homeowners insurance
5 Tips Home Edition: What to do if you have no coverage.
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK ( - Insurance isn't protecting homeowners like it used to. Today more and more insurance companies are refusing to write new policies in vulnerable areas and canceling other homeowner policies in order to help their bottom line.

In today's top 5 Tips we're going to tell you what you can do if you find yourself without coverage.

1. You have options

If your insurer refuses to renew your policy coverage, don't sweat it. The insurance industry is still rife with competition. If you live in areas outside of Florida or Texas, you'll have a lot of options, says Amy Bach, founder of the insurance information Web site

Some states have hundreds of insurers you may not know about. The Internet has opened up many more opportunities to find these players.

And if you do live in an area that has seen more than its fair share of natural disasters, chances are your state has set up a joint underwriters program are insurance pools that sell insurance to people who can't get coverage in the private market. But this should really be a last resort. These policies are expensive and don't give you as much coverage as a private insurer.

2. Get the blueprint

There are three basic ways you can get coverage. Of course you can go to one of three insurance behemoths -- State Farm, Nationwide and Allstate. Here you will work with one agent who will assess your situation and suggest policies within that company for you. You'll be paying commissions of about 15 to 18 percent generally, according to Rich Attanasio of insurance rating company AM Best.

You can also go through independent insurance agents who can help you compare quotes from several large insurers, but you'll be paying about 20 percent in some cases.

The cheapest option may be to call direct agents like AIG Direct or Geico and avoid commissions altogether. Unfortunately, according to AM Best, there aren't many homeowner policies that are sold directly by the seller.

3. Meet your needs

Make sure you know how much insurance you're going to need. Estimate how much it would cost to replace your home by calculating how many square feet you have and multiply that number by the local construction cost per square foot for homes in your neighborhood.

To find out these construction costs, call your local real estate agent or builders association. Web sites like InsWeb have free cost calculators. If you have a rare art collection or you collect antiques or have expensive jewelry, you'll want to buy additional coverage. In most cases a homeowners policy will only cover jewelry for $1,000 to $2,000.

4. Shop around

Get quotes from direct sellers and Web sites like or You always want to see what the smaller guys are offering before you go to a large insurer. This way you may have more leverage as a customer.

You can also check in with your state's insurance commissioner at to see if there are any complaints that have been lodged against the company.

5. Get flood insurance

We've all seen the headlines about how financially strapped the Federal Flood insurance program is. That shouldn't deter you from getting flood insurance. According to the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers, there is an overhaul of the system in progress. For one thing, the program is going to be able to get more money from the government, says Sue Nester of the IIAB.

And considering that flooding is the most costly natural disaster in the U.S., and only about 1 in 4 homes in high risk areas carry this kind of protection, you should think about this coverage. Go to for more information. You can get coverage of up to $250,000 for the house and $100,000 for what's inside it. And while that's not a lot of coverage, at least it's something. The average premium is about $450 a year.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.comTop of page

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