Consumer Watch: Guide to buying the best home

Consumer Watch: Guide to buying the best home

June 1st, 2014 by Ellen Phillips in Business Diary

Ellen Phillips

Ellen Phillips

As many of you may recall, ShopSmart, an arm of Consumer Reports, is one of my primary go-to research resources, and the current issue is no exception. With my husband's and my auto and home insurance renewals looming, I'm frantically checking to see if I can beat our current insurer's rates and services. I was delighted to find an article in ShopSmart that lends itself to my search and with little-known consumer facts of which to beware.

Too many companies refuse to pay large claims. Research shows that homeowners with a loss of $30,000 or more suffer the most argument from their insurance companies and, even if they pay, the reimbursement is slow in coming. Both ShopSmart and my investigation into advocacy groups say to insure with those companies that (Duh) pay its claims; the best in the most surveys, in order, are Amica, Auto-Owners, and USAA.

Watch out for first offers on claims. Following the tornado disaster of three years ago, lots of folks, including yours truly, had to get their roofs replaced. When the adjuster checked things out at our house, he named a fix-it quote almost $2,000 below what two roofing companies had quoted. I asked the adjuster to go over the other estimates, line by line, until some agreement was reached between the leading roofing and the insurance company. For those not so fortunate, reach out to a public adjuster; for a percentage of the payout, usually 10 percent, this person will negotiate for you. Find one online at the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (

You are not the sole beneficiary of a payout check. If you have a mortgage, the insurance company sends you AND the mortgage company the proceeds. You must endorse the check, send it to the mortgager, and wait for these folks to reimburse you before you pay the contractor. This can mean lots of dunning calls and notices, even though contractors should know this is the way the process works.

Some of the most well-known names are the world's worse to dump their customers after paying large legitimate claims, making it even more imperative to research your insurer and shop for the best you can afford. Once you move your business to a new company, move it all - home, auto, jewelry, umbrella, etc. - to get the best deal and the most peace of mind.

Insure certain valuables separately. Fine jewelry, furs, artwork, and sterling silver are often the items placed on a personal property rider. A standard homeowner's policy simply doesn't cover many of these. Appraisals are necessary to insure your valuables. (And just in case some of you don't think your jewelry, for example, is valuable enough for replacement costs, check out your engagement ring. The price of gold and the stone(s) probably exceed what compensation you're allowed on a standard policy.)

ShopSmart tells us that the Top Ten for auto, home, and life insurance are: 1) Amica; 2) USAA; 3) Auto-Owners; 4) Erie; 5) Nationwide; 6) MetLife; 7) Hartford; 8) State Farm; 9) Travelers; and 10) Liberty Mutual. Unfortunately, Amica and USAA, within the Top Three on most lists, are considerably more expensive, especially with regards to their homeowners.

And don't forget the importance of an agent. The very best ones will take a personal interest in you and your family, offer the best advice for your insurance issues, and steer your well-being in the right direction.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer books. Email her at consumer