Screening a new home insurance company

Use an independent insurance agent

An independent agent can help you wend through the maze of insurance information.

"Your insurance agent should be really able to guide you," Boos says.

Banghart used this approach, figuring an independent agent "might have had some practical experience with these companies."

He also wanted a locally based agent familiar with the peculiarities of his area, such as susceptibility to sinkholes.

A good independent agent has an idea of how long a company has been in business, its financial strength and whether it has locations in other states. An agent also should be there to aid customers who have claims, Boos says.

"They're there to advocate for you," she says.

Do more digging

The Internet is a great resource for news articles written about a home insurance company, as well as other background information, Pulliam says.

Also, don't hesitate to ask the company itself for information. Companies that want your business will provide information on their financial ratings, she says.

The premium alone should not be the deciding factor, Young says.

"If your premium is too low, I would be extra leery of it," she says. "There might not be enough set aside for claims."

Once a company looks promising, there are still questions to ask. John Rushe, a partner in Werle & Rushe Insurance Agency, in Erie, Pa., says many insurers will offer three tiers of insurance -- basic, broad and special form -- with varying levels of coverage.

A basic policy might not cover damage due to the crushing weight of ice and snow, while a broad policy might. The cost difference may be only a few dollars per year.

Consumers also should ask whether the company uses in-house or independent adjusters if a catastrophe strikes, Rushe says. There's nothing wrong with independent adjusters, but if Pennsylvania is walloped by a bad snowstorm, their services will be in demand from numerous companies.

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