Homeowners insurance - fire coverage - in Oakmore Neighborhood

Hi folks,

We currently are renting in the Berkeley Hills and moving to the Oakmore Neighborhood in Oakland.  We're looking for homeowners insurance, but were told by a number of carriers it's in a high fire risk zone so they won't cover us.  This was surprising to us - I thought that since we're on the other side of 13, it was considered lower fire risk than areas like Montclair, Piedmont Pines, etc.  Farmers said they'll cover us, but without fire protection, for which we'd need to go through the state program, which is incredibly expensive.  

Does anyone have any advice on homeowners insurance companies in this area that will cover home + fire?  Thanks in advance!

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I would recommend going to an insurance broker, who will represent you and find you the best deal. I have used McDermott Costa in San Leandro with success. Direct writers such Farmers, State Farm, Allstate do not always have your best interest at stake and can decide to stop writing policies or drop you suddenly. A good broker will have your back. It’s also one stop shopping which makes it easier. Good luck!

We don't know of a specific company (maybe Geico?) that would cover it if they do certain underwriting for the fire risk. Unfortunately, we have friends in the Berkeley Hills who had homeowner's insurance and subsequently dropped from their plans once the wildfire seasons kept becoming too high of a risk. Our friends have since all moved out of the hills too. We had to get flood insurance for our home and it was covered by FEMA, which ended up being much cheaper than any other private insurer. I don't know if they have a program like that for fires that might be cheaper than the state programs?

We had a hard time finding coverage for our Berkeley Hills home when we bought in 2019. I scoured a bunch of websites and found Geico and State Farm were the only majors willing to cover our address. I ended up working with Frank Bliss's office in Albany to get the whole kit-and-caboodle (Home, Earthquake, Car & Umbrella) including Fire insurance. My understanding is insurers manage their risk on a block-by-block basis so I think you'll either need an independent agent who can shop for you OR do what I did, and spend 1/2 a day calling around different insurers. Good luck!

Welcome to the club! We can't get fire insurance other than through the fair plan. Premiums have been doubling or tripling every year. They also keep trying to drop us using really dumb excuses (eg name on policy isn't exact match for name on mortgage due to inclusion of middle name.) It's so bad that I won't consider buying a new house unless I can get regular fire insurance. Call every insurance provider and ask them if they'll write a policy for your address. They all have different rules but none of them wanted to cover our house.

Make sure that your rebuilding budget is a lot higher than the value of your house. If there's a big fire, everything gets ridiculously expensive and you may not be able to rebuild if your budget is only your current home value. If it isn't too late, I recommend not buying the house that's hard to insure for fire.

Yeah, welcome to the new reality of life in Northern California. Our 20-year-old, no-claims-ever policy got non-renewed this year because of wildfire danger. I attended an online presentation put on by the Montclair Neighborhood Council this spring that was really helpful in explaining what the reasons and the options were - I don't see it on their website (https://www.montclairneighbors.org/) but maybe if you contacted them they have an archive of the event somewhere. Here are my quick take-aways from the presentation: A few big-name companies (State Farm, Travelers, Lloyds) are still writing policies in this area, but it's often on a case-by-case basis. "Non-admitted" carriers (not technically licensed with the state, but you can check their rating at consumers.ambest.com or through the LASLI list on the CA Dept. of Insurance website) like Atain, Bigfoot and Heritage are more lenient, but as I understand it (which is barely), since they're not backed by the state there's a possibility they might not have enough money to pay out after a big disaster, so you have to do your due diligence. You can save a bit by increasing the deductible as high as you're comfortable with. Worst case scenario, fire coverage is available (at a high price, as you discovered) through California FAIR Plan, with a supplemental DIC plan through another carrier to cover theft and other non-fire issues. We ended up going through the broker who helped put on the MNC presentation (https://www.susmaninsurance.com/) and they found us replacement coverage. It is more expensive than our old policy, but they were great to work with and I found it much less stressful to go through them than calling a bunch of different insurance companies on my own, so I'd highly recommend using a broker. Good luck - it will work out but I know it's stressful in the meantime!

Try talking to Rob Spence. He's really great and helped us when we were dealing with a similar issue:

Rob Spence
Agent/Broker Lic 0B36752
(510) 725-1973 / rspence [at] summitagents.net (rspence[at]summitagents[dot]net)