Many U.S. homeowners underinsured to rebuild: survey

NEW YORK Thu Sep 1, 2011 11:38am EDT

A structure, flipped over by Hurricane Irene, is seen at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Rodanthe, North Carolina August 28, 2011. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana

A structure, flipped over by Hurricane Irene, is seen at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Rodanthe, North Carolina August 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jose Luis Magana

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nearly one in five homeowners does not have enough insurance to rebuild his home if it is destroyed in a disaster, market research company J.D. Power said on Thursday in its annual survey of insurance customer satisfaction.

The survey comes just days after Hurricane Irene laid waste to tens of thousands of properties along the U.S. East Coast. The country's largest home and auto insurer, State Farm, has already received more than 52,000 claims, and estimates suggest U.S. insurers will lose up to $6 billion from the storm.

J.D. Power said 16 percent of the 9,100 holders of homeowners insurance it surveyed were undercovered. On a 1,000-point scale, customer satisfaction among that 16 percent was 40 points lower than among those who said they were sufficiently covered.

People with flood insurance were also deeply dissatisfied. Though flood insurance is provided by the U.S. government, the policies are written and administered by private insurance companies. In many cases, homeowners sign up for their flood policy from the same carrier as their regular coverage.

The average satisfaction rating for those with a flood policy was 735, a full 34 points below the industry average. People with earthquake coverage had much higher satisfaction ratings, suggesting the problem is unique to flood plans.

The National Flood Insurance Program is billions of dollars in debt, with limited capacity for repayment, and reforms are caught up in congressional in-fighting over whether those debts should be forgiven. That debate is being magnified by the extensive flooding Irene caused.

For the 10th year in a row, J.D. Power said privately held Amica Mutual was the highest-rated insurer, 25 points clear of its nearest competitor. Amica has also been the highest-rated insurer in J.D. Power's auto rankings for 12 years running.

One insurer, USAA, beat out Amica in the homeowners' rankings, but it is not counted because it caters exclusively to military families.

J.D. Power, perhaps best known for its surveys of automotive customer satisfaction, is a unit of McGraw-Hill Cos.

(Reporting by Ben Berkowitz; editing by John Wallace)

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