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Personal touch matters: a survey finds homeowners give a vote of confidence to agents and their hands-on approach.

Why deal with an independent agent when you can just Google "insurance"? Because the Internet offers information, not knowledge. Agents have the professional knowledge to properly protect what is usually a family's biggest asset--their home.

A recent survey probing people's knowledge and attitudes about homeowners insurance, the Travelers In-synch Homeowners Insurance Study, came to two overall conclusions: First, a substantial proportion of American homeowners are unsure of what homeowners coverage they have for specific circumstances. And second, once they realize that they are uncertain, almost three-quarters say they think the best way to make sure their insurance meets their needs is to sit down with an insurance agent.

Released in late August 2006, the survey was conducted by the highly regarded Harris Interactive organization. Despite the online nature of the survey, respondents clearly did not view the Internet as the solution to all of their problems. Only 5% said they like to do their insurance research online. This was in stark contrast to the 71% who said they want to work closely with an insurance agent when they make decisions about their homeowners coverage.

Overall, the survey results indicate that people are lax about updating their homeowners policies as their needs change. Close to half of those surveyed have not reviewed their policy in the past year--and many have not done so for the past 10 years, leaving their original decision about coverage on automatic pilot.

The study pinpoints several areas of opportunity for agents to connect with their customers and offer information in key areas. Those surveyed indicated uncertainty about several areas of their coverage, including:

* Rebuilding: Nearly three in 10 homeowners are not sure whether their policy will cover the replacement cost of rebuilding if their home is damaged.

* Natural Disasters: More than 25% are not sure about what coverage they have for damage caused by natural disasters. While 42% are uncertain about whether they have earthquake coverage, more than one-third don't know how their policy will respond to hurricane damage, and one-quarter are unsure if flood damage is excluded.

* Substitute Housing: More than one-third are not sure whether their policy will cover hotel stays if their home is damaged.

* Discounts: While homeowners seem to be familiar with multiple-policy discounts (65% know about them) and smoke detector discounts (70%), fewer than half know about home alarm discounts and just one-third are aware of discounts for deadbolt locks.

Those who took part in the survey are probably much like the typical customers in any agent's portfolio. The survey was weighted to reflect a cross-section of adults across the United States based on age, gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity, and propensity to go online. The majority have lived in their homes for more than 10 years, and about one-fifth have undertaken a home renovation project within the past year.

Savvy insurance agents can use the survey in several ways. First, they can remember that homeowners are often unaware of discounts that are available once they install a home alarm system or take other steps. It never hurts to run through a checklist of discounts with customers, who appreciate an agent who watches out for their interest.

Second, by referencing natural disasters in the news, an agent can remind homeowners about the type of coverage they have and the vulnerabilities to which they may be exposed. Even local details, like the rising cost of reconstruction, are important pieces of information.

Third, the Home Improvement Research Institute expects spending on home remodeling to reach more than $312 billion this year, almost a 9% increase over last year's record of about $287 billion. Asking customers if they've made improvements to their home is another way agents can take a proactive role in making sure coverage is keeping up with homeowners' changing needs.

Finally, encourage customers to use the Internet as a learning tool, where they can find information and interactive features such as the Travelers In-synch Challenge on www.travelers.com.

Updating homeowners insurance often falls to the bottom of the list of things to take care of once it is in place. It's a problem that may sound like just the type of situation the Internet is good at addressing, but the Travelers In-synch Homeowners Insurance Study makes it clear that many homeowners are looking for the more personal touch. The smart insurance agent is one who positions himself or herself as the expert who solves problems and wards off financial disaster.

Contributor Greg Toczydlowski is senior vice president of product management for Travelers Personal Insurance. He can be reached at insight@bestreview.com.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Agent/Broker
Author:Toczydlowski, Greg
Publication:Best's Review
Article Type:Survey
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Words:763
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